Friday, March 18, 2011

Oh, how we 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

First look: UCLA vs. Florida

March, 18, 2011 Mar 185:03PM PT
By Peter Yoon, UCLA Report

TAMPA, Fla.--UCLA vs. Florida, part III?

Not so much.

There is a lot being made about the recent history between the Bruins and the Gators heading into their NCAA tournament game Saturday at 11:45 a.m. PT at the St. Pete Times Forum, but these teams are a long way from those that met in the 2006 national championship game and the '07 national semifinal.

Coaches Ben Howland of No. 7-seeded UCLA and Billy Donovan of No. 2 Florida are still the same, but none of the players on either team were around for either of those games and both programs have gone through a short rebuilding stage since then.

So to chalk this up as a shot at redemption for the Bruins, who lost both of those games, or a chance to validate for Florida, which won back-to-back national championships in those seasons, is a bit of a stretch as far as this season's teams are concerned.

"That was ’06, ’07. We're in ’11 now," Howland said. "We want to win just to win in the NCAA tournament. There’s not a lot of need for a lot of extra motivation because it’s Florida. Florida is a great team but our motivation is to advance and keep going."

Florida (27-7) missed the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons after winning those national championships and returned to the tournament last year, but lost to Brigham Young in the first round. UCLA made another Final Four in 2008, made it to the second round in '09 and missed the tournament last year.

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

The challenges for UCLA (23-10) will mostly come from Florida's quick guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. They are the team's top two scorers, averaging 14.4 and 14.1 points, respectively, and helped lead Florida to the Southeastern Conference regular-season title and into the conference tournament championship game.

But versatile 6-foot-9 forward Chandler Parsons might pose the most difficult matchup for the Bruins. Parsons, the SEC player of the year, is an inside-outside threat who averages 11.5 points and leads the team in rebounding (7.8) and assists (3.7). He's also shooting 37.9 percent on 3-pointers.

He is the only active NCAA Division I player with 1,400 career points, 800 rebounds, 300 assists and 125 steals.

"Parsons is an outstanding talent," Howland said. "I mean, how many times do you see a 6-10 three man, which is what he is. He is very, very skilled, shoots it, passes it, rebounds it."

Adding to the challenge for UCLA will be a home-court advantage for the Gators. The Florida campus is only 130 miles from the St. Pete Times Forum and the arena was packed with Florida fans Thursday night when the Gators trounced UC Santa Barbara, 79-51.

"They’re going to have a lot more fans than we are so we’re going to have to treat it as an away game," UCLA forward Reeves Nelson said. "It’s going to be us against the world and we’re going to have to band together as a team. Our team is really close so I think we’re going to come together and fight together as a team and try and get the win."

The Bruins will also have to figure out a way to avoid another meltdown at the free-throw line. In their 78-76 victory over Michigan State on Thursday night, they seemed to succumb to the pressure of the big moment and made only three of 12 free throws in the final 1:31.

Still, the Bruins are playing with confidence after getting a victory in what was the first NCAA tournament game for everyone on the team other than Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee. And nearly blowing that game only helped open the eyes of the UCLA players about just how intense tournament games can be.

"Teams are going to fight back to the last minute and it shows us the reality and scare of how close the end came," UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt said. "In a good way it just let us know to stay humble and that anything is possible."



Projected Starters:

F-Reeves Nelson (So., 6-8, 235), 9.0 rpg

F-Tyler Honeycutt (So., 6-8, 188), 12.8 ppg

C-Joshua Smith (Fr., 6-10, 305), 10.7 ppg

G-Malcolm Lee (Jr., 6-5, 200), 13.1 ppg

G-Lazeric Jones (Jr., 6-0, 187), 3.6 apg

Key reserves:

G-Jerime Anderson (Jr., 6-2, 183), 38.7% 3-ptrs

G-Tyler Lamb (Fr., 6-5, 200), 2.7 ppg

F-Brendan Lane (So., 6-9, 223), 3.1 ppg

C-Anthony Stover (Fr., 6-10, 235), 27 blocks


Projected starters:

F-Chandler Parsons (Sr., 6-9, 218), 7.8 rpg

F-Alex Tyus (Sr., 6-8, 220), 8.6 ppg

C-Vernon Macklin (Sr., 6-10, 240), 11.3 ppg

G-Kenny Boynton (So., 6-2, 183), 14.1 ppg

G-Erving Walker (Jr., 5-8, 171), 14.5 ppg

Key reserves:

F-Erik Murphy (So., 6-10, 229), 4.4 ppg

F-Patric Young (Fr., 6-9, 245), 3.8 rpg

G-Scottie Wilbekin (Fr., 6-2, 175), 2.6 ppg

F-Will Yeguete (Fr., 6-7, 210), 2.7 rpg

G-Casey Prather (Fr., 6-6, 195), 1.2 ppg


4/3/06 Florida 73, UCLA 57 (NCAA championship game)

3/31/07 Florida 76, UCLA 66 (National semifinal)


Men's basketball motivated to defeat Florida Gators after back-to-back losses in previous Final Fours

Published March 18, 2011, 6:36 pm in Men's Basketball Sports
The Daily Bruin

TAMPA, Fla. – In college basketball, few things last.

The players stick around for four years, five max. The good ones leave in less than three.

There are some things though, that will not go away. For the loyal masses that stay tuned, pieces of that past seem always ready to return for a haunt.

This year’s No. 7-seed UCLA team has succeeded of its own merits and made it to the NCAA Tournament’s third round, but only to find a foe that causes Bruin fans to recoil from the pain of old memories.

Saturday, UCLA’s athletes will face No. 2-seed Florida for a place in the Sweet 16. None of the Bruins or Gators have ever faced each other, but the not-so-distant NCAA Tournament history of these two programs may, in the end, swamp any of the other game’s storylines.

The history is short and not sweet.

UCLA coach Ben Howland and Florida coach Billy Donovan squared off twice in the Final Four. They played once in 2006, for the NCAA Championship, and again in 2007, in the NCAA Semifinal.

The Gators won both times.

Most of the current players were in high school when those Florida teams dominated the collegiate game, with now-NBA players like Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer.

The UCLA teams of that era are memorable too, as much for their coach’s tough defensive attitude as for the crafty guard play of players like Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo.

“It seemed like everybody was out to see that game,” junior guard Lazeric Jones said of the 2006 matchup. “Those were the top two teams.”

Both coaches, now entrenched in their preparations for each other’s new squads, denied those games would have any impact on the outcome of this one.

“To me, this is like the first time we’re playing UCLA,” Donovan said.

“It’s a new year, a new team,” Howland agreed. “This is the NCAA Tournament … I think our team is plenty motivated and would be no matter who we’re playing.”

Some of the UCLA players, however, acknowledged there would be something extra special about beating Florida considering the history.

“I know they knocked us out of the tournament twice in row,” junior guard Malcolm Lee said. “We don’t want it to happen a third time. I think we can use that as motivation, fuel to our fire.”

If the higher seed from Saturday’s game were to advance, that would mean three of the last six UCLA seasons were ended by the same team, Florida. Certainly, that would create a strong animosity among the Bruin faithful for their Gator counterparts, if there was not one already.

Howland and Donovan, on the other hand, claim only respect for each other, and each remarked on the similar path that has brought each of them back to this point since the last time they met on a national stage.

“Probably both (of us) a year or two ago were starting over,” Donovan said.

Both Florida and UCLA prematurely lost a lot of their talents to the professional ranks and are only just now making full recoveries.

The winner of Saturday’s contest will be making it back to its first Sweet 16 since that 2007 season.

Redshirt freshman center Anthony Stover was a high school underclassman when Florida out-battled UCLA in back-to-back Final Fours. Like every other Southern California-raised college basketball fan, he remembers those games clearly.

Now that the blue and orange Gator logo has appeared next to his UCLA Bruins logo on the bracket line, he cannot help but think about it.

Moreover, he sees this as a unique opportunity to redeem his coach and the fans.

“(I want) to get that win for coach Howland because he could never get past Florida and also to get that win for all those Bruin alumni who couldn’t get past Florida the last couple years,” he said.

“It would be a great opportunity for us to go out and win this game for them.”


Bruins get another shot at the Gators

Final Four losses to Florida in 2006 and 2007 still burn members of those UCLA teams, but Ben Howland has another opportunity.

Bill Plaschke
The Los Angeles Times
8:30 PM PDT, March 18, 2011

Reporting from Tampa, Fla.

The first time it happened, the tears were so fresh and unexpected, Ryan Hollins draped a towel over his face to hide them.

"It hurts," he said, his words muffled by the cloth. "I can't really explain it."

The second time it happened, the pain had become so familiar, Arron Afflalo didn't even try to mask it, standing in front of his locker as tears trickled down his cheeks.

"It's not enough," he said. "It's just not enough."

Actually, it's almost too much, the UCLA basketball family wracked by the reality that their two best recent hopes for a national championship were stopped by one team in consecutive Final Fours.

It's almost too much to think that, if not for two spotlight defeats to the same starting lineup, the Bruins might have won consecutive titles in 2006 and 2007 instead of continuing a drought that is approaching 16 years.

Lousy, stinking Florida.

Remember them now? Welcome them back. On Saturday in an arena about a two-hour drive from their campus, the Gators will essentially host the Bruins in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

It has been four years, but it feels like yesterday. The players are different, but the nightmare lives, the Bruins' culture unable to escape the specter of the Gators until they can beat them.

"You have no idea," said Lorenzo Mata-Real, who played in both of those losses to Florida. "Those games are going to be stuck with me for the rest of my life."

Mata-Real, who has just finished a third season in the Mexican League, laughed into the phone when I wondered whether the Florida memories are overblown.

"People might say it doesn't matter, but everyone knows it's huge," he said. "There isn't any Bruin I know who doesn't want to finally beat them."

This is not about the current Bruins players, who are all too young to truly understand. But on Saturday those players will be carrying a five-year burden for everyone else.

This is about Coach Ben Howland overcoming the nagging thought that he was twice outsmarted by Florida's Billy Donovan. This is about the Bruins' fans finally moving past the idea that, in consecutive seasons, despite having at least four future NBA players each season, UCLA couldn't win the one game that mattered against the one team that mattered.

Yes, the Florida Gators had future NBA stars Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer for both games. But over the course of those two seasons, the Bruins had future pros Jordan Farmar, Luc Mbah a Moute, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, Afflalo and Hollins.

"I was very proud of those teams, and I'm sorry we didn't complete the job," Howland said Friday. "But we didn't."

Halfway around the world, other Bruins still share that sorrow, as evidenced by the e-mail Saturday I received from Michael Roll, who also played in both games and is now playing in Belgium.

"The Florida losses still hurt very badly to this day," he wrote. "I think they will for the rest of my life."

Mata-Real is so burdened with the memory, he said he is going to pull out his old UCLA jersey and wear it all day Saturday. For those of you who don't have such a tangible souvenir, here's a little pregame history lesson. You can drape that towel over your face any time now.

The First Loss

It was the afternoon of the 2006 national championship game in Indianapolis when Howland was given the news. John Wooden, age 95 at the time, had suddenly been hospitalized back home.

"It was stunning, scary stuff," said Howland, who shared it with a team that he had groomed on Wooden's wisdom. "We were all taken aback by it."

While Wooden quickly recovered from what was later revealed as diverticulitis, the young and distracted Bruins never found their rhythm, with one notable kid completely collapsing the pyramid of success.

It was Farmar, who showed some of the cockiness that later irked the Lakers by trying to be the hero, essentially playing the Bruins right out of the game while taking twice as many shots as any teammate. He made only eight of 21 heaves while running mate Afflalo took only three shots in the first half and made only three baskets in the game.

With no outside attack, the Bruins were wiped out inside, with Noah blocking a record six shots and Horford thumping his chest and a bunch of Gators eventually dancing on the scorers' table while being showered with orange and blue confetti.

The final score was 73-57, and the final verdict, from a tearful Hollins, cut even deeper.

"They played as a team, they didn't have one guy just jacking up shots," he said of the Gators. "They stayed together."

The Second Loss

Playing the Gators at Atlanta in the national semifinal game in 2007, the Bruins wore their defensive best, holding the Gators to only 16 first-half shots and no offensive rebounds. Yet at halftime they trailed by six because they missed 20 of 29 shots, including all eight three-point attempts.

Part of the problem was that Afflalo again couldn't get comfortable, leaving the game in foul trouble midway through the first half and not scoring until the final seven minutes.

But also, the Bruins just couldn't get past that Florida swagger, watching the six-point deficit quickly become 16 points early in the second half after two missed layups, one blocked shot, one traveling call and two airballs.

"They were bigger and they were stronger," Mata-Real said. "They just pretty much overpowered us in everything."

Four years later, the Bruins have been blessed — or is it cursed with another chance? While Saturday's game cannot decide a championship, it could soften a nightmare.

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