INDIANAPOLIS — Given some time off from his employer — the Lakers — to see his alma mater play in the Final Four, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar liked what he saw Saturday at the RCA Dome.
"They look real good," he said of UCLA at halftime of the Bruins' 59-45 victory over Louisiana State. "Coach [Ben] Howland has done a tremendous job getting them to play how he wants them to play, within his system.
"Any coach or player who comes to UCLA has a tremendous burden to overcome with Coach [John] Wooden's legacy, so it's nice they could achieve what they've been able to achieve. I'm happy to see that."
Abdul-Jabbar had some extra-kind words for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who had game highs with 17 points and nine rebounds, and was a consistently disruptive force on defense, even though he often drew the assignment of guarding Glen "Big Baby" Davis, a player more than 100 pounds heavier.
"He's a tremendous athlete," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He's a good player and he'll get better too. He just needs some more game experience."
The resurgence of UCLA basketball isn't lost among former football stars, either.
Watching the Bruins in person for the first time this season was former UCLA and Dallas Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman.
"I don't get to see many UCLA games anymore because during the football season I'm working and during the basketball season, living in Dallas, it's not like I can just pick up the paper the next morning and read all about the game," Aikman said.
Now a broadcaster, Aikman turned analytical when asked what impressed him most about the Bruin basketball team.
"Every team they've faced in the tournament they've forced away from what they wanted to do and forced them to play their game," he said. "And they've been able to stay within their own system. That's impressive."
One coach who said he wasn't surprised by the Bruins' place in the title game was Arizona's Lute Olson, whose team lost three times to UCLA this season.
"People asked me if I thought UCLA could win [the national championship], and I said yes," Olson said.
"These other teams here hadn't seen this kind of defense before. They're used to being able to do what they want to do, and they can't."
Florida is in the NCAA title game for the second time — and for the second time, the Gators are playing in the RCA Dome.
A Florida team led by Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller lost to a Michigan State team led by Mateen Cleaves in the 2000 title game, 89-76, after defeating North Carolina in the semifinals, 71-59.
Florida's Lee Humphrey, who made six of 12 three-point shots against George Mason after going four for 14 in the Minneapolis Regional in the Metrodome, said practice helped him adjust.
"You try to get as many shots up in warm-ups and shoot-around the day before as you can," he said. "Then when the game starts, you don't really think about the shooting background. You focus on the basket."
George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga says he hopes his team's success creates an appreciation for teams and coaches that aren't in power conferences without increasing the pressure on so-called mid-majors.
"I think by what these players at George Mason have done, they've probably opened up the eyes of many people, including myself, that you don't have to have seven-footers on your team or be the biggest and strongest team to have a great basketball team," he said.
"But I'm still very concerned that rather than this being something that everyone can look at and enjoy and get excited about, I don't think it's something where you want to create an expectation that now that George Mason has done it, they've broken the barrier, so to speak, now everybody should be expected to do that. That would definitely be the wrong message."
Florida scored 36 points from three-point range, led by Humphrey, who scored 18 of his co-game-high 19 points from beyond the arc.
George Mason finished two for 11 but didn't make a shot from beyond the arc until Tony Skinn converted with 6 minutes 7 seconds to play.
Florida has plenty of star power, at least from the paternal side in the families of three of its sophomore starters.
Forward Joakim Noah's father is tennis Hall of Famer Yannick Noah, the flamboyant winner of the 1983 French Open.
Center Al Horford's father, Tito, played parts of three seasons in the NBA after averaging 14.2 points and 9.3 rebounds in two seasons at Miami, and guard Taurean Green's father, Sidney, spent 10 seasons in the NBA after averaging 17.4 points and 10.7 rebounds in four seasons at Nevada Las Vegas.
Officially, Florida was credited with four blocked shots — all by Noah — against George Mason, and most observers felt the Gators got short-changed.
Noah and Horford are the top shot-blocking duo in Florida history. They have 155 between them, led by Noah's 89.
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