Florida's repeat is complete

ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- After Florida won the 2006 men's national championship, coach Billy Donovan told his players the best team did not win.

Last night, it clearly did.


In a matchup of the two winningest teams in college basketball this season, Florida proved it was the best with an 84-75 win over Ohio State, becoming the first team to repeat as national college basketball champions since Duke in 1992.

There was a sense of deja vu as confetti rained on the Gators' celebration, just as it had last year, but at the same time, the crowd of 51,458 at the Georgia Dome witnessed a feat so rare and difficult that it had not been accomplished in this decade.


"I sit here very, very humbled because I was fortunate enough over the last two years to coach a group of guys that has to go down in history as one of the greatest teams of all time," Donovan said. "I'm not saying they were the most talented or they were flawless. But when you talk about the word 'team' and what 'team' encompasses in terms of unselfishness, sacrifice, playing together, they have got to be considered in my opinion one of the best teams to ever play."

With its latest title, Florida (35-5) seemingly became the center of the college athletic universe, as the Gators became the only school to have won the college football national championship and the NCAA basketball tournament in the same year. Ohio State and Florida played for the Bowl Championship Series national title in January, and the Gators routed the Buckeyes, 41-14.

As the final horn blared last night, a group of Gators fans started a sing-song chant of "Just like foot-ball!"

Florida has won 18 straight postseason games. Ohio State's 22-game winning streak -- what had been the longest current streak in the nation -- ended, and the school's chance at its first title since 1960 was gone.

"They've got really everything," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "We made some major mistakes defensively, and great teams make you pay. I would put them in the category as one of the best teams to win."

With its starting lineup intact from a year ago, Florida made clutch three-pointers and used a staunch defense to overcome the immense inside presence of 7-foot freshman phenom Greg Oden and foul trouble on Joakim Noah.

Oden finished with a game-high 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. Freshman guard Mike Conley Jr. finished with 20 points and six assists.

Noah was limited to just 21 minutes, but his teammates combined to make 10 of 18 three-pointers. Lee Humphrey, who in Saturday's semifinal broke former Duke guard Bobby Hurley's record for three-pointers in the NCAA tournament with 43, made 4-for-7 last night and finished with 14 points. Forward Corey Brewer and guard Taurean Green combined to make six of 11 for 29 points.


After trailing by as many as 14 points in the second half, Ohio State chipped away and got as close as six points with about five minutes left. Florida used an 8-1 run to regain control, though, and led 77-63 with 1:33 remaining.

The Gators made history in 40 minutes, and became just the sixth team to repeat as national champion since the tournament began in 1939.

"It's unreal, man," said center Al Horford, who led the Gators with 18 points and 12 rebounds. "I'm so proud of our team, the way we've been able to handle adversity this year and the way we stayed together. It feels really good to be in an elite group like that. It's something pretty special."

In addition to becoming the first program to repeat since Duke in 1992, Florida also became the first team since that same Duke team to win the national championship against a team it defeated during the regular season. The Blue Devils beat Michigan in December 1991 before winning the championship game, 71-51, against the Wolverines.

Florida beat Ohio State, 86-60, in Gainesville on Dec. 23, the Buckeyes' worst margin of defeat over its past 109 games, including all games during Matta's tenure. The halftime score was only two points different last night, with Florida leading 40-29.

One particular sequence in the first half pushed the momentum in the Gators' favor, and got the crowd -- which seemed to be significantly in favor of the Southeastern Conference champions -- behind them.


Florida made three consecutive three-pointers for a 9-0 run and a 33-22 lead with 3:51 left in the first half, and a roar filled the Dome. The Gators' free-falling three-pointers in the first half might have made the difference in Florida finally taking command after making just five of 13 field goals to start the game. Their perimeter performance was a stark contrast to the way Ohio State finished, 4-for-23 from three-point range.

"That's why they're national champions," Conley said, "again."