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LONNIE WHITE / INSIDE THE LINES

Up close, the Gators present a daunting task

March 31, 2007|LONNIE WHITE

UCLA used a lock-down defense and an opportunistic offense to reach the NCAA championship game last year, but once there, the Bruins were dominated by Florida, which won by 16 points.

The Gators' willingness to make the extra pass negated UCLA Coach Ben Howland's trademark man-to-man defense, Bruins defenders spending much of the game flat-footed and playing without anticipation.

Florida, with its balanced offense, played basic inside-outside basketball with Joakim Noah and Al Horford controlling the game inside (30 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocked shots combined) and Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey providing effective shooting from the perimeter (a combined six for 11 from beyond three-point line).

Often overlooked, however, is how the Gators, with their defensive pressure, jumped all over the Bruins. Coach Billy Donovan turned loose Noah, Horford and the rest of the Gators' big men, who helped limit UCLA to only 36% shooting.

Guards Taureen Green and Humphrey did their part by making it difficult for UCLA's backcourt players to penetrate, allowing Florida to attack the Bruins' passes once they got into their half-court offense.

That confused UCLA, which finished with 12 turnovers and had guard Jordan Farmar taking a third of the team's shots (he went eight for 21). Whenever the Bruins did get close enough for a good look at the basket, Noah or Horford was there to block the shot. That forced UCLA outside, and the Bruins misfired on 14 of 17 three-point shots.

It could have been worse for UCLA if not for the rebounding of big men Ryan Hollins, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya and Lorenzo Mata, who helped the Bruins to a 38-35 edge on the boards. They sparked a small second-half run that cut a 20-point deficit to 12 before Florida finished the job.

Summary: Last year, the Bruins' turnovers played right into Florida's plan, which was to force an up-tempo game. With Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison each turning the ball over three times, and Farmar twice, UCLA never seemed to find an offensive rhythm. And when the Bruins turned to their full-court pressure, Noah was a difference maker, with his ability to dribble up the court and help the Gators get into their offense.

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lonnie.white@latimes.com

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