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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Florida says so long to Oregon, bring on UCLA

Humphrey's seven three-pointers lead Gators to 85-77 win to set up a rematch of last year's final.

March 26, 2007|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — Lee Humphrey's torrid three-point shooting tore up the net Sunday, leaving a piece of twine dangling loose from the rim in the first half against Oregon until a worker climbed a ladder to hang a new net.

It proved only a temporary fix, because Humphrey and his Florida teammates were soon snipping down the net with scissors to celebrate their return to the Final Four, where a rematch of last season's NCAA title game against UCLA awaits in a semifinal Saturday.

Against an Oregon team that wanted to dethrone the defending champions with threes, Humphrey turned the tables by making seven of 13 from long range to lead Florida past the determined Ducks, 85-77, in the Midwest Regional final in front of 25,947 in the Edward Jones Dome.

Tajuan Porter, the 5-foot-6 Oregon freshman who made eight three-pointers against Nevada Las Vegas on Friday, went stone cold against Florida, missing his first eight before making two desperately long heaves in the final minute.

"I went out and played as hard as I could. I'm not going to hang my head," Porter said.

"It was just like a nightmare to me."

Florida (33-5) struggled to capitalize on its size advantage at times, but went inside to Joakim Noah and Al Horford with purpose in the second half. Still, it was Humphrey who led the way with 23 points.

Point guard Taurean Green added 21, finally clinching the victory with two free throws with eight seconds left. Noah added 14 points and 14 rebounds.

"There is no feeling like it. This is what it's all about -- winning," Noah said. "And now we need to just keep on winning."

That would mean defeating UCLA, a team that is similar to but hardly the same as the one Florida handled in the NCAA championship game last season, 73-57.

The suggestion that the ease of that result will allow Florida to relax was quickly dismissed.

"I mean, we play UCLA," Horford said. "Any team that's left at this stage of the game, we can't relax. Because if you relax, it's over. One of us is going home. Now is the time to really step it up, and there's no excuses at this point."

Oregon (29-8) couldn't overcome Porter's sudden shooting slump -- he entered the game making almost 45% from three-point range -- or its foul trouble.

Maarty Leunen, Malik Hairston and Joevan Catron -- the three players who had to try to defend Noah and Horford inside -- all fouled out.

"Give credit to them," Leunen said. "They made the shots. They're tough to guard at every position. We knew that coming into the game. They hit big shots at big times."

Aaron Brooks led Oregon with 27 points and four assists, making 11 of 19 shots as he alternately shot from long range and drove past the Florida shot-blockers for layups. But he left impressed.

"I can see in this game they had, they were still hungry," he said. "What impressed me is probably Noah's energy. Even though they've already won a championship and been to the Final Four, they had the energy and poise to repeat and get there."

UCLA is back too, and will be the next to try to halt Florida's attempt to become the first team to repeat as NCAA champion since Duke in 1992.

"We know it's going to be a challenge," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "Give the UCLA kids a lot of credit, give our kids a lot of credit. Two teams that were there last year -- half the Final Four from last year -- is back."

Corey Brewer, the Florida swingman who watches the Pacific 10 Conference games on Fox Sports Net late at night, knows the Bruins' personnel well, from Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Josh Shipp outside to Lorenzo Mata, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya inside.

"They're a different team, with different players in different roles," Brewer said.

"I've seen them play a lot. They've got Shipp outside now, and Mata is better. Mbah a Moute is a lot better, and Aboya is coming in and helping. Collison, he's doing a great job at point guard, and Afflalo, he's still a great shooter and great scorer."

Oregon Coach Ernie Kent, whose team split games with UCLA, called the Bruins "a much better basketball team this year than they were last year."

"I think this year's UCLA team is probably tougher mentally because they've been through the grind a second time now," he said.

"I still think it's going to come down to defense. If they can defend Florida on the inside, at the same time taking away those great three-point shooters on the outside, they'll have an opportunity to play with them and win the game.

"It's just going to be a great battle between those two."

robyn.norwood@latimes.com

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