Well, maybe it *was* the worst final four ever. No close games. No games really in doubt at any time in the second half. It was just tough to realize that if you had a rooting interest in any of the teams that got this far.
Florida pretty much took control with about 11 minutes to go in the first half, and never looked back. They played better defense than the Bruins, and they forced Ben Howland to do things that he didn't want to do, like go to a full court press, which Florida pretty much ate for breakfast. The turning point, in my opinion, came with about the 9 minutes mark. Florida had missed two straight shots, and after lay-up by Ced Bozeman, the Bruins had cut the lead to four. After another miss, Darren Collison raced up the court, and despite having opportunities to pass, tried to finish the play himself. The shot was disrupted, Florida went the other way, and Corey Brewer finished with an easy layup. It was a four point swing, taking what should have been a two point lead back to six. It killed any momentum the Bruins had created, and they never got closer the rest of the way.
Other than that, there's really not much else to say. The Gators played better in pretty much every facet of the game, and it showed on the final scoreboard. They've got some tremendous athletes, and Brewer on Afflalo was really a matchup problem for the Bruins on the offensive end. Afflalo just could not get loose all night. Their determination to keep going at Florida's shot blockers made a star out of Joakim Noah. And Florida's shot blocking affected shots even when they didn't try to block them. Witness Lo Mata's missed layup on a shot that he could have easily dunked. But he was tentative, worried about the contact, and couldn't finish the easy lay-in. It was that kind of night.
As disappointing as this loss was, it's important to keep it in perspective. I had this team pegged for a sweet sixteen, maybe an elite eight if everything broke right, before the season started. They exceeded my expectations, and probably everyone else's, too. Next year I expect this team to be better. That's not to say they'll win the championship. I think last year's Illinois team was better by a fair margin than every team in this tournament, and they ran into a better team. Anything can happen. But I think that the freshmen are going to show big improvements, especially Aboya, Wright, and LRMAM. Get them in those pick-up games with the NBA guys and we'll see where they are next year. While losing Ced Bozeman and Ryan Hollins will be tough, I expect them to actually improve at the three. Josh Shipp comes back and provides the scoring and rebounding that they didn't get from Ced this year, while a full year of Mata and improvement from Ryan Wright should adequately replace Hollins.
There's no reason to expect less than a great season from the Bruins next season, and while the loss hurts, there's a lot of reasons for optimism. Congratulations, UCLA, on a terrific 2005-2006. Congrats to coach Howland on his first final four. And best wished to Coach Wooden as he recovers from whatever it was that put him in the hospital yesterday.