Florida Out-Toughs UCLA

Reeves Nelson had 16 points for UCLA, but it wasn't enough for the Bruins to overcome Florida. (Photo by Jon Raoux, AP)

Final Score: Florida 73 UCLA 65

Florida, the second seed in the Southeast Region, out-toughed UCLA, pulling out a 73-65 win that sends them on to the "Sweet 16". It will be one that the Bruins regret, as they had their chances. But in the end, the Gators made more tough, contested shots.

It's not that UCLA didn't have the shot opportunities, or took poor shots, they just didn't do as good a job, hitting 42 % compared to Florida's 50 % on a comparable number and selection of shots.

Still, with a minute and a half, it was a one point game. Florida went on a 7-0 run down the stretch, the third key short sequence where they were able to assert themselves in the game.

Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson, who co-led UCLA, both with 16 points got the Bruins off to a good start, with Smith scoring 6 quick points, and Nelson playing solid overall.

Florida used a 9-2 run 2/3 of the way through the first half to erase the Bruins' early advantage, and take a 35-33 halftime lead, despite being out-rebounded by a 2 to 1 margin. The Gators' game long shooting advantage was already becoming apparent, as they shot 56 % in the first half to 44% by UCLA on the same number of looks.

Foul trouble would become an issue for both teams, and it started when UCLA's Lazeric Jones had to sit down with his third personal less than 3 minutes into the second half, and Smith followed him a minute later.

Anthony Stover had done a good job of spelling Smith in the first half, but didn't deliver for the Bruins when called upon, and UCLA coach Ben Howland had to do a masterful job of managing Nelson and Smith the rest of the way. Nelson became the first player to reach double digits.

Florida's Vernon Macklin, who was 4 of 4 from the field for 8 points up to that point, got his third personal before 5 minutes were gone by in the half, with the score tied at 45-45.

UCLA could have opened some breathing room, but didn't get several opportunities turned into points. Florida had a lot to do with it, but it was still a lost opportunity that would haunt the Bruins in the end.

Jones got his 4th. foul on a questionable call with 12:55 left, but it never would have happened absent a UCLA turnover.

Malcolm Lee, who finished with 14 points for the Bruins, scored to make it a 54-53 Florida lead midway in the second half, but the Gators' Chandler Parsons got Smith moving, and he picked up his 4th. foul with 9:30 left.

The Gators' Patrick Young got his fourth personal foul next, and then Macklin did as well. Smith and Jones checked back in with 8 minutes left, and the Bruins still trailing by 2 points.

A game the Bruins could have had control of swung the Gators way on a 10 point swing in less than two minutes, starting with 6:34 left, when Parsons blocked an apparent automatic basket for  Smith.

Parsons would finish with a quiet but effective afternoon, with 7 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists to go along with the block.

Kenny Boynton, who finished with 12 points, buried a three pointer for Florida on the other end, and after Smith missed again, Erik Murphy connected on another three pointer, for a 61-55 Gator lead.

Murphy then joined the growing list of players with 4 personal fouls, though, and after Boynton suffered a left ankle injury that effectively ended his game, Tyler Honeycutt answered with a three pointer for the Bruins with 4:45 remaining.

The Gators' Erving Walker made a wild shot that could as easily as not seen Smith foul out, but Lee answered on the other end.

In a game of seemingly endless critical exchanges, Jones got trapped in the corner by a double team, and turned the ball over for the Bruins, and Macklin made it a 66-60 Florida lead with 2:48 left.

The Bruins were the ones to rally this time, and Honeycutt hit his third three pointer at the 2:34 mark. Smith added 2 more with 1:33 to go, but it was as close as UCLA would get.

Walker knocked down a three pointer with 1:15 to go, and after Honeycutt misses a three pointer, UCLA had to foul.

Walker, who finished with a game high 21 points, would make all four free throws Florida got in the last half minute.

UCLA, who barely survived a Michigan St. rally Thursday to claim NCAA Tournament win #100 in program history because them missed 9 free throws down the stretch, had a chance to cut into the Florida lead late, but Lee missed another. The Bruins missed 9 total free throws, and shot just 64 % from the line. Though they took fewer shots there, Florida was 77 % in the close contest.

Florida's bench also outscored UCLA's 15-2.

Only Jones would wind up fouling out, but Florida coach Billy Donovan deserves a lot of credit for personnel management, with three starters finishing the game with three fouls. Florida remains the only team in the country to still not have anyone foul out of any game.

UCLA (23-11) became the second LA school to bow out of the NCAA Tournament, joining USC, who fell Wednesday night in the Play-on play-off round, and leaving only Washington and Arizona, who will both be in action tomorrow, to represent the Pac-10.

Florida (28-7), the regular season SEC Champion, moves on to New Orleans next week, where the Gators will face the winner of this evening's BYU-Gonzaga game.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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