Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bruins welcome chance to pay back Gators

We friggin hate the Gators!!!

NCAA Tournament 2011
Round 3
#7 UCLA Bruins (23-10) vs. #2 Florida Gators (27-7)
11:45 am PDT
CBS Channel 2

Bruins welcome chance to pay back Gators

Published: March 18, 2011
Updated: 10:51 p.m.

TAMPA, Fla. – Jerime Anderson was sitting with his UCLA teammates for a postgame dinner a little after 1 a.m. Friday morning when Bruins assistant coach Scott Garson placed a little something extra on his plate.

With a showdown against SEC regular-season champion Florida in the NCAA Tournament Southeast Regional's third round awaiting the Bruins on Saturday, Garson reminded junior guard Anderson of UCLA's history with the Gators — a history that should bother any Bruin.

In the 2006 national championship game, Joakim Noah and Florida dismantled UCLA. A year later, Noah and the Gators bounced the Bruins, ranked No 1 for 11 consecutive games, out of the Final Four semifinals.

"It's our time now," Garson said, Anderson recalled.

Food for thought?

"Definitely," Anderson said.

"It's something we'll use for fuel, to inspire us, have us up for the game," the former Canyon High standout said Friday. "We owe them. They cost us a couple of (national) championships."

UCLA and Florida's Final Four history has provided an unavoidable backdrop for a game between two teams determined to write their own NCAA histories.

"To me this is like the first time we're playing UCLA," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I think every year, every season is a new, separate entity and new, separate challenges."

Donovan and UCLA coach Ben Howland have had to overcome similar challenges in guiding their programs back into the NCAA Tournament.

The Gators knocked off Ohio State, 84-75, in the 2007 national title game to become the first team in 15 years to repeat a NCAA champion.

Florida then lost five players to the NBA, three going in the first nine picks of the 2007 draft. Donovan briefly followed his players to the NBA, accepting the Orlando Magic coaching job. Five days later he changed his mind and returned to the Gators.

It would be another three years, however, before the Gators made it back to the NCAA Tournament. After snubs in 2008 and 2009, Florida lost to Brigham Young, 99-92, in overtime in last year's NCAA opening round. Thursday's 79-51 pounding of UC Santa Barbara was the Gators' first NCAA victory since the 2007 Final Four.

"It doesn't seem too long ago, it really doesn't, to me," Donovan said. "I mean four years ago is not that long. If it was 25, I'd say, boy, it seems like forever.

"I knew after those national championship teams that we were starting over. It's been very difficult. It's been very challenging. It's also been very, very rewarding being part of a group of guys and trying to help them understand what it takes to win at this level and the strides that they've made from their freshman year until now."

UCLA returned to the 2008 Final Four, losing to Memphis in the semifinals, and the 2009 NCAA Tournament falling to Villanova in the second round. Between 2007 and 2009, the Bruins lost five NBA first-round players.

Still, to many Bruins fans the mass exodus to the NBA was no excuse for last season's 14-18 record, a season almost as hard for some UCLA boosters to swallow as the Final Four losses to Florida. This week, UCLA's players have been flooded with messages from fans pleading for revenge against the Gators.

"I'm really proud of both those two teams and I'm sorry that we didn't complete the job, but we didn't," Howland said.

And now a young Bruins team hopes to finish the job, addressing a painful chapter in the school's storied basketball history while creating a storyline all its own.
"It's going to be," Anderson said, "a whole new game."

More on the UCLA-Florida matchup (link)

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