Tuesday, April 3, 2007

ATLANTA — Outspoken Florida forward Joakim Noah knows all about earning criticism for his many words, as well as the prospect of opponents preparing for the Gators unlike other teams.

So when he saw an HBO documentary on the UCLA dynasty that produced 10 titles in 12 years and at one point constructed an 88-game winning streak, he was intrigued.

“They were just an unbelievable team,” Noah said. “They definitely had to go through a lot of expectations.”

Noah and his teammates created their own expectations this season when they returned the entire starting lineup from a team that won last year’s title. The Gators stumbled only five times during the regular season, but were quick to pick up on criticism when they lost three out of four in February.

Still, it was a long way from the Bruins’ dynasty, which cobbled together two perfect seasons. Noah also found a player similar to himself on three of those Bruins squads — Hall of Fame center Bill Walton, who was just as outspoken as Noah.

“This was a time period when there was a war in Vietnam. I feel like Bill Walton was so quick to express how he felt,” Noah said. “I knew that they were champions and won all the titles, but I didn’t know how outgoing they were. To me, I thought that was really interesting and that got me ready to go [on Saturday].”

Best of the best

Ohio State coach Thad Matta came up with a creative answer when asked which team was the best in college basketball history.

“I would probably say 1960, the Ohio State Buckeyes,” Matta said. “No. 1, because they were wearing scarlet and gray.”

Matta demurred on providing a serious answer, hinting it was perhaps the 2001 Duke team. Then he listed 1990 UNLV and 2005 North Carolina before admitting “it’s honestly hard to pick one.”

Carolina’s Williams inducted

North Carolina coach Roy Williams was named to this year’s Basketball Hall of Fame class, joining the 1966 Texas Western team and five other inductees.

Williams, one of three coaches to take two teams to the NCAA title game along with Larry Brown and Frank McGuire, is 524-131 in 18 seasons at Kansas and North Carolina. He led the Tar Heels to the 2005 national title.

Texas Western won its 1966 title at Maryland’s Cole Field House with five black starters, defeating Kentucky’s all-white team in the national final.

Among the finalists denied entry to the Hall was ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale.

Never too young

No matter who won the national title, it was going to be anything but one for the aged.

Florida’s Billy Donovan was seeking to become the third-youngest coach to win two national championships. San Francisco’s Phil Woolpert (1956) and Indiana’s Bob Knight (1981) were both 40 when they collected their second titles. Donovan is 41.

Meanwhile, the 39-year-old Matta was trying to become the youngest coach to win a title since Jim Valvano took N.C. State to the 1983 championship when he was 37.

They’ll meet again

The countdown is already on for the next matchup between Florida and Ohio State.

The teams are scheduled to complete their home-and-home series Dec. 22 at the Buckeyes’ Value City Arena. Florida won the teams’ meeting this season in Gainesville 86-60 on Dec. 23.

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