A Bruin fan emailed us the following observations on Saturday's match-up. There is a lot to chew on here. We will try to get more notes on the Gators up later tonight. Meanwhile don't be shy to share your thoughts on Ben Ball strategery for Saturday night in the comment threads or in the diaries. GO BRUINS. - N
I attended last year's title game in Indianapolis. I don't think Florida will be as overconfident as Vegas was in 91, but they are beatable. A few thoughts on last year's game:
- Crowd was an enormous factor. It was massively pro-Florida. This year it's far better to play them on a Saturday, when the place is divided by four schools. The OSU and GU fans might even root for UCLA in this game.
- Final Four games are usually more competitive than title games; last year all three were blowouts and that's very unusual. In the title game, teams trail by 12, they panic, it's over. In the Final Four teams have staged big comebacks like Duke in 01; this is a plus for a resilient team like UCLA that could easily fall behind early.
- Last year everyone but Farmar played poorly. Bozeman though was probably the worst. He was assigned to guard Green much of the time and didn't disrupt Green at all. Neither did Farmar, despite the fact Green only goes about 6-0.
- Collison did not have a good game. However, he was the only guy adequately guarding Green. Not difference-making level, but he was tough on Green and affected Green's game. Offensively, he did very little damage but Florida struggled to guard him. He would get out of control in the lane and turn it over, but he was able to create space and shots, the only UCLA player to do so. He clearly should've played the whole game and could be a difference-maker this year.
- Brewer silenced Afflalo, at least when it mattered. Shipp will be a major plus, an offensive threat unlike Bozeman who can either drive on Humphrey, or draw Brewer away from Afflalo.
- Howland made one bad chess move: he pressed in the second half. In shot-clock basketball, there is usually no reason to press. When trailing by that much, you have to do the opposite, sag, maybe go to zone, let the leading team get conservative and launch 3's. Afflalo made a couple shots, cut lead to 13 or 12, then Florida scorched the press and put on an embarrassing dunk show and it was a rout. Absolutely, it is foolhardy to press Florida...this is a true 5-man offense, those big men can pass like guards and can dribble reasonably well in traffic. UCLA wasn't going to win, but it threatened to be competitive.
- Florida was only a 3 seed last year. They're an excellent all-around team as it is, but they won the title because Noah came out of mostly nowhere to be a top 5 NBA pick. He dominated UCLA and Villanova and was a defensive monster the whole tourney. Last year, he just waited for UCLA to bring the ball to him in the paint and he blocked it. Florida defends the 3-point shot very well and lets Noah handle the paint so Collison will have to take it inside, draw the D in, then kick it out for open looks. Noah though is different from last year; he's still tough but not the same player this year, 4th on their team in scoring, not dominating in this tournament and doesn't seem as fearsome with Oden around. Opponents know he can't shoot, he kills you with passing and defense and last year he spent the first half barging into the lane and dishing off to wide-open shooters.
- One of the best UCLA plays all year is Collison shadowing the guy who's bringing the ball upcourt. When used, this has led to lots of turnovers and easy transition baskets, something they're much better at than last year. This might force Noah and Brewer to come up and help Green, slowing Florida's offense. Howland doesn't use this all the time because of fatigue and the risk of Collison getting in foul trouble. Florida has a bad rep at free throw shooting but made nearly all of them in the first half last year, a big reason for their big lead.
- Florida and UCLA have a similar issue in that there's no clear-cut go-to guy. It's not Noah; he can't shoot. In a tight game, they'll give the last shot to Brewer, who missed against Kansas in December. For UCLA it'll likely be Afflalo but he'll be heavily guarded and it maybe should be Collison, whom I doubt they can guard without a double-team. Florida has had one or two tight tourney games in two years. This year they can't just see UCLA's light frontcourt and think title, they know they still have to deal with Oden or Hibbert/Green if they win.
- UCLA is the only one of the four teams left that really loves to play defense. The others all play it pretty well though. Afflalo said it really well over the weekend when he noted that in last year's game, "we didn't play with any aggressiveness on defense." Guys were on their heels, tentative. Mata's in far better shape now. Luc is heavier and a lot less magical on offense than last year, but he's more able to bang defensively with 6-8, 6-9 power forwards. Aboya's and Mata's strength is that they're fast enough to chase guards around the perimeter after the pick is set and can prevent an open 3 or feed pass inside. Also, Mata has made a LOT of clutch plays this year, including on offense.
- UCLA doesn't have a new player this time like Grant Hill, but what's underrated now is that it's an all-Howland roster. That's no knock on Bozeman and Hollins, who were critical to the tourney ride, but there is a difference. Howland's a phenomenal coach who's now dealing strictly with his own recruits, they don't panic in crunch time, they do exactly what they're supposed to and someone makes a play.
- I find it hard to believe this game will be like last year's game. Coach Wooden in the hospital, that massive Florida crowd, poor games by Afflalo, Collison, Mata and virtually everyone else; Noah at the top of his game. However, it's still a really tough assignment. An unfriendly court in SEC country, against the same five guys and coach who know they crushed the Bruins last year; there's a potential for the type of confidence Dallas had over the Buffalo Bills in the 90s. Donovan won't be like Tarkanian and get overconfident. If anything, he might overcoach and might get tight if the Kentucky talk gets out of control.