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Power of 5
As UF's returning starters edge closer to a repeat of a national championship, it's tougher than it looks.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published March 31, 2007
There's a reason only six programs in the history of the NCAA Tournament have won back-to-back national championships. There's a reason no team has been able to accomplish that feat since Duke in 1991 and 1992. Simply put, it ain't easy. "It's a completely unique challenge," Florida coach Billy Donovan said Friday as his team prepared to face UCLA in tonight's national semifinal. "Never mind the repeating; just getting back to this point when you're dealing with the expectations that our team had to deal with. I don't know if people truly understand how hard it is but also how rewarding it is and how much maybe you appreciate where you're at right now." Where they are is two games away from joining an elite group of college basketball programs.
As the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, the Gators realize that even with getting to the Final Four, winning another title won't be easy, which is what makes the tournament - and repeating - so unique.
"To repeat, you have to focus on the task at hand," junior forward Joakim Noah said. "The thing about the NCAA Tournament and what I have realized is the best team does not always win. I learned that from Coach Donovan. It is not like the NBA, where there is a series and if you don't play well one game that's okay - we can get them back at home. No, you play bad for 40 minutes and you are going home and your season is over and your seniors don't get to play ever again in those uniforms. ... We want to repeat, but to get to that level, you need to focus on the task at hand, and the task at hand is UCLA."
What Florida has in common with many of the schools that won consecutive titles is a team that remains intact. The Gators returned all five starters from last season's title team, a significance that can't be overstated.
"We had a lot of our players back, just like Florida," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "So you had continuity. Our team was ranked, the second year, No. 1 the entire year, so they were under constant pressure. And that was good because once we got to the tournament, there's a lot of pressure on you. ... So I guess what I'm saying is, you still have to have somebody step up and hit a big shot to close a game or a player who does a little bit more when the team is down, otherwise you're out of it. So there's a little bit of luck and you need an entire team effort and we had that and we were fortunate enough to win it twice."
Although Florida is playing for a shot at history, the Gator players have chosen to look at it another way: They aren't trying to repeat. They are trying to win a new title.
"We're not thinking about repeating. We're concerned about the semifinal game against UCLA," junior center Al Horford said. "I've definitely thought about it (winning another one), but it's something that we can't get too far ahead of ourselves."
"We won last year," senior Chris Richard said. "Nobody can take that away. Now we're trying to get another one. A different one."
From the moment the Gators cut down the nets last season, they began trying to prepare mentally for what was to come.
"I told these guys this summer, all of us including coaches, we're going to find out what it's like the last 20 years to be at Duke and Carolina," Florida assistant coach Larry Shyatt said. "Because it is different. It is different, and it's different for our kids, and it's different for our prep and our focus."
Now that they've overcome all the obstacles and made it back to the Final Four, the Gator players figure they might as well make the best of it.
"I haven't really thought about it (making history)," junior forward Corey Brewer said. "I was just hoping we'd get back and have another chance to do it in the Final Four. Now we're back. We got back, so we feel like, why not? Let's do it. Let's win it all."
Florida has a chance to become the seventh school to win consecutive Division I men's basketball championships. If the Gators pull it off, they will be the first to go back-to-back with the same five starters.