- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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TAMPA, Fla. -- UCLA vs. Florida, part III?
Not so much.
There is a lot being made about the recent history between the Bruins and the Gators heading into their NCAA tournament game Saturday at 11:45 a.m. PT at the St. Pete Times Forum, but these teams are a long way from those that met in the 2006 national championship game and the '07 national semifinal.
Coaches Ben Howland of No. 7-seeded UCLA and Billy Donovan of No. 2 Florida are still the same, but none of the players on either team were around for either of those games and both programs have gone through a short rebuilding stage since then.
So to chalk this up as a shot at redemption for the Bruins, who lost both of those games, or a chance to validate for Florida, which won back-to-back national championships in those seasons, is a bit of a stretch as far as this season's teams are concerned.
"That was ’06, ’07. We're in ’11 now," Howland said. "We want to win just to win in the NCAA tournament. There’s not a lot of need for a lot of extra motivation because it’s Florida. Florida is a great team but our motivation is to advance and keep going."
Florida (27-7) missed the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons after winning those national championships and returned to the tournament last year, but lost to Brigham Young in the first round. UCLA made another Final Four in 2008, made it to the second round in '09 and missed the tournament last year.
"To me, this is like the first time we're playing UCLA," Donovan said. "I think every year, every season is a new, separate entity and new separate challenges."
The challenges for UCLA (23-10) will mostly come from Florida's quick guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. They are the team's top two scorers, averaging 14.4 and 14.1 points, respectively, and helped lead Florida to the Southeastern Conference regular-season title and into the conference tournament championship game.
But versatile 6-foot-9 forward Chandler Parsons might pose the most difficult matchup for the Bruins. Parsons, the SEC Player of the Year, is an inside-outside threat who averages 11.5 points and leads the team in rebounding (7.8) and assists (3.7). He's also shooting 37.9 percent on 3-pointers.
He is the only active NCAA Division I player with 1,400 career points, 800 rebounds, 300 assists and 125 steals.
"Parsons is an outstanding talent," Howland said. "I mean, how many times do you see a 6-10 3-man, which is what he is. He is very, very skilled, shoots it, passes it, rebounds it."
Adding to the challenge for UCLA will be a home-court advantage for the Gators. The Florida campus is only 130 miles from the St. Pete Times Forum and the arena was packed with Florida fans Thursday night when the Gators trounced UC Santa Barbara 79-51.
"They’re going to have a lot more fans than we are so we’re going to have to treat it as an away game," UCLA forward Reeves Nelson said. "It’s going to be us against the world and we’re going to have to band together as a team. Our team is really close so I think we’re going to come together and fight together as a team and try and get the win."
The Bruins will also have to figure out a way to avoid another meltdown at the free throw line. In their 78-76 victory over Michigan State on Thursday night, they seemed to succumb to the pressure of the big moment and made only three of 12 free throws in the final 1:31.
Still, the Bruins are playing with confidence after getting a victory in what was the first NCAA tournament game for everyone on the team other than Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee. And nearly blowing that game only helped open the eyes of the UCLA players about just how intense tournament games can be.
"Teams are going to fight back to the last minute and it shows us the reality and scare of how close the end came," UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt said. "In a good way it just let us know to stay humble and that anything is possible."
F-Reeves Nelson (So., 6-8, 235), 9.0 rpg
F-Tyler Honeycutt (So., 6-8, 188), 12.8 ppg
C-Joshua Smith (Fr., 6-10, 305), 10.7 ppg
G-Malcolm Lee (Jr., 6-5, 200), 13.1 ppg
G-Lazeric Jones (Jr., 6-0, 187), 3.6 apg
G-Jerime Anderson (Jr., 6-2, 183), 38.7% 3-ptrs
G-Tyler Lamb (Fr., 6-5, 200), 2.7 ppg
F-Brendan Lane (So., 6-9, 223), 3.1 ppg
C-Anthony Stover (Fr., 6-10, 235), 27 blocks
F-Chandler Parsons (Sr., 6-9, 218), 7.8 rpg
F-Alex Tyus (Sr., 6-8, 220), 8.6 ppg
C-Vernon Macklin (Sr., 6-10, 240), 11.3 ppg
G-Kenny Boynton (So., 6-2, 183), 14.1 ppg
G-Erving Walker (Jr., 5-8, 171), 14.5 ppg
F-Erik Murphy (So., 6-10, 229), 4.4 ppg
F-Patric Young (Fr., 6-9, 245), 3.8 rpg
G-Scottie Wilbekin (Fr., 6-2, 175), 2.6 ppg
F-Will Yeguete (Fr., 6-7, 210), 2.7 rpg
G-Casey Prather (Fr., 6-6, 195), 1.2 ppg
4/3/06 Florida 73, UCLA 57 (NCAA championship game)
3/31/07 Florida 76, UCLA 66 (National semifinal)