Gators wear down Bruins for shot to repeat as champs


Florida's Al Horford looks to pass against UCLA's Lorenzo Mata Saturday night in the Georgia Dome.

TRACY WILCOX/ The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 2:51 a.m.

ATLANTA It's Florida vs. Ohio State, Part III.

Florida (34-5) moved a step closer Saturday to becoming the first team since Duke in 1992 to repeat as national champions. The Gators advanced to the title game with a 76-66 win over UCLA before 53,910 at the Georgia Dome, overcoming early turnover problems with a barrage of 3-pointers in the second half.

Florida will face Ohio State in Monday's title game, a rematch of a game that Florida won by 26 points at the O'Connell Center in December. The Buckeyes advanced with a 67-60 win over Georgetown earlier in the evening.

It's also a rematch of January's national football championship, which Florida won 41-14.

"We're just excited to be back in the title game," said senior Lee Humphrey, whose three 3-pointers early in the second half sparked a big Florida run. "It doesn't matter who we play."

"We can't focus on that, Gators vs. Ohio State," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We just have to prepare the best we can for an excellent team."

Corey Brewer led four Florida players in double figures with 19 points in the rematch of the 2006 NCAA title game. Chris Richard added 16 points off the bench,

reminiscent of the nine points senior Adrian Moss scored off the bench against UCLA a season ago.

Humphrey added 14 points, passing Bobby Hurley's NCAA Tournament record with four 3-pointers. Humphrey now has 43 3-pointers in his career in the NCAA Tournament, one more than Hurley (42) .

Taurean Green had 10 points and three assists.

UCLA (30-6) couldn't overcome early foul trouble. Leading scorer Arron Afflalo picked up three first-half fouls and didn't score his first points until hitting a 3-pointer with 6:21 remaining. Josh Shipp led the Bruins with 18 points, with Afflalo adding most of his 17 points late.

Florida out-rebounded UCLA 43-26 and held the Bruins to 39.1 percent shooting.

"Both teams did a really good job in the first half defensively," Donovan said. "Corey had a terrific first half and really bailed us out offensively. We had some turnovers, but I think in the second half our guys did a good job figuring out some things."

Brewer scored 15 of his 19 in the first half and held Afflalo in check until late.

"Afflalo is a really good player," Brewer said. "We tried to run him off screens tonight. Our team did a good job offensively attacking and causing him to get in foul trouble."

Amid reports that Donovan will listen to an offer to become the next Kentucky coach, Florida struggled early before finding its stride in the second half. The Gators took control of the game with a 15-4 run to start the second half, a run fueled by 3-pointers and putbacks.

After being told by Donovan to "wake up" following a first-half turnover, Humphrey found his shooting stroke in the second half. With UCLA intent on double-teaming Al Horford down low, Humphrey made the open looks he missed in the first half. Horford kicked out to Humphrey for a 3-pointer that put Florida ahead 32-25.

"You can't really ask for any better looks," Humphrey said. "The biggest difference is I just made the shots instead of in the first half, when I missed them."

Off another Horford kick-out, Humphrey connected again to put Florida up 35-28. Joakim Noah then scored on consecutive putbacks, and Brewer delivered the dagger blow with a 3-pointer that extended the lead to 42-28.

From there, Richard made sure UCLA couldn't mount a comeback. Richard scored two baskets inside on a dunk and putback, then converted a three-point play that put Florida ahead 54-36.

"Chris came in and gave us a lot of energy," Horford said. "Any time we get that kind of play from him, we're better. He's really underrated. People don't pay attention to him."

Florida scored 16 second-chance points, dominating both offensive and defensive backboards. Horford finished with nine points and 17 rebounds.

Unlike the matchup a season ago, Florida didn't get off to a fast start. The Gators had trouble early getting the ball inside against UCLA's physical halfcourt scheme, and were unable to make shots from the perimeter to open the defense up.

Humphrey missed his first three 3-point attempts. Florida didn't score its first field goal until the 12:29 mark, a Green 3-pointer that cut the UCLA lead to 6-5.

UCLA sacrificed fouls early to defend the basket. Afflalo picked up his second foul at the 18:10 mark. Mbah a Moute picked up his second foul, off the ball, with 16:06 left.

UCLA coach Ben Howland checked Afflalo back in the game with 14:56 left, but Brewer took advantage, forcing Afflalo's third foul on a drive to the basket with 11:29 remaining. Brewer made both free throws to give Florida its first lead, 7-6.

With Afflalo out, UCLA turned to Shipp for offense. Shipp, who sat out last season with a medical redshirt after undergoing hip surgery, scored 14 of UCLA's 23 first-half points.

By the end of the first half, Florida had 10 turnovers, more than the six it committed in the national title game against the Bruins last season.

"I just tried to encourage our guys," Donovan said. "We had some careless mistakes but they are also an excellent defensive team that is going to create some turnovers."

Contact Kevin Brockway at 374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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