Florida trumps UCLA to win NCAA title

Kali Price

INDIANAPOLIS – As the final seconds went down, Joakim Noah jumped up and down as Taurean Green danced with the ball at his side.

With his championship T-shirt on, Florida sophomore forward Noah pushed his way by Florida coach Billy Donovan to give CBS cameras a message.

“Don’t be mad at us if we don’t do a little homework in the next few weeks,” he said.

With 16 points, Noah led Florida (33-6) to their first ever NCAA Division I Men’s Tournament Championship, beating UCLA (32-7) 73-57 last night.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Noah said in a pre-game press conference made available by the NCAA. “We’re just soaking it in, enjoying every moment. At the end of the day, it’s all about playing basketball. That’s what we love to do.”

From the opening tip, UCLA controlled Florida defensively, but let up, allowing the Gators to go on an 11-4 run, leading 15-8 at the 14:00 mark.

The Gators continued to hold down the Bruins, going on a 15-7 run in the next seven minutes.

“It was a total team effort,” Donovan told CBS. “We did a good job from the 3-point line defending.”

Noah dominated defensively, as well as offensively, blocking five and grabbing four rebounds in the first half, totaling a team-high eight rebounds for the game. He ended the first with a perfect 2-of-2 from the field and 2-of-2 from the line.

“Noah is a terrific player,” UCLA coach Ben Howland told CBS. “He’s an outstanding player, a future pro.”

At the half, Florida led UCLA 36-25, after leading by as much as 13.

And it was all downhill from there for UCLA.

“They executed their game plan to perfection,” Howland said. “We’ll be back. My heart goes out to my four seniors. I’m just disappointed we came up a little short.”

Florida came into the second half dominating on offense and went on a 13-4 run, with Noah dribbling down the lane around UCLA sophomore center Lorenzo Mata to dunk. The run ended with 13:41 left to go in the contest.

The Gators kept up their double-digit lead for the remainder of the game, leading by as much as 20 with 12:40 to go.

With 9:00 left to go, UCLA sophomore guard Arron Afflalo made his first field goal of the night with a 3-pointer and hit another trey 17 seconds later.

Noah answered with a dunk off an assist by sophomore guard Corey Brewer to put the Gators up 59-43.

After Brewer scored the final points of the game with 20 seconds left, the Gators got the ball back off a missed layup by UCLA sophomore guard Jordan Farmar and held it as the buzzer sounded.

Noah let out a huge roar with clenched fists at his sides as the team rushed the court, and Green threw up the ball into the air.

“(Noah’s) an emotional guy,” Green said before the game. “He’s such a great competitor. He always wants to win.”

Noah’s team-high 16 points were followed by junior guard Lee Humphrey with 15 points.

Farmar led the Bruins with a game-high 18 points.

“You know, he’s going to be an NBA player as well,” Howland said about Farmar’s defensive skills before the game. “At that level, you’ve got to be able to play both ends. They all want to get to the league. They all want to be in the NBA. Fortunately, we’re going to have a lot of them that get there.”

Despite his powerful defensive game, Farmar’s offensive numbers were much higher than his defensive as the Gators were able to break through the Bruins’ full-court man-to-man press. Farmar went 8-of-21 from the field.

“UCLA is a great defensive team,” Donovan said to CBS.

Donovan joins Bobby Knight and Dean Smith as NCAA coaches who played in the Final Four in college and then won a national championship during their coaching careers.

After the game, Donovan said he is thankful for all the fans, administration, coaches and players at Florida. It was the young coach’s first NCAA Championship.

“There’s a lot of people that helped us get here,” he said. I’m very, very blessed for the opportunity.”

Contact sports editor Kali Price at [email protected].