A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning.
THE NEXT RUNG ON THE LADDER
UCLA is the third rung on a six-game ladder that the Florida Gators (34-2) hope will take them to an NCAA basketball championship. When the #1-ranked Gators take the court against the Bruins tonight (9:45) at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, it will be a serious contrast in styles. UCLA wants to play an open court game, which will allow 6-9 point forward Kyle Anderson an opportunity to dominate the game. Anderson, who averages 14.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game is the Bruins’ best at getting the ball off the boards, putting the ball on the deck and starting a 5-man sprint to the other end. Florida’s first order of business is to check Anderson on the boards. The second order of business is to run when the opportunity presents itself, but avoid getting into an up-and-down game whose tempo will favor UCLA. The Gators don’t want to walk the ball up the court, but they do want to run offense and make the Bruins defend. Defensively, Florida has to be aware that the Bruins will often have five 3-point shooters on the floor at a time. Making UCLA shoot tough twos instead of open threes will greatly impact the game. The Gators will probably run as much zone as they do man-to-man. Florida can go tall up top and long on the wings (see the Kansas game plan) to take away the 3-ball and to make it difficult for Anderson to see over the top. When the Gators go man-to-man, look for Scottie Wilbekin to try to take Bryce Alford out of the game while assigning Casey Prather the starting assignment on Anderson although Donovan might be tempted to shuffle in Dorian Finney-Smith and Michael Frazier on occasions. Finney-Smith has great length and long arms that would bother Anderson and Frazier proved during the summer with Team USA that he could play bigger players. Billy Donovan started Frazier at the small forward quite often during last summer’s FIBA World 19-and-Under Championships in Prague.
MOVING ON UP
These guys are doing well through five spring football practices. On offense, running backs Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown are playing well but don’t overlook Adam Lane, who is playing well, just not well enough to overtake Taylor and Brown. Wide receiver Raphael Andrades is producing at a consistent level and freshman tight end DeAndre Goolsby continues to show that he’s got the ability to do something once the ball is in his hands. On the defensive side, Dante Fowler Jr. has moments when he is unblockable. Bryan Cox Jr. is making the most of Jonathan Bullard’s move by necessity to defensive tackle. Jarrad Davis and Daniel McMillian are making it clear they will be on the field early and often at linebacker in the fall. Darious Cummings is playing well at nose tackle. Kyle Christy is booming punts once again.
SPINNING THEIR WHEELS
These guys need to get with the program and amp up the intensity. On the offensive side, Max Garcia and Cam Dillard are having some inconsistency with their shotgun snaps. At defensive tackle, Caleb Brantley hasn’t shown much improvement through five practices. In the secondary, Jabari Gorman isn’t nearly as physical near the line of scrimmage as he needs to be and Brian Poole might need to move to safety or concentrate on the nickel because he’s too inconsistent at corner where freshmen Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson seem to have a leg up. At placekicker, Austin Hardin is kicking the ball better than last year, but still lacks the kind of consistency that will give anyone the warm and fuzzies.
UCLA FLASHBACK, 2006
UCLA made it to the NCAA championship game in 2006 by squeezing the life out of opponents defensively. In the two games leading up to their showdown with Florida, the Bruins held Memphis to 31.5% shooting and forced point guard Darius Washington into the worst game of the season. Against LSU, the Bruins held guards Garrett Temple and Darrell Mitchell to a combined nine points. The game plan for Florida was pretty simple – take Taurean Green out of the game, which would have the dual effect of taking out Lee Humphrey since he couldn’t create his own shot.
What UCLA had no counter for was Billy Donovan’s strategy to run the offense through Joakim Noah. Everybody remembers the defensive job that Noah did – he blocked six shots in the game – and the dunks on the fast break, but probably the most important role he had in leading the Gators to their first NCAA championship that night was starting the offense. UCLA attacked Green with the press and he simply threw it over the top to Noah at midcourt. Noah dribbled the ball to the high post and started the offense. People tend to forget that Noah was a point guard until his junior year in high school when he began to grow.
Florida’s offense thrived. Humphrey got loose for four 3-pointers including two in the first three minutes of the second half to stake the Gators to a 17-point lead. From that point on, the Gators got into the running game and that got Green cranked up. Five of his eight assists were in the second half and most in transition.
For years, the knock on Billy Donovan was that he was a great recruiter but just an average bench coach. In this game, he took Ben Howland to school. This game was a coaching clinic for Donovan and a highlight reel for Florida’s starting five of Noah, Green, Humphrey, Corey Brewer and Al Horford.
UCLA FLASHBACK, 2007
UCLA wasn’t about to let Joakim Noah do to them in 2007 what he did to them in 2006. The Bruins didn’t have the size in 2007 so the defensive strategy was pressure the Gators until the ball crossed midcourt, then collapse to keep UF from killing them on the inside. All that did was leave Corey Brewer (17 points, 4-5 on 3-pointers) and Lee Humphrey (14 points, 4-8 on 3-pointers) wide open behind the arc. Noah and Al Horford concentrated on rebounding (Horford 17, Noah 11) and playing defense (Noah had four blocked shots and a steal). When Horford got into some foul trouble, Chris Richard came off the bench, hit all seven of his shots and finished with 16 points.
Almost as if the Gators were following the script of the year before, Humphrey hit two 3-pointers in the first couple of minutes in the second half to get the Florida offense started.
The highlight of this game was the defensive intensity on the perimeter by Humphrey, Brewer and Green, who limited the Bruins to 5-23 from the 3-point line. In the six games of the NCAA Tournament, the Gators held opponents to 35-126 from the 3-point line including a miserable 9-46 at the Final Four in Atlanta. It’s easy to remember Horford and Noah blocking shots, but these guys on the perimeter were all ferocious defenders.
UCLA FLASHBACK, 2011
This was perhaps Erving Walker’s finest moment in a Florida uniform. In the NCAA Tournament second round in Tampa, UCLA was within a point (66-65) when Walker took over the game in the final 1:15. He hit a clutch 3-pointer with 1:15 to go in the game, then went to the foul line four times and made all four shots in the final minute as the Gators pulled out a 73-65 win that advanced them to a Sweet 16 matchup with Brigham Young in New Orleans.
Walker finished the game with 21 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal. When Vernon Macklin got in foul trouble, Patric Young came off the bench to score eight points (4-7 shooting) and grab four rebounds while defending monstrous Josh Smith, 6-10 and a few biscuits more than pounds.
TO TELL THE TRUTH
Ever since George O’Leary got nailed for lying on his resume (cost him his job at Notre Dame in 2001), you would think coaches would make it a point to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The morning after Steve Masiello had accepted the head coaching job at USF, it was discovered that he never actually graduated from the University of Kentucky, although that’s what he claimed when he applied for the job in Tampa. Presumably, that’s also what is on his resume at Manhattan, which is reviewing the matter before making a decision whether to take Masiello back or not. If Masiello has a lick of sense, he will beg forgiveness from the Manhattan folks and promise to take however many courses he needs to get his college diploma. Masiello is a bright young coach, but he really screwed up on this one. USF’s coaching search is expected to turn its focus back to UF assistant John Pelphrey, who was the runner-up to Masiello. The backup plan could be Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
On December 3, 1968 NBC TV aired the first live appearance by Elvis Presley since 1961, a special that was simply called “Elvis.” Since 1961, all we had seen of Elvis was on the big screen but with his movie career fading and his recording career in need of a jump start, Elvis came back in a big, big way. The pre-recorded live show reached 42% of the televisions in America that night as Elvis sang everything from the early classics such as “Houng Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” to gospel to what became his first big hit in years, “If I Can Dream,” a song with lyrics taken directly from a speech by Martin Luther King. Since I couldn’t pick just one Elvis song for Memphis Week I am offering you all the music from the 1968 show. I remember that show like it was yesterday. This is the way I choose to remember Elvis, not the overweight, prescription drug addict that left us far too early back in 1977.