NCAA Tournament

A decade ago, the Gators made history on the basketball court

Head coach Billy Donovan and his Florida Gators celebrate with the trophy after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes during the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game at the Georgia Dome on April 2, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Head coach Billy Donovan and his Florida Gators celebrate with the trophy after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes during the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game at the Georgia Dome on April 2, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia. Getty Images File/Miami Herald

From the Miami Herald Archive: Ten years ago, on April 2, 2007, the University of Florida Gators defeated Ohio State for their second straight NCAA men’s basketball title. Here is a look back at coverage from the game by Herald columnist Greg Cote.

It's an ordinary stepladder, the kind Home Depot might sell for $50. But on this court, on this night, one team climbed it to the mountaintop.

It's an ordinary basketball net, what a sporting goods store might sell for $10. But on this court, on this night, the small pieces of nylon these players would snip from it were spun gold -- treasure worth the millions they had forsaken in NBA riches for the chance to make this climb just one more time.

The flag planted on the mountaintop said Florida Gators.

Again.

The final score burned into history Monday night was 84-75, although you could barely see the scoreboard here in the sold-out Georgia Dome, as a blizzard of confetti and streamers dropped among the fireworks and the Gators celebrated becoming the first repeat major-college basketball men's champion since Duke in 1992.

This was why Florida's championship team had astonished the basketball world and returned intact, four starters putting off professional riches. For this night. For this moment. For that short climb up a regular old ladder, right up into the clouds.

"This is what we came back to school for, " said Corey Brewer.

"Cutting down nets, " said Joakim Noah, saying it all.

Vanquished Ohio State ended the regular season ranked No. 1 (to Florida's No. 3) and entered the game on a 22-game winning streak, best by far of any Final Four team. Yet the Gators were favored.

"I don't understand it, personally, " seven-foot Buckeye center Greg Oden had said. "I don't know how you can finish the season No. 1 but not be considered the best team."

Now he knows.

Ohio State guard Ron Lewis had tweaked the Gators on Sunday by saying they were a "good team, " declining repeated invitation to call them great. If he isn't changing his opinion now, he isn't stubborn. He's a fool.

These Gators will almost surely disintegrate now, like magic dust. Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and likely Taurean Green will enter the NBA draft. Fifth starter Lee Humphrey is a senior. Even coach Billy Donovan is being wooed by Kentucky.

What they accomplished, though -- that won't disintegrate. It'll be there for all time. Only five times previously in 69 years of the NCAA Tournament had a team repeated, and since 1973 only that Duke team had.

Now these Gators are the new name for greatness. Now the question isn't, "Can they repeat?" The question is, "Where do they rank among the greatest teams ever?"

Said Donovan: "One of the best teams to ever play."

Ohio State, gunning for its first basketball title since 1960, was bent on revenge, after losing in the regular season 86-60 to Florida, and after its football team had been embarrassed by UF for the football national championship, 41-14. No matter.

UCLA had revenge on its mind, too, in Saturday's semifinal, after losing last year's title game to Florida. No matter, again.

"Revenge is overrated in sports, " Noah said. "Look at UCLA. Then Ohio State. Does revenge at this point make you play harder? If it does, you're playing for the wrong reasons. We were playing to make history."

They made it like maestros make music, like Michelangelo made art. Every time Ohio State made a run, Florida found brakes.

This is how fast the Gators can flash their knives and find your jugular.

Ohio State had cut its deficit to 24-22 early, the fans in red roaring.

Then: a Lee Humphrey three. A Corey Brewer three. A Taurean Green three.

A Buckeyes timeout, to stop the bleeding.

Ohio State got 45 combined points from its super freshmen, Oden and Mike Conley Jr., but not enough from elsewhere. Florida, the consummate TEAM, got very little from Noah (four points, three rebounds) but consistency (and 10 three-pointers) from the other four starters.

A U.S. Marine Corps precision drill team performed at halftime. A college precision drill team performed in the surrounding halves. The team wore blue.

Florida had lost three of four late in the regular season, and doubts seeped in like toxic sludge. Pertinently, the doubters weren't wearing Gator uniforms.

Florida blitzed through the SEC Tournament, then through the NCAA Tournament, finishing like a champion ends a fight with a staggering right hook.

"If we win, everybody gonna eat, " said Noah, repeating a pet phrase.

Nobody is dining more sumptuously now than UF, with consecutive basketball championships sandwiching a football title.

Going into last season, lightly regarded, the Gators coined for themselves the catch phrase, "PHD: Poor, Hungry and Driven."

Now, these same players are soon to be rich, they are sated, and they have driven into history. In style.

As for the PhD? They've added a new degree now.

Masters.

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