Gators Rewind Show, Play It Again

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 1, 2007

ATLANTA, March 31 -- As if the clock were turned back one year, UCLA walked onto college basketball's largest stage again Saturday and confronted the same Florida starting lineup that thoroughly embarrassed the Bruins in last season's national championship game.

This year's NCAA tournament semifinal turned into not merely a rematch, but very much a replay. After overcoming early offensive struggles, the Gators were at their scintillating best in the second half Saturday, cruising to a convincing 76-66 victory at the Georgia Dome to advance to Monday's national title game against Ohio State.

The national title game will serve as a rematch of Florida's 26-point victory over Ohio State in December as well as Florida's 41-14 victory over Ohio State in this year's national championship football game.

The Gators, a collection of stars who put NBA dreams on hold last spring, also moved within one victory of becoming the first repeat national champions since Duke in 1991 and '92.

"Last year was last year," Florida sharpshooter Lee Humphrey said. "The coaches have been telling us all year this is a new season and an opportunity for a new championship. We're excited to be back."

Saturday night, however, felt a little bit like last year. Humphrey made 4 of 8 three-point attempts in last year's national title game. He shot 4 for 8 from beyond the arc Saturday as Florida stretched a six-point halftime lead into an 18-point advantage midway through the second half.

Florida backup point guard Walter Hodge said UCLA players had talked too much about seeking revenge, so it was only fitting to hand the Bruins a similar result as last season. In the run-up to Saturday's game, players on both sides insisted their teams were changed and improved from a year ago. As it turned out, both may be improved, but the difference remained unchanged.

The defensive-oriented Bruins (30-6) still have a difficult time generating enough offense to beat a multifaceted team such as the Gators (34-5), who have an abundance of weapons both on the interior and the perimeter. When UCLA standout Arron Afflalo picked up three early fouls, it further hampered UCLA's offensive options.

"I couldn't be on the floor to help my teammates," said Afflalo, who fouled out after scoring 17 points. "That took me out of my own little personal rhythm a little bit."

The second half turned into an assortment of Florida three-pointers and follow-up dunks. Less than five minutes into the second half, Florida's Joakim Noah, the most outstanding player of last year's Final Four, pushed UCLA's Lorenzo Mata out of the way and converted a resounding follow-up dunk that gave Florida an 11-point lead that only grew.

Noah, who had 11 rebounds, and Al Horford (17) combined for more rebounds than the entire UCLA team, which had 26. Equally impressive was the play of reserve Florida big man Chris Richard, who made all seven of his field goal attempts en route to scoring 16 points.

"I don't want to go out without a championship," said Richard, a senior.

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