Noah, Horford provide unusual matchup for Bruins

Updated: April 4, 2006, 12:10 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- UCLA's defense had been dominant through five games.

Al Horford
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyAl Horford was tough for UCLA to match up against.
The Bruins limited their opponents to 52.8 points a game. They literally stole the game against Gonzaga with Jordan Farmar's pick of J.P. Batista that led to a winning bucket by Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Opponents were shooting 36.8 percent, 17.5 percent on 3s.

So what happened in the national title game?

First, the offenses the Bruins had recently faced -- Memphis and LSU -- were clearly easier for UCLA to defend.

Doubling down post-to-post was a much better idea versus the big men of LSU than against Florida's versatile pair of Joakim Noah and Al Horford.

The Gators' big men were a combined 12-of-17 shooting and 6-of-7 from the free-throw line.

"They did a good job handling our double teams, and the reason is they're so skilled," UCLA assistant Kerry Keating said. "We were playing against two skilled guys and that was twice as hard."

On multiple occasions, Noah and Horford would put the ball on the floor and dribble through a press, making it harder for the Bruins to achieve effective defensive rotation.

"We weren't shot-faking guys like Noah and Horford," UCLA coach Ben Howland said of the struggles the Bruins had on the offensive end against the big men.

Defensively, the versatility of the bigs made it too tough, according to UCLA senior guard Cedric Bozeman.

"They stretched us with their outside shooting and hit some big-time 3s," said Bozeman of the Gators, who actually nailed only 6-of-19 3-pointers. But the timing of the 3s -- 4-of-10 in the second half to help Florida pull away in the first few minutes -- made the difference. "They were a tough team to guard."

The Bruins still had a remarkable run, transitioning from a team thought of as a potential Pac-10 contender to a league champ. And then, without Josh Shipp (injured hip), they were able to earn a No. 2 seed, escape Alabama and Gonzaga and get to the national title game with wins over Memphis and LSU.

"We're back where we need to be, fighting for a national championship," Howland said. "We fell short, but credit Florida. They did a great job. Billy is an outstanding coach and he won the national championship. We'll be back."

And so will the new Big East-style of defense that had been so effective for the first five games in this NCAA Tournament. The problem was that none of the teams UCLA faced was as offensively skilled or as versatile -- and none possessed two big men as agile as Noah and Horford.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com