Gators have one final shot

Florida's Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, Al Horford, Lee Humphrey, and Corey Brewer wait for play against UCLA in the second half of the Final Four semifinal at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Saturday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 5:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 5:14 p.m.

ATLANTA — Another championship, another Florida-Ohio State matchup. Except this time, the roles are reversed.

Back on Jan. 8, the Florida football team used its underdog status as motivation to throttle the Buckeyes 41-14. When the two schools face off for the NCAA basketball championship Monday in the Georgia Dome, it will be the defending champion Gators who will be favored to win.

“We haven't been picked to win a lot of games,” said Ohio State's Mike Conley Jr. “That's just more motivation for us.”

Said Buckeyes coach Thad Matta, “I do feel like we're the underdog. I understand why people would give us no shot on paper.”

It sounds familiar to the Gator mantra in Glendale, Ariz.

Ohio State is a 4 1/2-point underdog despite winning 21 straight games, in part because Florida has its own streak with 11 straight NCAA tourney wins. And there's also that 26-point spanking the Gators put on the Buckeyes back in December in Gainesville.

“I think we'll be a lot better off in this game,” said Conley Jr.

The question is whether or not better is good enough against a Florida team trying to become the first back-to-back champions since Duke in 1991 and '92.

“We realize it's not about history,” said Florida's Joakim Noah. “It's not about all that. We have to focus on the task at hand and then hopefully be back here and we can talk about that.”

Said Florida coach Billy Donovan, “People want to fast forward into the ending result. The ending result is not there.”

But the questions about repeating have not gone away.

“I wish I had a nickel for every time everybody asked me that,” said Corey Brewer. “I'd have a lot of money.”

Monday night will also be the last time the Fab Five — Florida's starters for the last two seasons — will take the court together. Their amazing run has included 67 victories in the last two seasons as well as an SEC title and two SEC Tournament championships during that stretch.

With Lee Humphrey graduating and the futures of the other four players — all possible NBA draft picks — still in the air, they will end their run in the last college basketball game of the season for the second straight year.

“We're not satisfied until we get that good thing in the end,” Noah said. “If you don't get that good thing in the end, I mean, it's going to hurt really bad in that locker room.

“I've had a chance to talk to people who were in that locker room when they lost in that championship game on that 2000 Gator team. It hurts. There were people crying.”

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