UCLA Rejected, Dejected in Florida Loss
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ First came the rejection, then the dejection for UCLA. Florida outshot, outswatted and most notably outdefended the Bruins to win its first national basketball championship, 73-57 Monday night.
The Bruins (32-7) had their 12-game winning streak snapped one short of claiming what would have been the school’s record 12th national championship.
``This team really thought we could win a championship and to come up 40 minutes short after all we’ve been through, it hurts,″ said Arron Afflalo, who missed seven of his 10 shots and wound up with 10 points.
Now, they’ll have to be content with staring up at the 11 blue-and-gold banners already hanging in Pauley Pavilion, where nothing less than a national title is even noted.
``We didn’t achieve the ultimate goal,″ said Afflalo, who, like backcourt partner Jordan Farmar, had tears in his eyes when he emerged from the locker room. ``I feel incomplete.″
Another downer for the Bruins’ faithful occurred before the tip-off when word came that John Wooden had been hospitalized for undisclosed reasons in Los Angeles. The 95-year-old Hall of Fame coach, who guided UCLA to 10 of those titles, planned to watch the game and was expected to be released from the hospital in a couple of days.
``We heard he was fine before the game, so we just focused on the task at hand,″ Farmar said.
Wooden couldn’t have liked what he saw.
Florida did to UCLA what the Bruins had done to each of their previous opponents in the NCAA tournament. The Gators played tenacious defense, forcing eight of UCLA’s 12 turnovers in the first half, and intimidated the Bruins inside with their bigger front line of Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and Al Horford.
``Every time we made a run and tried to do something, they just stopped it or got an easy dunk, easy layup or wide-open 3, just backbreaking plays,″ Farmar said.
Noah especially had his way. He tore through the lane and dunked at will, swatted away shots and ripped rebounds out of the Bruins’ hands. The son of former French Open tennis champion Yannick Noah set a championship-game record for blocks with six. He also had 16 points and nine rebounds.
``He was a monster down there,″ Darren Collison said.
All the swagger that usually defines the tradition-heavy Bruins belonged to Florida. The Gators dunked with abandon, leaving humiliated defenders in their wake.
``It was painful,″ freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said. ``We all made mistakes and the biggest mistake we started making was we didn’t rotate quick enough, so they were able to get some easy layups and dunks.″
The gritty defense adopted by the Bruins under third-year coach Ben Howland was nowhere to be seen.
Playing catch-up most of the way, the Bruins didn’t try a full-court press until the closing minutes. It had no effect.
And forget about second shots. Most of UCLA’s misses ended up in the Gators’ hands. The Bruins shot 36 percent from the floor and 17 percent from 3-point range. Florida shot 44 percent from the field and 31 percent from long-range.
``We had to do a better job in terms of blocking out and not giving up second shots,″ Howland said. ``We got beat on a couple out-of-bounds plays early for layups. A lot of mistakes.″
Ryan Hollins, so stellar in the post during UCLA’s season-ending run, was powerless to stop the shorter, lighter and more energized Noah.
``He changed the game, and took us out of what we wanted to do,″ Hollins said.
Brewer helped out Noah and Horford down low, then stepped out to the 3-point line to take away anything UCLA tried from there.
``What really helps is that they have guys around them that can play,″ Farmar said. ``Corey Brewer is great. Taurean Green had an off-shooting night, but he controlled the tempo and did exactly what a point guard is supposed to do.″
The Bruins had held three of their previous five tournament opponents to 45 points or less, but the Gators scored 36 in the first half.
UCLA was lucky to be down just 11 at the break after being overwhelmed in every area but rebounding, where the Bruins had seven more boards.
Of their two main offensive threats, only Farmar scored in the first half, leading the Bruins with 12 points. Afflalo missed all three shots he took in the half, and didn’t score until he hit two free throws with 11 1/2 minutes left in the game.
Farmar finished with 18 points. Hollins and Mbah a Moute also had 10 points each. Hollins and Mbah a Moute added 10 rebounds each.
The Bruins opened the second half with a ruinous sequence. Mbah a Moute, who had 17 points and nine rebounds in a semifinal rout of LSU, missed a jumper and none of the Bruins rebounded.
Their next trip down, Farmar was forced into an off-balance jumper that missed. On their third possession, Afflalo missed a 3-pointer.
During the same stretch, Lee Humphrey and Brewer combined to hit three consecutive 3-pointers that pushed Florida’s lead to 45-27. Back-to-back dunks by Noah and Chris Richard put the Bruins into a 20-point hole.
``It’s a hurtful thing,″ Afflalo said. ``We had a great season, but second-place teams are quickly forgotten.″