UCLA vs. Florida - Championship Game Preview
By Bruin Basketball Report
The UCLA Bruins seek their 12th NCAA men’s basketball championship when they face the Florida Gators in the title game Monday night in Indianapolis.
UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland has the Bruins (32-6) peaking at just the right time. They enter Monday’s game with a nation-leading twelve game-winning streak.
During the tournament, UCLA has limited opponents to just 36.8% field goal shooting; in addition, they have held three of their four NCAA tournament opponents to 45 or less points: Belmont (44) and Memphis/LSU (45).
The Bruin defense is preventing opponents from getting into the flow of their offense, and pressuring them into unfamiliar shots they ordinarily would not attempt.
"We see teams not do what they normally do," UCLA point-guard Jordan Farmar said. "Their eyes get big, they get that deer-in-the-headlights look. They start pointing fingers and yelling at each other."
The nation is finally taking notice of UCLA’s defense, especially after the way the Bruins easily dispatched both Memphis and LSU limiting each team to just 45 points apiece.
"They are one of the top, if not the best, defensive team in the country," Florida assistant Larry Shyatt said. "They have habitually the best half-court understanding I've see up to this point."
UCLA’s defense is what got the Bruins to the championship game, and it will be defense which will win the title; however, lost in the midst of the Bruin's defensive display has been the steady transformation of the UCLA offense.
The Bruins began the tournament with a reputation as a backcourt dominated offensive club, led by one of the finest backcourt tandems in Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo.
Yet, the two star sophomore guards have combined to shoot only 35% from the field and have scored six points less than their season's average in the NCAA tournament.
How have the Bruins reached the title game without stellar offensive games from their backcourt stars?
They have transformed into a "balanced" offensive team.
In five tournament games, four UCLA players are averaging double figures in points scored: Afflalo (11.8), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (11.8), Ryan Hollins (11.8 and 85%FG), and Jordan Farmar (11.4).
UCLA’s ability to score from both the low post and perimeter has made it easier for them to dissect opponent defenses, especially when they are faced with a man-to-man defense. Farmar has been especially effective with the high-screen pick against straight man-to-man defenses.
The Florida Gators mix their defenses during a game - which includes a zone defense, and will be expected to utilize the zone against UCLA, at least until the Bruins show they can be effective against it.
The Gators used a zone defense against Georgetown and essentially shut down the Hoyas’ tough frontline, but Georgetown doesn’t have the outside shooting of UCLA nor does it have the effective point-guard duo of Farmar and freshman Darren Collison.
Against the zone, the Bruins will certainly have to hit from the outside but they can't passively settle for outside three-point shots; instead, they have to attack the seams of the Gator zone with dribble-penetration to set-up inside scoring opportunities or open shots on the perimeter.
Collison has shown his effectiveness in breaking down a zone with his quickness, and the Bruin big men have been quite capable of catching the ball in the paint for scores – especially in the latter part of the season.
The Florida Gators are a well-balanced basketball team themselves with all five starters averaging double-figures in scoring.
They lead the nation in field goal percentage shooting (50.4%), while limiting teams to just 39% shooting; not surprising they are third best in the nation in scoring margin (14.7 points).
The Gators are an excellent three-point shooting team (39%), and have a strong and athletic frontline, led by sophomore center Joakim Noah
Noah (6'11, 227) leads Florida in scoring (14.1 points) and is third in the nation in field goal percentage shooting (62.9%). He is quick off the floor which allows him to finish well around the basket.
Although his slight frame prevents him from being a strong post defender, his excellent basketball instincts makes him a good defender in the paint, especially on help-defense as he averages 2.3 blocks a game.
Most likely, UCLA’s Ryan Hollins will be matched up against Noah. Hollins who bruised his thigh in practice on Friday showed minimal effects from the injury in the game against LSU.
Noah is teamed on the frontline with forwards Corey Brewer and Al Horford.
Brewer (So, 6'8, 185) is good perimeter shooter but is just as effective in attacking the rim with his superior athleticism. He is streaky from three-point range, but can change a game when he gets hot from beyond the arc. In addition, he is an excellent perimeter defender who averages 1.5 steals a game.
UCLA’s senior Cedric Bozeman is the team’s second-best on-ball defender, after Arron Afflalo, and his defense on Brewer will be one of the keys to the game.
Horford (So, 6-9 242) is a tough interior player and post defender who complements the wisp-thin Noah in the paint. Willing to sacrifice his body for the team, he leads the team in rebounding (7.6) and averages 1.6 blocks per game. He scored 11.3 points a game shooting 60% from the field. Mbah a Moute and company need to effectively keep Horford off the offensive boards.
Sophomore Taurean Green (6’0, 177) guides the team from the point and averages 13.6 a game. He gets the ball to his teammates usually in the right spot but has a tendency to turn the ball over often, more than three a game – although he had zero turnovers against George Mason.
Green is not a great penetrating guard but shoots well from the perimeter, averaging 39.6% from three-point distance.
Afflalo will likely get the assignment against Green with Collison coming in reserve. Similar to against LSU, the Bruins will try to keep the ball out of Green’s hands and make it difficult for Florida to initiate their offense.
Guard Lee Humphrey (Jr, 6'2 192) averages 10.8 points per game. He is a spot-up three-point specialist (45.8% 3-PT%) who was allowed by George Mason to go off for 6 of 12 from three-point distance. The Bruins will need to close out on Humphrey effectively on the perimeter.
Florida’s key reserves include two big bodies in Adrian Moss (Sr, 6'9 247) and Chris Richard (Jr, 6’8 255). Richard gets the major minutes (17.6 minutes) substituting in for either Horford or Noah to provide a strong low-post presence and rebounding.
Walter Hodge (Fr, 6'0 170) and David Huertas (Fr, 6’5 185) provide depth on the perimeter. Hodge is a good shooter from outside (37% 3-PT%) and provides an offensive spark off the bench.
The Gators typically used a nine-man rotation during the season; however, in close games during the tournament Donovan has played their starters close to 34-35 minutes a game, unless they were in foul-trouble or ineffective in the game.
Florida would be wise to resort back to their regular season substitution patterns, giving more minutes to the bench, against the Bruins.
UCLA coach Ben Howland has actually increased his substitution frequency during tournament time to keep the level of defensive intensity high throughout the game.
The Bruins are 24-1 when leading at halftime this season, a testament to their depth and physical play which wears opponents down the stretch.