Saturday, April 07, 2007

Durant First Freshman to Claim Wooden Award

As the Florida Gator Nation continued the celebration of their 2nd consecutive national championship, the L.A. Athletic Club hosted the selection of the winner of the annual John R. Wooden award on Saturday, April 7.

The award is given annually - after the conclusion of the NCAA men's basketball season - to the top player in college basketball.

For the first time in the history of the award, the honor went to a freshman: Kevin Durant of the Texas Longhorns. Durant finished #5 in the nation in scoring at 25.1 points, leading Texas to a 25-10 season. He also averaged 11.4 rebounds per game, led the Longhorns in both steals and blocks (1.9/game each) and recorded an astounding 20 double-doubles. At one point, Durant ran off a string of 6 straight double-doubles, averaging 29.7 points and 14.3 rebounds during the stretch.

Durant was a prolific scorer, hitting 83 3-pointers and scoring 30 or more points on 11 occasions, including his career-high of 37, 4 different times.

The Longhorns were bounced from the NCAA tournament in the second round by USC, but Durant's presence was felt in both tourney games. In the opener against New Mexico St., Durant scored 27 points and hauled down 8 rebounds. He had 30 points and 8 boards in Texas' 87-68 loss to Southern Cal.

After receiving the award, Durant declined to comment on whether he would turn pro or return for another season at Texas, saying he was just going to enjoy the moment. The 6'9", 225 lb. phenom is widely assumed to be heading to the NBA after an incredible season, likely to be the #1 or #2 pick in a draft loaded with talented under-and-upperclassmen.

The selection committee had previously named 10 players as finalists for the award on two teams. The 1st Team:

  • Arron Afflalo (UCLA)

  • Aaron Brooks (Oregon)

  • Kevin Durant (Texas)

  • Nick Fazekas (Nevada)

  • Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina)

2nd Team:

  • Acie Law (Texas A&M)

  • Joakim Noah (Florida)

  • Greg Oden (Ohio State)

  • Brandon Rush (Kansas)

  • Alando Tucker (Wisconsin)

Purdue's Gene Keady was the recipient of the Legends of Coaching award for the 2006-2007 season.

Candace Parker, a 6'4" forward from the Tennessee Lady Vols, won the award for the 2006-2007 top women's player.

The event was aired live on CBS.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Florida Gators Repeat: One for the Ages

Sports Training ProductsFlorida completes rare repeat; Gator Nation jubilant

The Florida Gators accomplished what no other NCAA Championship team had ever done: winning back-to-back championships with the same starting five. With their 84-75 win over Ohio State on Monday night, the Gators became the first repeat basketball champions since the Duke Blue Devils accomplished the feat in 1991-92.

The starters from Florida, most notably Joakim Noah, were outspoken about their desire to return to school and repeat after winning the title last season, and they proved true to their word.
The Gators stopped Ohio State's 22-game win streak in its tracks with timely outside shooting from Cory Brewer (3-8 on 3-pointers and named Most Oustanding Player of the Final Four), Lee Humphrey (4-7 3s) or Taurean Green (3-3).

The long-range scoring of the Gators was the story as Florida hit 10-18 (56%) from beyond the arc. Inside, Ohio State's Greg Oden had his career game, hitting 10 of 15 shots for 25 points while collecting 12 rebounds. Oden battled four Gators inside all night and wracked up a total of 15 fouls on his opposition.

But he alone could not overcome the tremendous team effort by Florida. Of the starters, only Noah failed to score in double figures. Al Horford had 18; Green, 16; Humphrey 14 and Green, 13. Noah, who spent much of the second half on the bench due to foul problems, finished with 8 points.

The Gators have now captured the last three major college championships. In between the basketball titles, the football team won a national championship, beating the Buckeyes' football counterparts earlier this year.

It has been an amazing 2 years in Gainesville, but all indications are that the good times may be coming to an end. All of the Florida starters will leave for the NBA and coach Billy Donovan has been rumored to be headed to another coaching post, either at Kentucky or in the pros.

That leaves it to Urban Meyer and the football team to carry on. The basketball Gators of 2005-2007 are going into the history books. In the two years the starters have been together, they've gone 68-11 (33-6 in 2005-06, 35-5 in 06-07), won both SEC tournaments and national championships, ending this season with a 9-game win streak. We may have just seen one of the great teams of all time.

You certainly won't get any arguments in the Sunshine State.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Deja Vu: Florida vs. Ohio State National Championship

For Joakim Noah and his fellow Florida Gators, the setting is familiar. They're playing for the national championship for the second year in a row, this time on a court that they might as well call home. The Gators won the SEC tournament at the Georgia Dome and easily handled UCLA (again) in their half of the national semi-finals.

Against UCLA, the Gators displayed the kind of aggressive play that have put them at the pinnacle of their sport, plus, having the Bruins' Arron Afflalo sidelined with two early fouls didn't hurt. Afflalo, UCLA's leading scorer and best defender, picked up his second foul less than three minutes into the game. As the Gators threatened to blow the game open, coach Howland put his star back in only to see him pick up foul #3.

Meanwhile, Corey Brewer was lighting up the scoreboard with three 3-pointers that put the Gators ahead by 6 points at the half. From there, Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard provided most of the offense as the Florida lead grew to double digits and the outcome became predictable. Humphrey hit 3 3-pointers in the second half and Richard scored repeatedly on dunks and tip-ins, finishing with 16 points. Brewer led all scorers with 19, while Al Horford swept the boards, accounting for a tournament-high 17 rebounds.

The final score of 76-66 was not indicative of how lopsided Florida's win really was. Afflalo did get back into the game in the second half and finished with 17 points, but he only hit 5-14 shots and much of his scoring was late in the game.

Earlier in the day, the Ohio State Buckeyes extended their winning streak to 22 games with a 67-60 win over Georgetown. The anticipated showdown between Greg Oden and Roy Hibbert failed to materialize as both players got into early foul trouble. The game lacked any real flow or consistency as the Buckeyes maintained a single-digit advantage through much of the contest and Georgetown could never sustain their offense for long.

Georgetown actually outshot the Buckeyes, 49-44%, but both teams were icy from outside, going a combined 11-35 from beyond the arc. With less than 3 minutes remaining, the Buckeyes opened up a 9-point lead that the Hoyas could never overcome and the game devolved into a foul-shooting contest late.

The national championship game tonight between the Gators and Buckeyes is a rematch of the programs which competed in the Fiesta Bowl in January for football's national title. In that game, the Buckeyes were heavy favorites, but the Gators shocked them with a one-sided win.

It's doubtful that the basketball Buckeyes will be able to turn the same trick. Florida is a 4 1/2 point favorite, and that's probably not even close to what the final score will be. While the Ohio State faithful are hoping for the first national title in over 40 years, the Gators are on the verge of being the first team to repeat as champions since Duke did it in 1992.

The matchups really favor the Gators here, despite not having a single player the stature of Oden. The problem for the Ohio State center is that the Gators have four players they can send at him - Noah, Horford, Chris Richard and, if need be, Marreese Speights, another 6'10" reserve. Oden doesn't have the stamina to stay in the game the full 40 minutes anyway, and there's a good chance he'll be in early foul trouble again.Sports Training Products

On the perimeter, the Gators and Buckeyes match up pretty well, though nobody in the country has an answer for Corey Brewer, who has been the real x-factor in Florida's two-season run. Nobody is able to match up effectively with his long, lean 6'9" frame. Brewer is the team's best defender and can slash to the hoop or shoot from outside. Ohio State will have trouble - as has every other team - containing him.

These two met earlier in the season and the result was an ugly, 86-60 rout by the Gators. Sure, the Gators were at home and Greg Oden was playing in just his fifth game after an injury. But Oden is still a freshman, after all, and the Gators are still defending national champions.

An upset by Ohio State seems unlikely. Tomorrow morning, we're likely to be singing the praises of the Gator nation.