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Gene Frenette: Beating UCLA will require more than solid UF defense

Posted: March 26, 2014 - 6:14pm  |  Updated: March 26, 2014 - 6:27pm
UCLA forward Kyle Anderson drives against Tulsa forward Lew Evans during a second-round game in the NCAA Tournament last Friday in San Diego.  LENNY IGNELZI/Associated Press
LENNY IGNELZI/Associated Press
UCLA forward Kyle Anderson drives against Tulsa forward Lew Evans during a second-round game in the NCAA Tournament last Friday in San Diego.

Rick Pitino nailed it last week when the Louisville coach said a “lack of offense” keeps teams from winning an NCAA championship. So far, Florida hasn’t had to worry about its offense being mostly erratic through two tournament games.

That could change significantly Thursday night when the national championship favorite meets UCLA, the top-scoring offense (81.5 ppg) among the Sweet 16 participants, at Memphis’ FedEx Forum.

It’s the only matchup that could torpedo what seems like a Final Four lock for the Gators. It’s likely going to take somebody with a lethal offense, and an arsenal of 3-point shooters, to eliminate Florida. The teams that best fit that profile are Louisville and Michigan State, but UCLA isn’t far behind.

The Bruins are exceptional at forcing opponents into high-scoring games, something UF has avoided all season except in two-point wins over Memphis and Arkansas. UCLA’s potent offense, led by guard Jordan Adams and 6-foot-9 matchup nightmare Kyle Anderson, scored 75 points in both meetings with No. 1 West region seed Arizona, the nation’s fifth-ranked defense (58.5 ppg).

Facing UCLA will be a stark contrast for the Gators’ defense-first mentality. What that means for Florida is this: it must find a way to upgrade an offense that struggled for the first 26-30 minutes against Albany and Pittsburgh.

The Gators can’t rely on point guard Scottie Wilbekin to go on another Jordan-like tear, as he did in the last eight minutes against Pittsburgh. Billy Donovan’s offense isn’t designed for one player to take on that burden.

Florida functions best as a balanced diet, when multiple players are puncturing defenses at various intervals. Sometimes, it’s Michael Frazier or Wilbekin knocking down threes from the wing. Or maybe center Patric Young, a Providence High product, making jump hooks in the lane.

When those options are taken away, then UF needs Casey Prather slashing to the basket or Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill coming off the bench to spark the offense.

If the UCLA game is played for a significant time at the Bruins’ pace, which means lots of running and points in transition, the Gators have to answer Steve Alford’s team during those track-meet moments.

Florida has to make a decent percentage of those open 3-point shots, not go a combined 8-for-32 as it did for two games in Orlando. UF’s offense has been known to hit dry spells, and the Gators may get away with that against somebody like Stanford or Dayton on Saturday. But UCLA is a different ballgame.

Thanks mostly to Anderson, the Bruins are an excellent passing team. Adams also gets a lot of steals to create extra possessions. Just as UCLA has seen few teams like Florida, the Gators have seldom dealt with this type of firepower. The Gators faced only three top-50 offenses — Arkansas, Kansas and Memphis — and won those games by a combined 10 points.

Florida prevailed in its last six Sweet 16 games under Donovan and is 3-0 in the tournament against UCLA. The Gators should survive this test, too.

But they better bring more than just a lockdown defense.

Gene Frenette: (904) 359-4540

Comments (2)

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Jag Cynic DeVille
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Jag Cynic DeVille 03/27/14 - 11:27 am
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UCLA is just like the 1994

UCLA is just like the 1994 Boston College team with good 3 point shooters.
That 1994, 9th seeded Boston College team, was called the Giant killer that year having eliminated #1seed North Carolina and a good Indiana team coached by Bob Knight.
BC had 4 guards: Eisley which hit 91 of 188 3 point attempts, Huckaby which hit 46 of 137 3's, Abram which hit 53 of 143 3s.and Molinsky 48 of 117 3's, as a team shooting over 40% of 3s and the team 47% overall
on the season.
They hit 50 of 53- 3 pointers warming up before the Indiana game in front of Knight, Knight asked his asst, how in the blank do you beat a team like this? They had an all american center named Curley. That was the first sweet 16 game at Miami Arena.
In the second game the Gators beat UConn and player of the year Donyelle Marshall with defense, and the miracle at the foul line. BTW they also beat the officials which gave UConn the ball back over and over again when Demitri Hill rebounded (as DeClerc sat with 4 quick fouls) by immediately calling him for traveling. That win set up the Elite 8 game Gators vs BC. Krugers team, all of them, played excellent defense from midcourt to the baseline and shut down the 3 pointers.
Craig Brown hit 3-3s in a row to seal the game with about 4 minutes left. The "How sueeeeet it is " sign with A Green Gator, was a call to play Arkansas again, after they had repeatedly taken Declerc's legs out from under him in Fayetville.

That was the most exciting sporting event I had ever attended and I have attended many great games in all the different men's sports.

Duke beat UF in their first Final Four by 5, and then lost to that physical Arkansas team which got away with a lot of elbows and pushes.
The logo for UF was changed after that NCAA tournament and resembles the sign seen in the BC game when Hill fouled out. It was rolled out that summer along with Spurrier's Line which had distinct scales!

This 94 team had endurance, just like this 2013-14 team. No single big star, and even Tiny Williams, a freshman, put the stop to UConn's Marshall running the lane, with two steals subbing for Dan Cross ( which had gotten beat three times to start the game).

Davethecaveman
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Davethecaveman 03/27/14 - 11:18 am
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I believe Billy Donovan will

I believe Billy Donovan will get his guys to play some "Billy Ball" at certain times and great defense at other times.
We will see. I am expecting a Gator win. The next one will be harder.

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