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Brewer, Florida clip Oregon to return to Final Four

Mar 26, 2007 - 2:01 AM ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Oregon had the will to continue fighting, but Corey Brewer and Florida did all the right things to win.

Brewer scored 14 points and had a crucial block with 24 seconds left as top seed and defending champion Florida overcame a tough challenge by posting an 85-77 victory over third-seeded Oregon in the Midwest Region final of the NCAA Tournament.

Lee Humphrey scored 23 points and Taurean Green added 21 for the Gators (33-5), who advanced to their second straight Final Four, where they will face UCLA in a rematch of last year's national title game.

"We know it's going to be a challenge," said Florida coach Billy Donovan about the Bruins. "There's no question I think for us to be back there playing against a program like UCLA with the tradition, with what they've done."

"I think they are a completely different team than they were last year," Gators forward Joakim Noah said. "At the end of the day it doesn't matter who your opponent is, you still have to go out there and play basketball. They're going to play with a chip on their shoulder, they want vengeance but that doesn't mean anything."

Overall, the Gators captured their 10th consecutive win in the NCAA Tournament and 16th straight overall, including a pair of Southeastern Conference tournament titles.

Oregon point guard Aaron Brooks would not be surprised if that streak is increased by two next weekend.

"Even though they've already won a championship and been to the Final Four, they had the energy and poise to repeat and get there," he said. "I can see in this game they had - they are still hungary."

Despite facing a huge disadvantage inside and some sizzling outside shooting by Humphrey and Green, the Ducks (29-8) would not allow the Gators to pull away.

"Oregon's a great team, we had a lot of respect for them coming in," Humphrey said. "We knew what they were capable of and how many points they could put on the board. We knew they weren't going to go away, they were going to keep fighting the entire game."

Trailing, 78-69, after Noah split a pair of free throws, freshman Tajuan Porter hit a 3-pointer and, after Green stepped on the baseline on an in-bounds play, Brooks made a pair of free throws to pull Oregon within 78-74 with 33 seconds remaining.

Green then went 1-of-2 at the stripe, giving the Ducks a chance to turn it into a one-possession game. However, Brewer rejected a layup attempt by Brooks despite the Oregon guard using his off arm to try and fend off. The Gators forward collected the rebound before being fouled and made both free throws for a 81-74 advantage with 24 seconds left.

"I feel like everybody stepped up," Noah said. "Al (Horford) had another couple of huge blocks at the end and Corey had a huge block. I feel that everyone is stepping up and doing what they have to do to win games."

"I guess in the second half we never really could get over that hill," Oregon forward Maarty Leunen said. "Going into halftime with a two-point deficit and we really couldn't overcome that. Give credit to them, they played a tough, hard game but there's a couple things we could have done a little better to come out on top."

Although Porter knocked down another 3-pointer for the Ducks, Green made 4-of-6 free throws in the closing 16 seconds to send the defending champion back into the Final Four for the first time since Michigan State in 2001.

"It was a lot harder this year, just because night in, night out we get everybody's best shot," Brewer said.

"The thing that's so pleasing and rewarding to me is these kids have been able to get back to a Final Four again where they were totally unheralded, and then totally where they where whether you want to say bull's eye or the expectations or target or whatever you want to use, they've had a chance to get there on two opposite ends of the spectrum," Donovan said.

Brewer finished 8-of-12 from the line, highlighting Florida's 43 trips to the stripe on 30 fouls by Oregon. It did just convert 65 percent (28-of-43), enabling the Ducks to have a chance near the end.

The Gators did shoot much better on 3-pointers, making 11-of-24 (46 percent) with Humphrey connecting on seven and Green adding four.

"They hit a lot of three's," Oregon forward Malik Hairston said. "I think we did a tremendous job on the big fellows, they're a big team but they also have some great shooters on the outside and that made the difference."

"When you try to take away our big guys, we're going to hurt you with our guards," Noah said. "When you try to take away our guards, that's when our bigs can take advantage. I think we're a team of great balance, that's what we take pride in is our balance."

Despite starting just one player taller than 6-6, the Ducks limited Noah and Horford to a combined 20 points on 5-of-12 shooting.

However, Oregon could not keep those stellar big men off the boards, as the 6-11 Noah grabbed 14 rebounds and the 6-10 Horford added seven en route to Florida's 39-24 advantage on the boards.

Brooks scored 27 points and Hairston had 18 before fouling out for the Ducks, who reached the free-throw line just 16 times, making 15.

After hitting a record-tying eight 3-pointers and scoring 33 points in Friday's win over Nevada-Las Vegas, Porter finished with 10 points, going 2-of-12 from the field and 2-of-10 from the arc.

Porter credits Florida's insistence to keep him in check as the reason for his poor shooting.

"They were going over the top on both screens," the 5-6 guard said. "They were paying attention to me. They always had a defender on me. Sometimes it was a longer defender or a taller defender on me. They had pretty good shot pressure."