Gators Set a Double Standard
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
ATLANTA, April 2 -- Florida's Joakim Noah wrapped one teammate after another in bearhugs late Monday night, much like he had at the end of a handful of important victories this season. Only this time, it marked an embrace for history, a snapshot for posterity.
Several seasons will almost certainly come and go before college basketball sees a second coming of these Florida Gators, an absurdly talented team that etched a permanent place in history with an 84-75 victory over Ohio State in Monday's national championship game at the Georgia Dome.
It was not merely that Florida became the first school since Duke in 1991-92 to win back-to-back national titles. The Gators accomplished the feat with the same starting lineup in an era in which elite players often look for the quickest path to the NBA.
Florida didn't just have only one top player delay a lucrative professional career; three Gators -- Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford -- returned for their junior seasons precisely for the moment that occurred Monday, which concluded with the team dancing amid an on-court confetti storm.
When Noah was asked whether he re alized the historical significance, he nodded again and again and said: "I feel like we stand for something. College students can look and see it's not all about money all the time. Winning championships is more important than money. It's not about money; it's about making history."
Noah and his teammates accomplished the goal about which they rarely spoke but were often asked. Since winning the title last season, Horford said he had been asked about repeating as champions exactly 86,344 times. Florida Coach Billy Donovan said, "What happened this year in college basketball is so good on so many different levels."
Among those in the Georgia Dome crowd was Ohio State football Coach Jim Tressel, who watched Florida deny Ohio State a national championship for the second time in three months. The Gators whipped Ohio State, 41-14, in this year's BCS national title game.
On Monday, Ohio State (35-4) sliced a 14-point deficit to six with about five minutes remaining. The Gators quickly answered with a three-pointer by point guard Taurean Green. Ohio State Coach Thad Matta said at that moment the feeling was, "Oh, my God, what do we do next?"
Defensively, Florida's lineup of long defenders, particularly Brewer and Noah, helped harass the Buckeyes on the perimeter and hold them to 4-of-23 three-point shooting.
Offensively, Florida (35-5) demonstrated its range of scoring options, from three-point shooters to all-American front-court players to unheralded reserves who made key contributions. Horford finished with 18 points but was assisted by a large cast, including Brewer, who was named the Final Four's most outstanding player.
"They've got really everything," Matta said.
Ohio State's 22-game winning streak entering the game was impressive. Florida's 17-game winning streak in the postseason entering the game was more impressive and showed just how much it has owned the months of March and April the past two years.