What's the big deal about UCLA? Florida beats them like a rented mule. What's up with the rest of the college basketball world?
When Florida met UCLA for the national title in 2006, UCLA had won 24 of their last 25 games in the Final Four. Florida had never met UCLA in basketball before. Florida had never won a national championship. UCLA had won 11. And UCLA was wearing the home whites while Florida was wearing the road blues (signifying that UCLA was a higher seed).
As a Gator fan, I was not real confident that Florida would win this game. This was UCLA after all. They never lose. Two Florida schools, Jacksonville and Florida State, had made it this far in the NCAA tournament. Both saw their championship bids fail to UCLA. And to top it off, Florida's previous trip to the title game was also a loss. Michigan State beat Florida in 2000.
So the game started. And pretty soon, it was evident that Joakim Noah did not care what the name on the other jersey was. He swatted a record number of UCLA shots away before the first half ended. Florida won by 16.
The next season Florida was back in the Final Four on their quest to repeat as champions. Guess who was there to greet them? That's right. UCLA. The Bruins, with revenge on their minds figured to be dangerous. But Corey Brewer, who shut down Aaron Afflalo the year before, proved that was no fluke. He shut Afflalo down again. A.A didn't score until the 7:00 mark—of the game that is.
UCLA went down again to the same team. This was not supposed to happen. This was UCLA.
The sting of those losses has been felt in Los Angeles for four years. On Saturday, the Bruins had a chance for revenge. They were matched up with the Gators in the NCAA tournament again.
But yet again, a familiar result. To the Bruins' credit, they hung tougher this time than the previous two. This game was a nail biter until late in the game when Kenny Boynton hit a three to put the Gators up 58-55. Eric Murphy then followed with another three to put Florida up six. UCLA cut the lead back to one, and then, Boynton twisted an ankle. It looked good for the Bruins at that point.
But then, Erving Walker took over. He made an impossible shot over Josh Smith (that he should have gotten Smith's fifth foul on). He made 3-of-4 crucial free throws. And he drilled a dagger three-pointer in the last minute.
Again UCLA is being sent home frustrated by that football school from the SEC.
For the Gators it's off to the Sweet 16. It's the first trip back since the legendary "04s" roamed the Gainesville campus. For Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons, this has to be especially sweet. They are the only two seniors from Donovan's top-ranked recruiting class of 2007.
Those guys were thrust into the starting lineup from day one. Expectations were high for these guys. Results were not. These guys were actually told not to go into the practice facility or wear their Gator gear until they started working harder. They responded by making it to the Final Four of the NIT.
However, it would be two more years on the bubble, one was popped in '09 and one prayer was answered in '10, for these guys. The 2010 team went down in the Round of 64 to the Fighting Jimmers of BYU in a thrilling double overtime game. Ironically, the Jimmers await should they beat Gonzaga later on tonight.
Before the season, most Gator fans would say that making the Sweet 16 would be a realistic goal for this team. That would be a great season. Well, mission accomplished.
Florida is now playing with the house's money the rest of the way.
New goal: the Elite Eight.