Clock Strikes Twelve for Cinderella and Big Baby Sheds a Tear

By Emmett L. Gill, Jr
Updated: April 2, 2006

Gators Too Much Patriots

Florida 73, George Mason 58

INDIANA—Despite the experts assertion that this year’s national champion would be determined by the best frontcourt play, Florida (32-6) provided that a careful mix of frontcourt rebounding and backcourt long-range shooting to propel the team to a 73-58 win over George Mason (27-8) in the national semifinal game.

Florida jumped out to a 13-6 lead on the strength of ten second chance points and 7 early points by guard Corey Brewer (19 points, 6 rebounds). However, George Mason, in the schools first Final Four appearance, took advantage of some liberal substitutions by Florida coach Billy Donovan to go on a 7-point run, to cut the lead to three, midway through the first half. After a quick Florida timeout, Brewer reentered the game and immediately reestablished himself as the key ingredient by dropping 5 straight points to impel Florida to a 21-19 lead. Florida shot 40 percent from behind the arc, but the unfortunate reality George Mason failed to hit one first-half three pointer (0-4) would help lead to the Patriots demise. The three point shot was clearly a staple in George Mason’s run through the Washington, DC regional.

Donovan went to his bench again, but this time they delivered helping the Atlanta regional champions build a 24-19. However, the Patriots, behind some tenacious defense, a few gracious bounces, and two artistic lay-ups cut the lead to 1. Florida closed the half with a 6-2 and lead by a many at the end of the half 31-26. Florida shot 57.1% from the field in the first half. Surprisingly, heralded center Joakim Noah (12 points, 7 8 rebounds) played a secondary role throughout the half scoring only four points. Still, Noah did make his presence felt in the paint with 7 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.

The Gators Lee Humphrey (6-12 3pt FG) kicked off the second half with a bang dropping two three pointers in less than 30 seconds to help Florida build a ten point margin. As evident through their out-of-sync offense, the quick start seemed to stun George Mason who quickly found their team trailing by 17 points. “We really could not get into our rhythm. They got so many second chance points, which usually turns into points for us at the other end”, George Mason Coach Jim Larrinaga said after the game. The Florida frontcourt, not to be outdone by its backcourt, began to assert itself with four straight points by Noah and by altering several point blank shots by Jai Lewis (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Will Thomas (10 points, 3 steals). With five minutes to go George Mason made a run to extend is Cinderella tale, by using its frontcourt presence and their only meaningful three-pointer, to close the gap to 9. It may have been a coincidence that during the run Florida switched from its tenacious man-to-man defense to a zone defense.

Nevertheless, that would be the last time the Florida lead would fall to single digits as the Gators closed out the game on four free throws and one exclamatory three-pointer by Brewer. Although the Gators outscored the Patriots 36 to 6 from behind the arc, the Gators rebounding edge (40 to 27) clearly contributed to the Patriots demise. Even so, George Mason’s run will go down as one of the greatest in mid-major history. According to the Patriots guard Lamar Butler, “When you talk about history, you will talk about us.”

Crying Time for Baby and the Boys

UCLA 59, LSU 45

UCLA (32-6) and LSU (27-9) started out like two heavyweight fighters trying to feel each other out and avoid an early knockout, but a mass of substitutions by UCLA’s Ben Howland symbolized an array of jabs and led to an early knockout of LSU 59-45 in the second semifinal game. “I thought our intensity defensively for the entire 40 minutes was really, really incredible,” Bruins Coach Ben Howland said.

UCLA moved ahead of LSU on the strength of some tenacious defense and an array of fast break points. After shooting 66 percent from the field in the first ten minutes of the half, UCLA took a commending 18-8 lead and never looked back. UCLA substituted early and often as seven out of ten players scored in the first half paced by Mbah a Moute (17 points) and Jordan Farmar (12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists).

In addition to UCLA’s array of layups and diffcifult finishes near the rim, LSU’s woeful shooting only made matters worse. In the first 10 minutes SEC Player of the Year Glenn “Big Baby” Davis (12 points) hit only one shot from the field and as a whole the Tigers first half shooting percentage hovered below 30 percent ( 0 percent from behind the arc). UCLA made 50 percent of their first half field goals to take a commanding 39-23 halftime lead.

UCLA unexpectedly defended Davis for most of the game with forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a freshman. “My back hurts right now,” Mbah a Moute said after the game. Davis missed 12 of 17 shots and almost as many free throws

The second half was much to do about the same with UCLA opening on an 11-4 run. The Bruins quickly found themselves with a 22 point lead fueled in part by 15 points off of turnovers. Although the Tigers outscored the Bruins 21-20 in the second half, led by Tasmin Mitchell (12 points, six assists) they could not overcome the defensive (12 rebounds) and offensive (11 points, 2 assists) contributions from the brutal Bruins bench.