INDIANAPOLIS – All of us who seemed
convinced that the University of Florida’s Gators were the best of the last four
NCAA Division I basketball teams still suiting up had that notion reinforced
during the first Final Four semifinal Saturday night in the RCA Dome.
Coach Billy Donovan’s team,
facing a George Mason club that startled (and that’s probably not too strong a
verb) those who follow the sport by reeling off wins over Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut to see its season extended into April,
cruised to a 73-58 victory in front of 43,822.
Each dimension of what, everyone
seemed to be in agreement upon, was the most multi-dimensional of the Final Four
teams, was on display against the Patriots.
Post players Joakim Noah and
Al Horford dominated their counterparts, Will Thomas and Jai Lewis.
And perimeter players Corey Brewer, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey, in combining for 12 buckets
behind the arc, were always able to free themselves from their
It would be easy to surmise that
the outcome of the first game was decided by the Gators’ 16-4 run over the first
six and a half minutes of the second half.
The reality of it is, however, that
Florida had things well in hand at intermission, despite hanging on to only a
five-point (31-26) advantage.
How is that?
The Gators had to feel pretty good
about that five-point edge in that they hit just 34 percent of field goal
attempts while committing eight turnovers in the first half.
How was that possible?
Well, the Patriots shot only 38
percent themselves but that figure included misses on all four of their attempts
behind the arc.
The Gators? They were six of 15. In
fact, they were better in back of the line that they were in front of it (five
Florida needed just six and a half
minutes to start the second half to all but screech the brakes on that George
Mason bandwagon, outscoring the Patriots 16-4. Humphrey (who has missed
four of five from behind the arc in the first half) scored the first nine of
those on deep jumpers.
Noah came into Saturday night’s
game having played as well as anyone in the tournament.
And, despite committing three
turnovers via traveling calls, he turned in a solid effort for the Gators with
12 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
But he wasn’t the best post player
on his team Saturday.
That honor, despite his scoring
just six points, went to Horford,
who led the domination under the backcourts (the Gators out-rebounded the
Patriots, 40-27) by grabbing 13 rebounds. He also had a game high four assists
while constantly whipping passes to jump shooters when George Mason tried to
send a double-team his way.
Yes, the Gators dispatched with the
“feel-good story” of the tournament in such systematic fashion that it appeared
as if, be it Southeastern Conference foe LSU or Pacific 10 Conference champion
UCLA that came out on top in the second game, they’d be the solid choice to cut
down nets late Monday night.
And then the Bruins came out and
sliced, diced and dispensed with the Tigers’ offense in a fashion than even the
most hard-core of UCLA followers wouldn’t have dared fantasize.
Or would they?
After all, they watch their club,
seven nights before, limit the Memphis Tigers – which dropped 88 points on the
Bruins in mid November – to 45 points in the Oakland regional final.
That’s right. Four-five.
Now, Coach Ben Howland’s
team isn’t the most dynamic of offensive units. After all, the Bruins fell 30
points short in Oakland of the 80 they’d rung up in that first loss to
But UCLA was more than good enough
offensively Saturday (at least over the first 20 minutes, when the Bruins hit 14
of 24 shots) to suck out any of the suspense very early on against the
With freshman forward Luc
Richard Mbah a Moute (12 points and six rebounds) easily the most impressive
frontcourt player on the floor – yeah, who would have projected that beforehand?
– the Bruins held a 39-24 advantage at intermission.
How good is the brand of man-to-man
defense that UCLA has been playing during a winning streak that now stands at
12? So good, in fact, that a 15-point advantage for the Bruins might as well be
30, for all the likelihood it is that they’re going to surrender that
Don’t be misled by the final score
(59-45). The 50-27 advantage the Bruins held after Jordan Farmar’s
17-footer with 15:34 remaining is a much truer read on UCLA’s dominance of the
team that beat Duke and Texas in the Atlanta regional.
So were those of who believed
Florida to be the best of the teams playing on the final weekend of the season
The Gators are going to have to
convince us all over again Monday night.
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at
email@example.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at