TAMPA, Fla. -- UCLA played hard, maybe as hard as they had all season.
The scratches across Reeves Nelson's face and shoulder showed that.
The Bruins left everything they had on the court in their 73-65 loss to Florida in the third round of the NCAA tournament. Joshua Smith's eyes, red from the emotional letdown, showed that.
The Bruins played one of their best games of the season Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum. They equaled a season low with only eight turnovers and that includes three on their first three possessions when nerves and adrenaline were running high.
They won the battle of the boards, 35-32, got balanced scoring with Smith (16), Nelson (16), Malcolm Lee (14) and Tyler Honeycutt (13) reaching double figures and they were within a point with 1:15 left to play.
The young Bruins were eventually done in by a string of mistakes down the stretch, most certainly a product of their inexperience, and that is a lot easier to swallow than it would be had they lost because of a lack of effort and for that, they deserve to hold their heads high.
"Our guys played with a lot of character, a lot of heart today," UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
The No. 7-seeded Bruins left the No. 2 Gators impressed. UCLA outrebounded the Gators 20-10 in the first half, and put a legitimate scare into the SEC regular-season champions.
"UCLA was as good as any team we played all year long," Florida Coach Billy Donovansaid. "I don't think we really had been outrebounded like that at any point and ... we played a very difficult schedule. We were as tested by them as any team we've played all year."
Still, in the end, the Bruins walked out of the St. Pete Times Forum with no more season left in front them and unable to reach the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season.
Here, Howland and some UCLA players discuss the difficult emotions of losing when they played so well, the disappointment of the season ending and the prospects for the future: