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March 31, 2007

On Fire & Misfire: Coaching clinics

What happens when two elite teams meet for a rematch with many of the same players who were in the first meeting? In the case of Florida and UCLA, pretty much the same result. The Gators rolled to a convincing 76-66 win over the Bruins on Saturday night in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. The Gators used the same starting lineup to beat the Bruins 73-57 in the NCAA title game last season. Rivals.com's Andrew Skwara breaks down what happened the second time around below.

On fire: Florida big men. You think Ohio State's scouting report might include something about keeping juniors Al Horford and Joakim Noah off the glass? It looked as if UCLA forgot all about it. Horford (17) and Noah (11) combined to grab 28 rebounds, three more than the entire Bruins team. But, senior Chris Richard, Noah and Horford's backup, might get the game ball. Richard played the best game of his career, going 7-of-7 from the field and scoring 16 points.

On fire: Florida wing Corey Brewer. Brewer's defense and his ability to slow down UCLA star Arron Afflalo was one of the big stories coming into the rematch. Brewer's offense ended up being the bigger story. The wiry forward made all three of his 3-point attempts and each of his four free throws in the first half. He finished with a team-high 19 points. Afflalo could only sit and watch it all happen. He spent most of the first half on the bench after picking up two fouls in the first 1:50.

Misfired: UCLA's front court. With nine minutes to go, it was abundantly clear that the Bruins big men were badly overmatched. Sophomore Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had already fouled out and junior Lorenzo Mata and sophomore Alfred Aboya had four fouls apiece. All those fouls led to a gaudy 31 free throw attempts for the Gators.

On fire: UCLA forward Josh Shipp. Meet the most underrated player in the Final Four, maybe the entire tournament. With Afflalo on the bench for most of the first half, Shipp showed he can carry a team. The well-rounded sophomore knocked down a pair of mid-range jumpers, finished off drives around the basket and played superb defense. Without his 14 first-half points, the Bruins would have been finished off by halftime.

Misfired: UCLA guards. What happens when Darren Collison and Afflalo both play poorly in the same game? Up until the Final Four, we really didn't know. It had never happened. Hopefully, it doesn't again. Collison suffered through a rough shooting night, going 3-of-14 from the field, and Afflalo played just 22 minutes. That led to some ugly offensive stretches for the Bruins and a second half that lacked drama and excitement.

On fire: Florida's focus. The Gators had a good excuse for being distracted after facing questions all week long about whether coach Billy Donovan would be back next season. But, the entire team looked as driven as ever. The Gators outhustled the Bruins and played with more poise. Donovan also seemed to say all the right things at halftime as the Gators opened the second half on a decisive 15-5 run.

Rivals.com's Andrew Skwara was assigned to watch all 64 games of the NCAA Tournament, or at least as much as humanly possible considering all the scheduling conflicts. Below, Skwara breaks down all the moves from key coaching decisions to controversial foul calls in Ohio State's 67-60 win over Georgetown.

On fire: Ohio State guard Mike Conley Jr.. Georgetown didn't have anyone quick enough to stay with the freshman floor general, who plays with a poise that makes NBA veterans envious. Conley hit some pretty floaters, scored on fast breaks and did a great job making decisions with the ball in his hands as usual. He led the team with 15 points (11 coming in the first half) and six assists while making just one turnover. The performance must have concerned the Florida assistants who were scouting the game. Unlike UCLA, who might have the nation's fastest player in guard Darren Collison, they lack the speed on the perimeter to match up with Conley.

Misfired: Greg Oden's first three minutes. The two fouls Oden picked up in opening 2:41 were tough calls, but the 7-footer should have been more careful. He already spent most of the NCAA Tournament in early foul trouble and listened to talk all week long of how he must avoid the same against a Georgetown team that features plenty of size. The Buckeyes managed to grab a 27-23 lead at the half without their star center, but they probably could have turned that into a double-digit edge if Oden had played at least half of the first 20 minutes. Instead, he sat for 17:19. If that happens against Florida and its imposing frontcourt, the results could be disastrous.

On fire: Thad Matta's conservative moves. Some coaches would have put the foul-prone Oden back on the court in the first half after he picked up two quick fouls, but Matta had the patience to keep him glued to the bench. Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, who picked up his third foul early in the second half, returned around the 12-minute mark. But, when Oden picked up his third foul seconds later, Matta took the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year out again, this time for a 3-minute break. It ended up paying off as Oden made some big plays down the stretch to seal the Buckeyes' win.

On fire: Georgetown guard Jonathan Wallace's stroke. CBS' Billy Packer called Wallace "one of the nation's best pure shooters," which I thought was a bit outlandish. By the midway point in the second half, I was buying into it. Wallace seemed to nail every open look he got, and added a couple of jumpers with defenders just inches away. He finished 5-of-9 from 3-point range and without his accurate bombs the Hoyas wouldn't have stayed in the game.

Misfired: The Georgetown bench. The Hoyas reserves failed to score a single point. That's a major blow, even when you're not a team that relies on depth. Sixth man Patrick Ewing Jr., who had been contributing throughout the tourney, struggled on both ends of the court. The junior forward took an ill-advised 3-pointer and was whistled for a couple of blatant fouls.

Misfired: The officials. Hibbert versus Oden might have been as good as advertised if it hadn't been for such a tightly called game. Both played well when on the court, but they were limited to 44 combined minutes. Only 25 total fouls were called, but many were of the ticky-tack variety, including two versus Oden and a key call against Hibbert. Oden was whistled for an illegal screen and a charge, both the type that haven't drawn a whistle in most games. Hibbert's fourth foul, which forced him to come out of the game with 8:49 left, came off the type of slight hold that most refs let go.

Misfired: Not getting Georgetown forward Jeff Green more involved. Georgetown's best player might end his college career by taking just five shots in his last game. Worse yet, the versatile junior didn't even attempt a field goal in the second half until there was 6:08 to play. Some of the blame falls on Hoyas coach John Thompson III, who didn't run start running plays for Green until late in the game. But, his teammates also failed to get Green the ball when he was open in the post on a handful of occasions.

On fire: Roy Hibbert's draft stock. The 7-foot-2 junior struggled to guard Oden at times, but overall he held his own something that few big men can boast. Hibbert got good position, scored with his improving hook shot, drew fouls on Oden and even hit an 18-foot jumper. Put it all together and it probably elevated the giant into the top five picks of the NBA draft (he was already projected as a lottery pick coming into the game).

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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