I’m not entirely sold on the new Saturday format of the tournament, giving us only two games all afternoon, but thankfully we got treated to a dandy between UCLA and Florida, as the Gators prevailed late 73-65.
Perhaps a bit naive as to the abilities of the Bruins, I thought the Gators would walk all over Ben Howland’s club. But after 40 minutes found myself saying that the difference in the game were minimal. The most glaring difference? UCLA lacked depth.
The Bruins had opportunities to win this game despite being one scorer short of looking dangerous. Just looking at the box score (and not the pace-adjusted metrics) and it’s clear what separates these two clubs. Never mind that the Gators may be just a little bit better UCLA down low, and also just a little bit better on the perimeter – getting a combined 33 points from Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. The real difference was bench scoring , as Billy Donovan got two of his bench players to chip in with 15 total points. Nothing overly substantial, but UCLA starters accounted for all but one measly field goal that came late in the first half from Anthony Stover. That was the difference in the game, and this more reliable rotation helped keep the Gators starters fresh from start to finish.
While there’s a lot to love about UCLA’s Josh Smith, three usually beats one. And while Gator fans often get peeved at the inconsistent play of Veron Macklin and Alex Tyus, this depth up wore the Bruins down, as the Bruins precocious freshman faced foul trouble and little support when he was eating time on the bench. Assuming he sticks around, along with Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, and UCLA is back to being an elite club next season.
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But for now, ‘Dem Gator Boys march on. Florida is one of the most complete teams in the country, fully deserving of the No. 2 seed the selection committee gift wrapped to them. They have a real shot to get to Houston.
UPDATE: Florida guard Kenny Boynton is expected to play in the regional semi-finals despite a sprained left ankle, head coach Billy Donovan says. Boyton left the game for a few minutes in the second half after landing on the foot of UCLA’s Josh Smith.