March 29, 2007
Ben Howland has done an amazing job at UCLA. Think about what he has done with that program, the discipline he has brought, the toughness he has established. It has led to winning, and tenacious defense is an important trait for a successful team. Players have bought into his defensive concept.
To go to back-to-back Final Fours for the first time since 1975 and '76 ('75 was John Wooden's final championship; '76 was Gene Bartow's first season) is special. Remember, at UCLA the standard is more than just wins, it is championship banners.
This basketball team is led by its guard play. The big question is, do they have enough firepower to offset the Gators. The defense will keep the Bruins in the game against any opponent.
Don't underestimate that UCLA backcourt. Darren Collison has bought incredible speed, quickness and explosiveness to the point guard slot. He is the most improved player in the nation.
I love Arron Afflalo, his toughness and competitive nature. My friends, Afflalo is a winner who is capable of making the big shot in crunch time. You also have to look at UCLA's baseline with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a tenacious player who has not scored as effectively as his diaper dandy season. He can get on the glass and be a factor.
Lorenzo Mata and Josh Shipp contribute as well.
When you win over 60 games in two years, you belong in the Final Four. Defense is their staple and the Gators are going to be in for one tough run on Saturday night. It is not going to be cupcake city and it won't be as easy as last year. The championship game turned into blowout city as Joakim Noah put on a show with six blocked shots. Florida had 10 blocks overall and totally dominated it. Taurean Green was brilliant and this time he will face relentless pressure.
Revenge has a way of playing a vital part in getting people to perform at a higher level. You'd better believe for the Gators to succeed, they must execute offensively against a UCLA team playing with emotion and passion. All of the Bruins will play at a high level. You don't get to this point without understanding to play hard on every possession, to focus each time with the ball.
One or two breakdowns could be the difference between winning and losing. These teams are not about the negative and thinking about losing. It is all about winning two more games and cutting down the nets. That is UCLA's mission, where the standard is not about how many Final Fours you make, but about the banners hanging at Pauley.
Can the defense lead to a 12th banner flying high in Westwood?
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.