tampabay.com

Billy ball at best on defense

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published April 4, 2006


INDIANAPOLIS - Florida may be known for its offense, Billy ball and all, but these Gators have some defensive teeth to them.

And they flashed them all Monday.

The Gators used their speed, their size, their intensity and, yes, their savvy to bottle up UCLA and claim their first NCAA men's basketball championship, 73-57, at the RCA Dome.

"Everybody was talking about their defense," sophomore forward Corey Brewer said. "We proved who's the best defensive team and we're the national champions."

The 6-foot-8 Brewer was seemingly everywhere on the outside. He had a game-high three steals, including one in the waning moments when he raced to retrieve an inbound pass.

On the inside, sophomore forward Joakim Noah was seemingly everywhere. He had six blocks, a championship game record, to go with seven defensive rebounds.

"Defensively, he's just long," UCLA sophomore guard Arron Afflalo said of the 6-11 Noah. "He has the ability to change shots when he's not blocking them. He plays with a lot of energy."

The Bruins (32-7), who had won 12 straight and were going for their 12th national title, had no answers. Not for Brewer. Not for Noah. Not for sophomore center Al Horford nor sophomore guard Taurean Green nor junior guard Lee Humphrey nor...

The Bruins shot 36 percent from the field (22 of 61) for the game, 17.6 percent (3 of 17) from 3-point range. They also turned the ball over 12 times.

"It was definitely a team effort," said Noah, who had 16 points and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "When you look at what Corey Brewer did. Humphrey. You look at him as a 3-point shooter, but he was a monster on defense. My man Horford blocked a lot of shots, too. Even sometimes when we don't get blocks, we're just intimidating because we're trees out there. It's not about who's getting blocks and who's getting stats, it's about getting Ws."

But the Gators (33-6) earned some style points too, by flirting with a record.

Since the advent of the 35-second shot clock in the 1985-86 season, the NCAA Tournament record for fewest points allowed by a champion is 338 (an average of 56.3) in 2000 by Michigan State; the Spartans beat Florida 89-76 in the title game.

The Gators allowed a total of 340 (an average of 56.7).

"Their defense was terrific," said coach Ben Howland, whose signature at Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh and now UCLA (32-7) has been a hard-nosed, relentless defense. "We got sped up. We got a little hurried. We had opportunities to actually come into the paint and stop, but we were moving too fast."

Blame the Gators.

"Corey Brewer is a heck of a defender standing in front of the ball," Afflalo said. "Their bigs are great shot blockers. They played to perfection tonight."