for this game

Top seeds Florida, Ohio State face off for national title

Apr 2, 2007 - 1:34 PM No. 1 Ohio St (35-3) vs. No. 1 Florida (34-5) 9:21 pm EDT

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- The five starters on Florida's national championship team returned with the goal of becoming the first back-to-back champions since Duke in 1991 and 1992. Only freshman center Greg Oden is standing in the way.

Nearly three months after the schools battled for the national championship in football, top seeds Florida and Ohio State will fight for the basketball title on Monday night.

The Gators captured last season's title with a victory over UCLA in the championship game. After the contest, the mass exodus of underclassmen that is usually associated with a college champion did not take place. Instead, sophomore stars Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green all returned for their junior years. Shooting guard Lee Humphrey, the other starter, also decided to return for his senior year.

"Probably the biggest thing for our basketball team was getting back to why we rejoined together as a team," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "It was to have fun and enjoyment out of playing the game and being part of a special team that has great chemistry.

"I think the thing that's been different for these guys than it was last year is there was no attention last year. This year to a certain level, I think our team has been under a microscope. So whatever word Joe or these guys choose to use, there is a level of doubt and opinion by everybody. Everybody's entitled to that."

And now the Gators can become college basketball's first back-to-back champion in 15 years. UCLA won a record seven straight titles from 1967-73 before Duke went back-to-back.

In a rematch that resembled last year's national title game, Florida again overpowered and frustrated UCLA en route to a 76-66 victory Saturday in the second semifinal at the Georgia Dome.

The Buckeyes faced Florida in Gainesville on December 23 and left with an 86-60 loss. Horford and Noah ganged up inside on Oden, and Green scored 24 points to lead Florida.

"I think that game taught us a lot about who we were," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. "We were not a very good basketball team on December 23, and quite honestly, Florida had a lot to do with that. We've tried to draw from that experience. I think, obviously, as I told the team, you go to the Wisconsin game, the last game we lost, we were down 16 in that game and came back.

"Jamar (Butler) had a great shot to tie the game. So, I think it taught us a lot about our strengths and a lot about our weaknesses and gave us a point of reference to what we needed to work on to get better as a team."

On Saturday, Ohio State extended its winning streak to 22 games with a 67-60 victory over second-seeded Georgetown in the national semifinals.

Oden scored all 13 of his points in the second half and freshman guard Mike Conley finished with 15.

Ohio State was the No. 1 football team in the country before falling to Florida, 41-14, in the national championship game in January.

Monday's game will mark the Buckeyes' first trip to the title game since they appeared in three straight from 1960-62. They won the title in 1960 and were the runnerup the next two campaigns.