Florida - Where talent matters, not tradition

By Nick ZaccardiJohn Wooden ... Bill Walton ... Lew Alcindor? What have you done for me lately?

"I know about the history of UCLA's program," Florida forward Chris Richard said. "But I don't care about it." Fans believe all that matters this weekend is recent history, and the Gators have that on their side.

The headline on the Daily Bruin's Web site from April 5, 2006, says it all:

CRUSHED.

The Gators slapped UCLA silly for its worst loss of the season, a 73-57 game that was more of a rout than its score indicated. Looking back on the blowout, UCLA guard Arron Afflalo summed up his memories of that April night in Indianapolis.

"It was horrible," he said.

So what can we expect for an encore? The obvious answer is another drubbing. The Gators return all of their starters and their top two bench players from a year ago.

Take Taurean Green's head, Lee Humphrey's hands, Joakim Noah's heart, Al Horford's arms and Corey Brewer's legs, and you have the perfect basketball player. Then look at the Bruins. Gone are Jordan Farmar, Ryan Hollins and Cedric Bozeman. Yes, Darren Collison has stepped up in their absence and Afflalo has become a go-to scorer.

But can Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Lorenzo Mata really compete with Horford and Noah down low? Can Collison and Afflalo dominate offensively against the likes of Brewer and Green?

I think not.

But, I have predicted UCLA to take down the mighty Gators on Saturday night, which will draw scorn from everybody on campus. It's so hard to differentiate teams that have made it this far in the talent column, so I'm looking off the court for my pick.

And UCLA has that won by a landslide.

The constant hype for Noah, the definition of a team player. The endless predictions of the '04s leaping for the NBA. The rumblings of Billy Donovan leaving for Kentucky, the Miami Heat or even the New York Knicks. It's becoming too much.

Somewhere, the Wizard of Westwood, Wooden, has some magic left for UCLA.

Nick Zaccardi is the sports editor at the Independent Florida Alligator, the campus newspaper at the University of Florida. He can be reached at nzaccardi@alligator.org

UCLA - We know how to dance

By Brian HamanoYou'd think that 11 national championships, the greatest coach in the history of basketball and an 88-game win streak would be enough to silence the Bruin haters. But Joakim Noah made it painfully obvious that Florida's program is inferior with his tasteless, embarrassing dance-capades after winning the SEC title. Florida's program (which endured its share of recruiting scandals in the 90's) is a joke when compared with the tradition and history of UCLA. Even after last year's championship, Florida failed to sell out the O'Connell Center for the majority of its home games this year.

In the field of academia, one might argue that the Gators' only notable contribution to society has been Gatorade. UCLA, on the other hand, is the nation's second-best research university, has law and business management schools ranked in the top five, and an undergrad program ranked No. 12 (Florida is No. 47). UCLA is also the most popular university in the country, receiving 50,700 applications for the 2007-2008 school year.

That's not to say that Florida hasn't produced some of the country's great contributors; the school's website cites such famous personalities as Carol Browner, Jim McGee, Hugh Wilson and Bob Vila. Now, I know you might ask yourself, "Who are these people?"

UCLA's alumni includes four Nobel Laureates, AIDS researcher David Ho (Time Magazine's 1996 Person of the Year), Jack Black, Francis Ford Coppola, James Dean, David Silverman (creator of The Simpsons), Ben Stiller, Anthony Kiedis, Arthur Ashe and Jackie Robinson. I doubt you'll have any trouble recognizing most of those folks.

Back to the Final Four: UCLA's squad is the first team since the 1985 NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats to hold four successive tournament opponents to 55 points or less. Furthermore, six of the last eight teams to make a re-appearance in the Final Four after losing in the championship the previous year have advanced to the championship game.

Most importantly, coach Ben Howland rarely loses to the same team twice. This year, after losses at Oregon and Stanford, UCLA responded with double-digit victories against both teams. UCLA's team is vastly improved with point guard Darren Collison running the show and a healthy Josh Shipp back in the lineup. Alfred Aboya and Lorenzo Mata proved they are capable of guarding an NBA-bound big man by shutting down Pitt's Aaron Gray. UCLA will advance to the national championship and avenge last year's loss, and thank goodness: who would want to see Sanjaya look-a-like Noah bust out a new dance move?

Brian Hamano is a student at UCLA.

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