Gators clamp down on UCLA to win NCAA title

Updated: April 3, 2006, 11:49 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Florida Gators won their first NCAA men's basketball national championship Monday night, 73-57 over UCLA.

Joakim Noah dominated UCLA with 16 points, nine rebounds and a record seven blocks Monday night to key a blowout.

The championship for Billy Donovan's team comes 10 years after Steve Spurrier led the Gators to a title in that "other: sport. Spurrier is long gone, and the days of Florida being only a football school appear to be, too.

For 40 lopsided minutes, the Gators (33-6) were too big, too long and too quick for UCLA, which came up a win short of its 12th national title on a night when legendary coach John Wooden watched from a hospital bed in LA after being admitted for an undisclosed illness that was said not to be serious.

Florida and Noah won by putting on a thorough display of versatility and unselfishness, a trademark of this team all season.

The Bruins (32-7) were on a defensive tear coming into the championship game, shutting down LSU's Glen Davis in the semifinals and allowing a total of 90 points in the last two games. Florida, though, was just too much to handle.

Noah capped it with a monster dunk with 1:09 left. When the buzzer sounded, he laid flat on his back at halfcourt and let the confetti rain on him. His teammates were in a pile a few feet away and Donovan was sharing hugs with his longtime assistant Anthony Grant.

The Gators won this by taking it right to UCLA early, looking to Noah, Corey Brewer and senior Adrian Moss down low, making the extra pass in the key and finishing with 21 assists, 10 of them from their frontcourt

It couldn't have been what Ben Howland's team expected had he scouted Florida's 73-58 win over George Mason in the semis, a game the Gators won from outside and that guard Lee Humphrey ended early in the second with three straight 3s.

The scrappy Humphrey, a junior from Maryville, Tenn., and the only non-sophomore in the Gators' starting five, did the honors again in this one, spotting up for open looks against a collapsing defense early in the second half. His first 3, 80 seconds into the half, gave Florida a 39-25 lead and forced Howland to call timeout. A sloppy offensive possession ensued, then Humphrey came back with another 3.

After Ryan Hollins' dunk, one of the few easy baskets for the Bruins all night, Brewer hit a 3 to make it 45-27 and prompt yet another Bruins TO.

But there was no strategy to stop Noah. The 6-foot-11 son of tennis star Yannick Noah dunked, swatted shots and dominated the game, much as his dad did during his run to the French Open title in 1983.

Noah had five blocks by halftime, already better than Arizona center A.J. Bramlett's 9-year-old record for an NCAA championship game. He finished with 30 for the tournament, breaking a record previously held by Arizona's Loren Woods.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press