Move over Michigan, Florida has real Fab Five

Originally Published: March 31, 2007
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- The NCAA already has stripped Michigan of its 1992 and '93 Final Four appearances. Now Florida has stripped that team of its nickname.

Florida Gators
Gerry Broome/AP PhotoJoakim Noah, Chris Richard and Corey Brewer help form the new Fab Five plus one.

Forget the Wolverines' Fab Five. The Gators' starting unit is the real Fab Five.

Better. Cleaner (one certainly would hope). Tighter. Tougher.

And much more accomplished. After undressing UCLA 76-66 in Little Bighorn II, they're 40 minutes away from being repeaters. History beckons for one of the great quintets in the history of the game.

Their record is now 67-11 the past two years, after this group took over Billy Donovan's program and elevated it to new heights. That's strong by any measure, but March and April is when they morph from Fab Five to Infallible Five.

Postseason scoreboard the past two years: Gators 17, Haters 0. Their 17-game winning streak in conference/NCAA Tournament play is now the longest postseason run in college basketball since UCLA won 28 straight from 1967-73.

Now the only thing separating the Florida Fab Five from back-to-back is a team it blew up by 26 points in December.

The beauty of this group -- and to be fair, it probably should be the Super Six, with senior sub Chris Richard in the mix -- begins with its unity. Corey Brewer scored 15 first-half points, but he really got animated on the floor when teammate Lee Humphrey started lighting up the Bruins in the second half.

"Right now we're in the Final Four, and it's all about winning," Brewer said. "There's nothing about you. It's all about the team."

But while we've been treated to two straight seasons of unselfishness, don't underestimate this group's versatility. There is nothing the Florida Fab Five cannot do on a basketball court.

"We're playing against, I really do believe, one of the better college teams that has been around in a while."
-- UCLA coach Ben Howland

These Gators can pass, defend, shoot, rebound and handle the ball at every position. Searching for weaknesses in their individual and collective games is as futile as asking Ben Howland for a blueprint of how to beat them.

Saturday night in the Georgia Dome, Florida showcased its individual well-roundedness.

Al Horford plays center, but is the best passer on the team. His ability to fire passes out of UCLA double teams to open shooters was brilliant.

Humphrey is the team's best shooter, but he's also a wildly underrated defensive player. His tenacious face-guarding of UCLA point guard Darren Collison and refusal to allow open jumpers helped reduce the Bruins' offense to chaos.

The list goes on. Joakim Noah filled every line in his box score Saturday night except 3-pointers. Taurean Green can distribute, blow by or pull up (though this wasn't his night, going 1-for-7 from 3-point range). And Brewer is the most multitalented of the bunch, a fascinating amalgam of offensive and defensive skills.

"To me, the sign of a really good player is if you take away his strength, can you still play on the court, be an effective and productive player?" said Donovan, who might have just driven up the bidding from Kentucky by another half a mill.

"Al Horford can defend and rebound and score. Lee Humphrey can defend and he can shoot. Taurean Green can shoot, defend, run the team, gets guys shots. Corey Brewer can defend, he can shoot, he can slash, get out on the break. Joakim the same.

"I think we have guys, if you take away an area of their game, they can still do other things. … They have a good understanding of what we need to do as a team to try and be as effective as we can."

Chris Richard
Charlie Neibergall/AP PhotoChris Richard's contribution to the Gators should not be underestimated.

Part of that understanding is knowing that a Fab Five beats a Fab One, Two or Three every time out. Once again, the Gator box score was a share-the-wealth masterpiece: Nobody took more than nine shots.

"We're playing against, I really do believe, one of the better college teams that has been around in a while," Howland said. "You're talking about two lottery picks inside. Brewer is going to be a top-20 pick when he decides to come out. I love Green and Humphrey as their guards. Richard coming off the bench is a great player. You've got to credit them."

And, if you're a Bruin fan, you've got to hope Florida's Oh-Fours all go pro to save you from ever seeing them again. In two Final Four meetings, UCLA has been killed twice.

The score this time was even more misleading than last year. Florida won by 16 in 2006 and 10 this time, and both games were maulings. The only stat more hollow than the final score was Arron Afflalo's 17 points.

The first-team All-American played miserably last year against the Gators and actually was worse Saturday night.

He committed an unbelievably silly second foul, grabbing Humphrey's jersey while trying to stay with him on an inbounds play just 110 seconds into the game. Reinserted in the lineup at the 14:56 mark, Afflalo lasted just 3½ minutes before getting his third foul on a hard Brewer drive to the rim.

With Afflalo taking himself out of the game and Collison handcuffed, Josh Shipp was UCLA's last stud standing. He kept the Bruins in the game until Humphrey started draining 3s, and Florida mounted an all-out assault on the offensive glass against a badly overmatched UCLA front line.

The play that put the Gators up double digits for good perfectly encapsulates the UCLA-Florida "rivalry" of the past two seasons.

A Humphrey 3 bounced off the rim high into the air. In the battle for the rebound, Noah shed UCLA center Lorenzo Mata, sending him tumbling to the floor. Noah then rose unimpeded and flushed the follow shot.

Noah, Horford and Richard all dunked rebounds on the heads of the cowed Bruins, who could have used star recruit Kevin Love right now. Those easy and emphatic points will be harder to come by Monday night, at least as long as Greg Oden can stay out of foul trouble.

But Oden will need help against the Gators. Lots of help. It will take everything -- and everyone -- the Buckeyes have to keep the true Fab Five from their place in history.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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