Sunday, April 2, 2006

Number 12 For The Bruins or Number 1 For Florida

Both Florida and UCLA looked impressive on Saturday night. The Gators locked down on George Mason's outside shooters while providing some long range bombing of their own from Lee Humphrey. After keeping it even in early part, George Mason lacked the horses to run with the Gators and their deep bench.

LSU was never really in the game after the first TV timeout against the Bruins. UCLA matched the Tigers athleticism and at times made them look so on the glass and in hustling for loose balls. UCLA played their backups almost as much as their starters in the first half and still had a 15 point lead. The Tigers did have an off night shooting, but despite that their inside players did not seem like the ones we saw in Atlanta.

Onto Monday's Game...
Florida opened as a slight favorite in the Championship Game. Their coach Billy Donovan has been here before (2000) and the Gators had the largest margin of victory in the Tournament of the Final 4 teams. However, I don't think people are giving UCLA their just due. I think people underestimate the power of the Pac-10 and not just in basketball. The Pac-10 will have a participant in the BCS Championship Game and now the NCAA Tournament Championship. As I said before the Final 4 started, UCLA is the team nobody is talking about coming into Indianapolis.

Championship Game
#2 UCLA vs #3 Florida 9:00 ET CBS
UCLA really surprised some people with how they matched LSU's athleticism. Florida is another very athletic team, but the Bruins will be able to match it again. In the backcourt, Florida relies on the steady play of Taurean Green and sharp shooting of Lee Humphrey. UCLA will counter with PG Jordan Farmar and Aaron Afflalo who play offense and defense equally well.

The X-factor for Florida will be Corey Brewer, who at 6'8" can create matchup problems. Cedric Bozeman will be the most likely Bruin to matchup with Brewer who can slash to the basket and shoot from the outside. The good thing for the Bruins is that Brewer is not a strong post-up player.

On the inside is where Florida should have an advantage. UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah A Moute is 6'7" and will be likely tasked with Florida's Al Horford. Horford can put the ball on the floor or post up. Joakim Noah has been the Gator's spark plug all tournament, but will face his toughest challenge yet in 7'0" Ryan Hollins. Hollins matched Tyrus Thomas as a defensive force on Saturday night and should give Noah trouble with his length and quickness.

Bench play will be important because of the amount the play for these teams. Florida's depth is mostly on the inside while UCLA can truely go 10 deep as they did against LSU. I don't think either team has much of an advantage here, but Florida's backcourt cannot afford to get in foul trouble.

Billy Donovan started off this season 17-0, but then struggled during the confernce season and had some Gator fans wondering if he could get them past the second round. Well those fans should be happy now as Donovan is one of only 11 active coaches to make two appearances in the Championship Game. However, I do think Florida may have a sense of inflated self worth because they come from the SEC and UCLA is in the Pac-10. Ben Howland has brought his brand of east coast defensive toughness to the West Coast and it is paying dividends. If the Bruins win it will be a record 12th title for UCLA and maybe the last of John Wooden's life.

I think this game will be close throughout the game and go right down to the wire. Both teams have depth and athleticism to play at a high level of intensity for 40 minutes. In the end, UCLA I think plays better defense and will be able to control Florida's Horford and Noah like other teams have not. The Sons of Westwood claim their 12th title.
Prediction: UCLA

Tournament: 17-8

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