Saturday, March 19, 2011

UCLA men's basketball prepare to battle Florida Gators for the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament

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

UCLA men's basketball prepare to battle Florida Gators for the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament

Published March 18, 2011, 6:12 pm in Men's Basketball Sports
The Daily Bruin

TAMPA, Fla. – The way the media is shaping Saturday’s game, one would think a civil war is taking place in the South Bay.

The Bruins are bringing the tanks, the physical front court, and their “freight train” of a center, freshman Joshua Smith.

The Gators will be quicker, sending their cast of sharp-shooting artillery into battle.

A lot has changed since UCLA lost to Florida in consecutive Final Fours in 2006 and 2007 – personnel and team strengths have almost completely reversed.

But what hasn’t changed is the nature of the NCAA Tournament. It’s still one and done.

“This is a new year, but we don’t need what happened in the past to motivate us any more than we’re motivated,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “This is the NCAA Tournament. If you don’t win, your season is over.”

After narrowly escaping Thursday’s second-round game against Michigan State, the Bruins will essentially play an away game against the regular season SEC champions – a team they’ve never beaten.

But Florida coach Billy Donovan and the rest of the local media still seemed in awe of UCLA’s 6-foot-10-inch, 340-pound center.

It was Donovan who called Smith a “freight train,” saying he’s seen only two players who are remotely comparable: Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli and Mississippi State’s Renardo Sidney.

“And I would say he’s drastically bigger than those two guys,” Donovan said.

Such is the type of wonderment shown from Florida players toward Smith. Gator center Vernon Macklin gives up about 100 pounds to Smith but is the same height, and he said he has never defended anyone of Smith’s stature.

But Macklin is one of four players who recorded double digits in a 28-point drugging of UCSB on Thursday.

As Gator senior forward Chandler Parsons pointed out, UCLA and Florida’s box scores look very similar. UCLA also had four players in double figures in its win over Michigan State.

The difference lies in how the two teams get their points.

While UCLA will look to feed Smith and sophomore forward Reeves Nelson in the post, Florida will likely be content to scorch the Bruins from beyond the arc and count on its guards to carry the load.

Florida guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker are two of the quickest guards in the country, and they led the team Thursday with 13 and 18 points respectively. Walker got 12 of his 18 points on four-of-six 3-point shooting.

The Bruins then will have to defend the perimeter better than they did against Michigan State. The Spartans hit nine 3-pointers in the second half of Thursday’s game, cutting a 23-point Bruin lead to one.

“Their backcourt kind of runs their team, and as they go, their team goes,” junior guard Jerime Anderson said.

As usual, junior guard Malcolm Lee will be assigned to the opponent’s best little guy. Lee said he’s been assigned to Boynton a day after shutting down Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas.

Lee, however, is still recovering from a cartilage tear and played 34 minutes Thursday. Friday, he admitted he was tired late in the game, and his coach admitted that some of his players might have been gassed.

“But I knew I had to suck it up,” Lee said. “It’s the NCAA Tournament.”

Smith to start again

Thursday, Smith started for the first time since Jan. 9 against USC. Howland had made the change early in the conference season to help keep Smith out of early foul trouble. But he said Friday that he changed his mind after the team’s loss to Oregon in the Pac-10 tournament.

Howland said he plans to start Smith again Saturday.

“I thought about it myself, and – right, last night, I said, ‘He should be starting,’” Howland said. “We’ve got to get off to a good start.”

News and notes

Lee had three staples inserted into his head prior to Friday’s press conference after being struck by an elbow late in Thursday’s game. Lee will play Saturday. … Smith fell hard on his right elbow in Thursday’s contest, and the elbow showed considerable signs of swelling Friday, but he too is expected to play. … The Bruins participated in a walk-through Friday morning and will not hit the court again until their 11:45 PST tip-off Saturday. … UCLA has traveled the third farthest distance of any team in the NCAA tournament, going 2,529 miles from Los Angeles to Tampa. Conversely, Florida has traveled the third shortest distance to the second-and-third round site, going only 131 miles from Gainesville.


UCLA doesn't need history lesson against Florida

Bruins, Howland say they won't look at past history, in which Gators won 2006 title game, 2007 Final Four matchup

By Jon Gold, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Daily News
Posted: 03/18/2011 10:26:27 PM PDT
Updated: 03/18/2011 10:56:29 PM PDT

TAMPA, Fla. - To talk to players and coaches at UCLA and Florida, one would think that their memories extended no further than Thursday, when both teams won their NCAA Tournament second-round matchups, wins that have set the stage for today's game that will send one team home and one team to New Orleans for the Sweet 16.

The bitter rivalry of the mid-2000s, when the Gators ended the Bruins' seasons in consecutive Final Fours, seems all but dissipated.

Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green?

A fleeting recollection.

Arron Afflalo, Alfred Aboya, Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison? A passing memory.

This is about here and now, about 2011 and not 2006, about two teams who are just working

their way back toward national prominence.
"This is a new year; we don't need what happened in the past to motivate us any more than we're motivated," UCLA head coach Ben Howland said during a news conference Friday. "This is the NCAA Tournament. If you don't win, your season is over."

If Howland seems like he's mentally past the two devastating losses - a 73-57 loss to the Gators in the 2006 NCAA championship game and a 76-66 loss in the 2007 Final Four semifinals - UCLA's players seemed to hardly remember them.

Granted, most of the Bruins rotation was 13 to 14 years old at the time.

But they are playing for themselves, playing for Howland, playing to erase all memories of a 14-18 record last year, which

a Sweet 16 berth would go a long way toward doing.
These Bruins have far too much to worry about than the past, not with the present so perilous.

UCLA sweated out a tense eight minutes in its second-round win over Michigan State on Thursday, as the Spartans stormed back from a 23-point deficit to have a chance to win. But Michigan State star guard Kalin Lucas was called for a traveling violation after Malcolm Lee missed a free throw with less than a second left, and the Bruins survived with a 78-76 victory, despite shooting 3 for 12 from the foul line in the last 1 minute, 31 seconds.

Forget five years ago.

UCLA can't afford to remember past 48 hours ago.

"They were making shots," junior point guard Lazeric Jones said of the Spartans, who converted nine 3-pointers in the second half. "They were making tough shots, shots when we were right in their face. I know (freshman guard Keith) Appling made one right when I was on him. I was right on him. But that's what March is about. In March, people are going to make those shots. That's why they call it the magic of March."

Now the Bruins are trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

If only they can catch Florida's.

The backcourt tandem of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker is fast and incredibly effective, the two teaming for 31 points in No. 2-seeded Florida's thorough dismantling of overmatched UC Santa Barbara on Thursday. In the 79-51 win over the Gauchos, Walker had 18 points and six of the team's 22 assists, making 4 of 6 3-pointers, and Boynton had 13 points and four steals.

UCLA will counter with an effective frontcourt of freshman center Joshua Smith, sophomore power forward Reeves Nelson and sophomore small forward Tyler Honeycutt. The trio accounted for 42 of the team's 78 points against Michigan State.

"There are going to be some different unique matchups, so to speak, in the game," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "It's going to be one of those games where there are some significant contrasting things there inside of both teams, personnel-wise."

The players have changed for both teams since their magical runs of the mid-2000s, but Howland and Donovan have not.

They have both rebounded from far depths - Florida missing the tournament in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009, UCLA crashing to 14-18 last season - and have reloaded quicker than expected.

They are facing off once more, mindful of the past but forging ahead to a brighter future.

"To me, this is like the first time we're playing UCLA," Donovan said. "Every year, every season, is a new, separate entity, and new, separate challenges. There are probably a lot of similarities for both teams in the respect that in '06 and '07 we lost a lot of really, really good players.

"But I really look at it like Ben is getting his team prepared to play, I'm getting our team prepared to play, and what happened two, three, four, five years ago, really to me has nothing to do with this game."

More on the UCLA-Florida matchup (link)

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