Bruins seek revenge in Gators rematch

Their goal is the right to play for the national title Monday.

Posted: March 28, 2007

UCLA's Arron Afflalo hates losing more than he loves winning, but he found something especially unsettling about his team's loss to Florida in the national championship game last spring.

"That aggressive nature just wasn't there for 40 minutes, and they took advantage of it," he said.

The Bruins' 73-57 loss to the Gators ranks as the program's worst defeat in more than two years. The 16-point margin of victory was the largest in the championship game in 14 years.

However, opportunity knocks again for UCLA. In a rare Final Four rematch, the Bruins (30-5) get a second shot at Florida (33-5) in a matchup of teams that have many of the same characters who played large roles in their first-ever meeting last year.

The only difference is what's at stake. Instead of playing for the national title Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, they'll fight for the right to play Ohio State (34-3) or Georgetown (30-6) for it Monday night.

"I guess it's a chance to kill two birds with one stone, in a sense, and get revenge as well as move forward to the championship," Afflalo said. "If you want to be best, you have to beat the best, and they're the No. 1 seed [of the tournament] and have been consistently good all year."

Florida's run to a second consecutive Final Four has been considered a given for much of the season, but UCLA's return wasn't as much of a sure bet because of the loss of point guard Jordan Farmar and forwards Ryan Hollins and Cedric Bozeman. Farmar, who left school after his sophomore season, jumped straight to the Los Angeles Lakers, and Hollins went to the Charlotte Bobcats. Bozeman was a senior last season.

But the Bruins had Afflalo, who led the team in scoring last season and averages a team-high 16.9 points per game this year, and a star in the making in Darren Collison, a sophomore. The team also counted on the return of forward Josh Shipp, a sophomore who would have been a key player last season if not for a hip injury that kept him out of all but four games.

Oregon coach Ernie Kent thinks the latest version of the Bruins is tougher than its predecessor.

"I hope so," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We should be, because we're more experienced with players that have been here for their second and third years. We still don't have a senior."

It has been 16 years since there has been a rematch of Final Four teams from the previous year. Duke, a 30-point loser to UNLV in the 1990 title game, avenged that defeat with a two-point victory over the Runnin' Rebels in the national semifinal the next year.

Unlike UNLV, Florida doesn't have the aura of being invincible.

In order for the Bruins to exact revenge, they must get more production from their star players - Afflalo, Collison and Shipp - than they did last season, when Farmar, Afflalo, and forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute combined for 34 points on 14-for-40 shooting (35 percent).

They must also match up better with Florida, especially in the paint, where Florida features all-Americans Joakim Noah and Al Horford.

That feeds into the Bruins' defense-first philosophy. In the tournament, they have held opponents to 36 percent shooting (73 of 201) and an average of 50.3 points per game.

Collison has been a major help in that regard.

"Darren has some natural athleticism, some natural quickness that allows him to do some things for himself and our team that maybe we couldn't do last year, and that is pushing the ball, and getting out, and extending our defense to cause some more turnovers," Afflalo said. "Because of that, our team has really flourished."

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