1st title's a snap as Gators romp

Noah-led defense wears out Bruins in lopsided final

Florida 73 UCLA 57

Ncaa Men

Ncaa Men's Final

April 04, 2006|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

Indianapolis -- With four sophomores and one junior in their starting lineup, the Florida Gators were said to be too young to make a run in the Southeastern Conference this season, let alone accomplish a victory the magnitude of a national championship.

In fact, Florida began the season unranked - picked by some to finish fifth in the SEC.

What mattered most last night, though, was where Florida's season ended - on college basketball's grandest stage, with a confident, seemingly carefree performance that raised the Gators above all the rest.

Facing a strong UCLA team that brought with it a storied tradition of 11 national championships, Florida remained undaunted and breezed to a 73-57 win at the RCA Dome for the program's first national title.

At 40, Florida coach Billy Donovan became the second-youngest active coach to win a national title, and he joined Bob Knight and Dean Smith as the only men to have played in a Final Four and then won it all as a coach.

In the program's third appearance in the Final Four, Florida won with its defense and took the Bruins out of their inside game, cruising to a 24-point lead midway through the second half.

UCLA led 4-2 in the early minutes and never again.

With his famous father watching from behind his dark sunglasses in the second row of stands, pony-tailed Florida forward Joakim Noah scored 16 points and made numerous seven show-stopping blocks. He often made eye contact with his father, Yannick, the former tennis great who won the 1983 French Open.

Florida's defense had been progressing all season, but might have reached its plateau last night. The Gators held UCLA to just 36.1 percent shooting from the field, and only 3-for-17 shoot ing from three-point range.

The start of the second half was reminiscent of Florida's semifinal win over George Mason, in which guard Lee Humphrey scored back-to-back three-pointers to further distance the Gators.

Humphrey again came out with a sweet shot, scoring six points in roughly a minute for a 42-25 edge. Florida forward Corey Brewer, who was the team's leading returning scorer with an average of 7.0 points, developed into one of the Gators" go-to players and added another three-pointer on their next possession.

With former UCLA greats like Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul- Jabbar watching from the stands, the Bruins struggled to carry on their legacy.

UCLA made just one field goal in the first five minutes, missing several layups and inside shots. All season, UCLA gained attention for its staunch defense, but it was the Gators who were making the stops early last night.

Florida held UCLA to 29.6 percent shooting (8-for-27) in the first half, and only three Bruins scored.

It didn't help that Noah's impeccable timing led to five blocked shots in the first half, or that the Gators frustrated UCLA on just about every second-chance basket. The Bruins had seven offen sive rebounds, but only scored three second-chance attempt.

Florida took the lead three minutes into the game and held it for the entire half.

Humphrey was fouled on a made three-pointer and complet ed the four-point play with 9:54 remaining, giving Florida a 25-15 lead as momentum shifting firmly in the Gators' favor.

At one point, UCLA had as many field goals (six) as turnovers.

Florida senior forward Adrian Moss, a reserve who entered the game averaging 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds, helped take away the Bruins' inside game.

His defense prevented a second-chance shot by Lorenzo Mata, and on the ensuing play he scored to put the Gators ahead 30-17 with 7:22 remaining.

Florida went to the locker room with a 36-25 halftime lead.

The Bruins had allowed just 45 points in each of their two previ ous tournament wins, including a dominating performance against LSU and Glen "Big Baby" Davis in the semifinals.

But the sophomore-dominated Gators were playing their best basketball in a season that already exceeded expectations. They had only one close game in their first five tournament victo ries, winning those by an average of 16 points.

Florida reached the title game with a semifinal win over George Mason, the mid-major school from Fairfax, Va., that made an improbable run to the Final Four.

UCLA was trying to extend its record for most national championships. The Bruins were going for their 12th title - 10 of them won during the John Wooden era.

The 95-year-old former coach was hospitalized before the game in Los Angeles. His condition wasn't considered serious and he planned to watch the game from his hospital bed, surrounded by family members.

Florida was playing in only its second title game. The Gators lost to Michigan State in 2000.

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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