This college basketball season started out with all the hype being about the fabulous freshmen around the country. It is ironic that the season ends with the championship trophy being hoisted by a team returning five starters. Many questions surrounded the Florida Gators throughout the year. Now the only question is where Florida’s place is among the great teams in college basketball history.
Florida completed the season-long journey to defend their championship by defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes 84-75 on Monday night. By doing so the Gators became the first team to repeat as champs in college basketball since the 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils. Florida is also the first team in the history of Division I college basketball to repeat as champs with all five starters returning from the previous year. Add that along with the fact that Florida won the national championship in football this season and the Gators are the uncontested kings of NCAA athletics.
The basketball game was as close as a one-sided contest could be. Florida grabbed the lead seven minutes into the first half and never relinquished it. Just as they have been for the last two seasons the Gators were carried by outstanding perimeter play. The Gators outplayed the Buckeyes in the first half on their way to an eleven point halftime advantage. In the second half Florida’s plan seemed to become crystal clear. They were not going to double team Ohio State big man and All-American Greg Oden. Instead, the Gators would hassle the outside shooters of the Buckeyes while Oden dominated the paint. While Ohio State seemed to score at will inside they couldn’t stop Florida’s three-point shooters. In reality Ohio State was trading twos for threes. The Buckeyes did bring the lead to within six in the second half but they couldn’t pull any closer. In the end Florida had too much outside shooting, too much experience, and too much talent.
The story of the national championship game mirrored that of the tournament for the Gators. Florida’s three-point shooting propelled them to victory as the Gators shot over 55 percent (10-18) from downtown. Al Horford led Florida in scoring with 18 points. He also had twelve rebounds in a double-double performance. Taurean Green chipped in 16 points and lee Humphrey finished with 14. Corey Brewer, named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, had 13 points and 8 rebounds in what truly was a team effort for the defending national champs.
Greg Oden was superb in defeat for Ohio State, playing the best game of his college career. Oden finished with a double-double, scoring 25 points and coming down with twelve rebounds. While Mike Conley Jr. scored 20 points and Ron Lewis finished with twelve the Buckeye guards were unable to cash in from deep when they needed to. Ohio State made only two three-pointers in the second half and went four for 23 from beyond the arc.
The end of the title game brings with it many questions. Will Florida head coach Billy Donovan head to Kentucky? Will Greg Oden enter the draft? Who will leave Florida early for the NBA? Nothing that can be disputed, however, is that the Florida Gators will go down as one of the best teams in college basketball history.