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April 2, 2006
INDIANAPOLIS - UCLA is more concerned about getting a hand in an opponent's face than soaring above the rim for a spectacular dunk.
Two years removed from the school's first back-to-back losing seasons in 55 years, these Bruins might be the best defensive team in the country.
This group of seven underclassmen and two seniors is all about blocked shots, rebounding and steals.
Under coach Ben Howland's gritty style, the Bruins emphasize man-to-man defense and expend so much effort disrupting opponents that - surprise - they've become a low-scoring team.
''We don't take a lot of bad shots,'' point guard Jordan Farmar said Sunday. ''We just value the ball and try to take good shots. If that results in low scoring, then we'll take it.''
Depending on the outcome of Monday night's national championship game against Florida, UCLA's average could be the lowest overall for a champion since North Carolina averaged 66 points in 1982.
The Bruins bring a 68-point average into the title game.
Only three times since 1960 has their scoring average dipped into the 60s. John Wooden's teams regularly scored in the 80s and 90s.
''We can play any way you want to play,'' Howland said. ''Florida wants to get up and down, they're going to try to press us, they're going to try to create a tempo that's up and down. That's great.''
In their semifinal win over LSU, the Bruins pressured the Tigers by pushing the ball and continually running at them, forcing LSU to call timeout and regroup.
''They have a strong front court, but they also have fast guards who can shoot the three and penetrate down the lane,'' Florida reserve Chris Richard said.
The bulk of the Bruins' scoring is done by guards Farmar and Arron Afflalo. But when the duo's shooting is off - which at times it has been in the NCAA tournament - someone else steps up.
''They've got a lot of length, their big guys are really athletic,'' said Lee Humphrey, who had a career-high six 3-pointers in Florida's semifinal win over George Mason.
''It really is going to be a big challenge for us to be able to try to defend such skilled players, good passers,'' Howland said. ''Everybody can shoot it.''
Brewer's defense also extends out to the 3-point line, where Florida's five tournament opponents have averaged 28 percent.
Hollins described Noah and Horford as ''rare big men.''
''They can bring the ball up, they've got guard skills, they've got great jump hooks, relentless rebounders getting offensive glass,'' he said. ''They're deep, they run, they're in shape.''
UCLA (32-6) has held its five opponents to 37 percent from the floor in the NCAA tournament, while Florida's opponents have shot 34 percent.
''They're a great help team,'' Gators coach Billy Donovan said. ''They really rotate to each other. One of the big keys in defense is a lot of times guys are afraid to leave their man and give help because they're worried about the next guy rotating to their man.''
All five of the Gators' starters average double figures, and guards Humphrey and Taurean Green are excellent perimeter shooters.
''We want to pressure their guards,'' Hollins said. ''You got to box out and rebound.''
At times, the Bruins feel an instinctive urge to revert to the run-and-gun days of old.
''We kind of want to run and everything,'' backup center Lorenzo Mata said, ''but we're definitely going to try and slow them down so they don't get easy baskets.''
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