ATLANTA – First, a familiar result. Next, a classic repeat?
Florida and its in-demand coach, Billy Donovan, moved one win away from a second straight national championship Saturday night, defeating UCLA 76-66 in a game that looked much like the meeting between these two in last year’s Final Four.
Corey Brewer scored 19 points, Chris Richard had 16 and Lee Humphrey had 14 more as the Gators got the best of the Bruins again, adding this semifinal win to a 73-57 rout in last year’s title game.
“We’re back in the championship game and I couldn’t ask for anything else,” Brewer said.
This victory for the Gators (34-5) set up another sort of rematch.
They’ll play Ohio State on Monday in the final, hoping for the same kind of result as their 27-point victory in the championship football game earlier this year. The basketball Buckeyes beat Georgetown 67-60 in the first semifinal.
The stars for Florida were Brewer, Humphrey (three 3-pointers in the second half), Joakim Noah and, of course, Donovan, whom the Gators faithful hope will rebuff a possible offer from Kentucky come season’s end.
“You have to give credit to them,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “They have outstanding players and they’re very, very well-coached. That all being said, we’re very disappointed about losing tonight and being here for a second straight year without bringing home a championship.”
Florida’s entire starting lineup put the NBA on hold and came back for a chance at a repeat. With one more win, the Gators will become the first team to go back to back since Duke in 1992 and the first to do it with the same starting five.
It hasn’t been easy. Many believe Donovan did his best coaching job this year, guiding this group of unselfish players to the cusp of another championship despite the target on their chests.
“These guys are as coachable this year as they were last year,” Donovan said. “The best thing I tried to emphasize to our team is to try and become the best team we can. If we do that, then let the chips fall where they may.”
UCLA (30-6), stuck on 11 titles, thought it brought a more experienced team to Atlanta, and that may have been true. But guard Arron Afflalo sat on the bench for almost the entire first half with foul trouble and center Lorenzo Mata joined him.
That took a bite out of UCLA’s early tenacious defensive effort, and when Brewer started going off – swishing two consecutive 3-pointers – the Gators were running to a 26-16 lead and UCLA never much threatened after that.
Led by Al Horford’s 17 rebounds, Florida outboarded UCLA 43-26.
The Bruins were overmatched again, with their best players in foul trouble early.
Florida 76, UCLA 66
UCLA (30-6) – Shipp 7-14 4-4 18, Mbah a Moute 2-4 0-0 4, Mata 3-6 0-0 6, Collison 3-14 2-2 9, Afflalo 5-14 4-4 17, Westbrook 1-2 0-0 2, Wright 0-0 0-0 0, Aboya 2-4 1-2 5, Keefe 1-1 0-1 2, Roll 1-5 0-0 3. Totals 25-64 11-13 66.
Florida (34-5) – Brewer 5-7 5-6 19, Noah 3-7 2-7 8, Horford 2-3 5-9 9, Green 2-9 5-6 10, Humphrey 5-9 0-1 14, Hodge 0-2 0-0 0, Werner 0-1 0-0 0, Richard 7-7 2-2 16. Totals 24-45 19-31 76.
Halftime – Florida 29, UCLA 23. 3-Point Goals – UCLA 5-23 (Afflalo 3-9, Roll 1-4, Collison 1-6, Shipp 0-4), Florida 9-22 (Brewer 4-5, Humphrey 4-8, Green 1-7, Hodge 0-1, Werner 0-1). Fouled Out – Afflalo, Mata, Mbah a Moute. Rebounds – UCLA 26 (Keefe 6), Florida 43 (Horford 17). Assists – UCLA 12 (Collison, Shipp 5), Florida 10 (Green, Horford 3). Total Fouls – UCLA 26, Florida 17. A – 53,510.
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