Going into a de facto home game for Florida in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, UCLA had its work cut out for it against the second seeded Gators. While the Bruins consistently hammered Florida inside using Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson, the Gators played an inside-outside game that the Bruins seemed to have no shot at stopping. Down the stretch, UCLA's inability to get stops finally did them in with back to back 3's from Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy that the Bruins had no answer for offensively.
Florida dominated the guard matchups as expected. A hobbled Lazeric Jones once again had a forgettable game, which has really been in line with the last couple of months of play, and his mistakes down the stretch cost the Bruins dearly. On the other side of the ball, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton were able to dominate the backcourt matchup, going for 33 points between them.
If UCLA was to have a shot at keeping things close, they would need to own the paint, and on the offensive end, this was the case. Nelson's 16 points came on an array of drives and post moves while Smith was able to anchor himself in the paint. And as every opponent who has come before has figured out, you do not move Smith, Smith moves you, and between stints on the bench due to foul trouble, he also came up with 16 points. It was on the defensive end on the interior that the Bruins likely lost this one. Florida's bigs were far more active throughout the game, and it didn't seem to matter who they threw inside because they all appeared to be equally effective. Their five frontcourt players went for 40 with none of them scoring less than 7. With all that balance, the Bruins would need to depend on their wildcard, the enigmatic Tyler Honeycutt to push them over the top. Honeycutt tallied four blocks in the second half, but pulled a disappearing act offensively until the final minutes of the game when UCLA was already in bad shape. He ended up 4-14 for the night in what many speculate could be his last game as a Bruin.
This team is going to look back and have a lot of regrets about the lack of clutch play, missing close shots and free throws, and turning a very winnable game into a season ending loss. Even that would have been survivable for the Bruins had they decided to bring more than one half of good defense to the entire tournament, that being the first half of the Michigan State game. Florida shot 56% in the first half and 50% for the entire game, and with numbers like that, the Bruins did not deserve to advance and certainly did not belong in the Sweet 16.
Now begins what will be sure to be an interesting offseason. Even if Honeycutt decides not to come back, if we can limit the departures to just him, UCLA will be well positioned to make a run next year. This is also predicated on the assumption that another summer for these guys will help fix the maddening mental lapses and inconsistent effort we had to deal with throughout this season.