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UCLA BASKETBALL

New generation of UCLA players get chance at Florida

Bruins Lazeric Jones and Joshua Smith were in high school when UCLA was eliminated by the Gators in consecutive Final Fours in 2006 and 2007. The Bruins face Florida in a third-round game Saturday.

March 18, 2011|By Ben Bolch

Reporting from Tampa, Fla. — UCLA lost to Florida, and Lazeric Jones shrugged.

His favorite teams had already been eliminated in the 2006 NCAA tournament, so Jones, then 15, wasn't exactly crushed when the Gators thumped the Bruins in the national championship game.

A year later, Florida eliminated UCLA in a national semifinal, and Joshua Smith went on about his week.

"It really didn't have an effect on me," Smith said Friday, "because I was still in high school."

Consider them fully vested in UCLA's postseason fortunes against Florida now that they wear powder blue.

Bill Plaschke: Bruins get another shot at the Gators

And in case Jones, Smith and their teammates needed a reminder of the extra significance attached to the seventh-seeded Bruins' third-round NCAA tournament game against second-seeded Florida on Saturday afternoon at the St. Pete Times Forum, all they have to do is check their cellphones.

"A lot of UCLA fans are texting us, saying, 'Hey, get revenge on the Gators for what they did to us,'" Smith said.

As far as the Bruins are concerned, this isn't about Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer nearly as much as it is about current Gators Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Chandler Parsons.

Walker and Boynton are the type of small, quick guards who have run the Bruins ragged. Walker, a 5-foot-8 point guard, and Boynton, a 6-2 shooter, are roommates who make things doubly difficult on opponents, averaging a combined 28.6 points per game.

"They're a two-headed monster there," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.

Florida also has a dynamic talent in Parsons, a 6-9 forward who has a guard's skill set. He leads the Gators with 3.7 assists per game and is shooting 37.9% from three-point range.

Junior guard Malcolm Lee, the Bruins' designated stopper, said he would alternate defensively on Boynton and Parsons, even though he gives up four inches in height to Parsons.

UCLA has had trouble containing speedy guards, including Villanova's Corey Fisher and Washington's Isaiah Thomas, but Bruins guard Jerime Anderson said recent defensive adjustments have helped reverse that trend. UCLA held Thomas to nine points on three-for-12 shooting earlier this month.

"Since we changed our defensive schemes to plugging [screens] and pulling our pickup points back toward the three-point line," Anderson said, "those little guards haven't hurt us very much."

How UCLA and Florida match up in NCAA tournament third-round game

One thing the Bruins might not be able to counter is the Gators' home-court edge, with the game being played about 117 miles from their Gainesville campus.

"They're going to probably have a lot more fans than we have here, so we're just going to have to treat it like an away game," UCLA sophomore forward Reeves Nelson said. "It's going to be us against the world and we're going to have to band together."

This is the deepest Florida has advanced in the NCAA tournament since winning the second of back-to-back national championships in 2007. The Gators went to the National Invitation Tournament the next two years and were bounced out of the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2010.

UCLA returned to the Final Four in 2008 before a second-round NCAA tournament exit the following year. Last year, the Bruins finished with a 14-18 record and missed the postseason altogether.

"We probably both, a year or two ago, were starting over," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said.

2011 NCAA men's basketball championship brackets

Nelson is friends with several of the UCLA players from the Final Four teams that lost to the Gators, so he has extra motivation for a victory.

"Maybe it will be a little consolation for the guys on those teams," Nelson said.

Said Anderson: "We want to get this win because we owe them. We could have gotten a couple of championships during that time. Hopefully we can get the win for the fans and the coaches."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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