It worked out perfectly. From the moment we they punked us last year and showed themselves to be classless, gyrating, chest-beating thugs, I have wanted only to get to the Final 4 and punk them back. Although I would have taken a Bruin championship anyway possible, something would have been missing had we not beaten Florida on the way there. We needed to cross paths with Florida for this to feel right. We needed Florida because only by beating them will the sour-acid taste of the first Monday of April 2006 leave our mouths and free us to fully enjoy the nectar that is BenBall without dwelling on that bitter memory. We needed to beat Florida or all the haters would have said we caught a break by having to play [fill in the blank] instead.
They punked us last year. Plain and simple. But we weren't really us in that game. We looked nervous, and we never really settled in. Our patented, ballhawking defense was a step slow. Our offense took some time to adjust to the lengthier Gators. Perhaps it was because we had just played our best game two days earlier and couldn't get up to that level again, not so quickly, while they only had to beat nice little George Mason two days earlier and were hardly worse for the wear. Perhaps Florida had just too much talent, size and teamwork for us to beat them on that night, even if we had played well, but we'll never know because we didn't.
This year, it's different. Our kids and our coach had at least 6 months before fall practice began to stew over our last that Black Monday in April. Imagine Howland and Afflalo---how many times have they replayed that night in their head and vowed to themselves never to let that happen again. They probably prayed to the basketball gods for a chance to find sweet redemption. They've probably obsessed with how they will slow down Florida and find a way to score inside and outside against the defending champs. The entire team has played this year like they have one mission: to go further in the tourney than they did last year, including a repayment in kind to the one team they owed at the end of last year. And when these BenBall Warriors are on a mission, they fulfill it (killing it at Maui, winning Pac-10 title at WSU (an 8th straight Pac-10 win), getting to stay in California for the first two rounds of the tourney, and the one-game-at-a-time approach to the last 4 games, where they've seized the lead and never trailed in the second half).
With a week to prepare and rest (and nearly a year to prepare before that), I have no doubt that the real BenBall Warriors will show up on Saturday--with a large chip on their collectively large shoulders, and with the motivation to succeed that can only come from coming so close to hanging a banner and cementing a legacy, only to fall short in the final battle. There is no greater motivation, and if there is a group of young men who will be able to channel their motivation into a blinding-hot intensity and stone-cold effectiveness, it is our beloved Bruins.
Statistics show this to be a decidedly even Final 4, perhaps the most evenly matched Final 4 in history. We have an edge on all 3 other teams defensively, but they all have an edge in offense and interior size. Kenpom shows Florida with a 54% chance of beating us (and that's the more uneven of the two semifinals) and a 28% chance of winning the title, and no one has less than a 22% chance to stand on the podium Monday night. It's tight. And in tight games, clutch performers prevail. Guys like Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Luc. Alfred Aboya, Mike Roll. Russell Westbrook. Lorenzo. Those types of guys. We have them in spades. (Arron and DC's clutch 3s, Josh's FT shooting, Luc's and Zo's clutch defensive steals and blocks etc.)
So, we have the team with extra motivation, the best defense, the best preparation, and the clutchiest (thanks Stephen Colbert) players. We know that nobody punks the BenBall Warriors twice. Everything has aligned like a Hollywood script for the 2006-07 Bruins to bring back banner #12 and championship #100. And to erase the year-long sour-acid taste in our mouths. Go Bruins!