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Monday, April 3

   by Larry Ness - 04/03/2006

UCLA will be playing for its 12th national title (Kentucky ranks second with seven) tonight in Indianapolis, while Florida will looking for the school's first title. UCLA, which won 10 titles in a 12-year span under John Wooden from 1964 through 1975 is back in the title game for the first time since 1995, when the school won its 11th title with an 89-78 victory over Arkansas. UCLA is 11-1 all-time in championship games, losing only the 1980 title game to Louisville, 59-54.

My free play for Monday is on the Sea Mariners over the LA Angels at 5:05 ET. Last night I cashed with a rare LEGEND Play in the NBA (Kings over Clippers) and tonight I'm going for the jugular, releasing tonight's NCAA title game as my lone LEGEND Play of the NCAA tournament. Regular followers know that I've gone 10-3 or 76.9 % with my tourney picks since Mar 23, so don't miss this one! MLB fans, my lone baseball game on Opening Day is one of my coveted 15* Best of the Best plays!

Florida will be making just its second title game appearance (lost to Michigan State in 2000) and for those looking for an omen, one might take this into consideration. This year's Final 4 is just the second in which no number-one seeds have participated since seeding began in 1979. The only other time it's happened came in 1980, the only time UCLA has lost an NCAA final! Tonight's meeting (9:20 ET) will be the first-ever between the two schools and Florida is favored by 1 1/2 points with a total of 127 1/2.

For those looking not for omens but facts, consider these. UCLA enters on a 12-game winning streak (10-2 ATS), holding all opponents but Gonzaga (scored 71) to 60 points or less. UCLA held LSU to just 45 points on Saturday, the second-fewest point total for any team in a Final Four game since the shot clock was instituted back in 1986. That game came on the heels of the Bruins holding Memphis to just 45 points in the Oakland Regional Final on March 25, as well (Tigers had averaged 81 PPG!).

UCLA has held three of its five opponents to less than 45 points in this year's tournament (Belmont scored just 44 points in the first round) and during the team's 12-game winning streak, has allowed an average of just 53.9 PPG. In its last two wins, UCLA has allowed Memphis and LSU to shoot just 31.7 percent (2-of-23 from three!) while averaging 45 PPG. However, the Bruins are averaging just 54.5 PPG themselves, while shooting 38.5 percent, including 7-of-26 (26.9%) from the 3-point arc.

Florida enters on a 10-game winning streak (8-2 ATS) and has been known to play a little defense itself! George Mason came into its game with the Gators averaging 72.3 PPG in its previous four games while shooting 41.9 percent on threes, including 17-of-34 vs WSU and U Conn! In Saturday's semifinal loss, the Patriots were held to just 58 points, while going just 2-of-12 from the three-point arc. However, that's nothing new, as the Gators have held their last 10 opponents to just 26.1 percent from behind-the-line!

Florida is allowing just 57.2 PPG in the tourney and 56.6 PPG in its 10-game winning streak. However, unlike UCLA, the Gators are not having trouble scoring. They were the nation's top-shooting team during the regular season and during this year's tourney have topped 73 points in four of their five games. The lone exception was Florida's 57-53 Sweet 16 win over Georgetown.

The two semifinal games were both non-competitive contests, as for the second straight year, both games were decided by 15 points or more. The interesting note about that stat is that prior to last year's two blowouts, Illinois 72-57 over Louisville and North Carolina 87-71 over Michigan State, the Final Four had gone 39 years without both games being decided by margins of 15 points or more. It seems unlikely that tonight's game will be a blowout but one never knows.

With a little help from Big Al McMordie's data base, I can be report that over the last 16 years, just 17 teams had made it through the tournaments first four games while going 4-0 ATS. Both Florida and George Mason did it this year but of course one had to lose on Saturday (although Florida could have won but not covered). However, Florida did cover and will take a perfect 5-0 ATS record into tonight's title game.

Just for the record, the only school to win and cover all six games on its way to a national championship over the last 16 years has been Duke in 1991!

The 2006 MLB season got underway last night and the defending champs looked much like the team that breezed through last year's postseason, winning 11 of 12 games. The White Sox waited out an almost three-hour rain delay in the bottom of the fourth inning to beat the Indians, 10-4. Jim Thome hit a two-run HR (431st of his career tying him with Cal Ripken for 35th on the all-time list) and World Series MVP Jermaine Dye went 3-for-3.

The White Sox won their first World Series last year since 1917 with MLB's best starting pitching. A scary thought for the rest of the AL this year is that three White Sox relievers combined to pitch five innings last night after the rain delay, allowing just three hits and one run.

Monday's MLB schedule features 13 games. ESPN has a doubleheader, Nationals at Mets (1:10 ET) and Braves at Dodgers (4:10 ET). ESPN 2 has three games, Red Sox at Rangers (2:05 ET), Giants at Padres (7:05 ET) and Yankees at A's (10:05 ET). WGN will air the Cubs at the Reds (2:10 ET).

NBA weekend recap

The Pistons won both games over the weekend to maintain the league's best record at 59-14. The East's second-best mark belongs to the Heat and they had a bad weekend. Saturday they lost at Cleveland 106-99 and Sunday at New Jersey, 90-78. Miami now trails Detroit by 11 games! The Nets' win on Sunday gives them a league-best 12-game winning streak (9-2-1 ATS) and was their 22nd win in their last 25 home games. Vince Carter scored 33 points on Sunday and is averaging 26 PPG during the team's winning streak.

The Cavs went 2-0 over the weekend (beat Miami and Charlotte), with LeBron James getting his 10th career triple-double in the win over the Heat on Saturday. Of note was the 47 points he scored, the second-most points of any player with a triple-double in the last 20 years! The rest of the playoff picture in the East has Washington at 37-35, Milwaukee at 37-36, Indiana at 35-37 (has lost four straight) and Philly at 34-38. The Bulls are two games back of the 76ers, with the Celtics 4 1/2 games back.

The Spurs won at home over Washington on Saturday and at 57-16, are 2 1/2 games up on the Mavs. Dallas lost its third straight game on Friday night in Orlando (team's first-ever three-game losing streak under Avery Johnson) but did win Sunday at home, 103-79 over Denver. Phoenix will easily take the Pacific Division and Denver will hold onto the No. 3 seed by winning the weak Northwest. The Clippers (42-30) lead the Grizzlies (42-32) by one game for the fifth spot, while the Lakers (40-35) lead the Kings (38-36) by 1 1/2 games for the seventh spot.

New Orleans has followed a stretch in which it lost 12 of 13 games both SU and ATS by winning its third straight game on Sunday, 120-113 in double-OT at Toronto. Chris Paul recorded his first-ever triple-double and the Hornets (35-37) are now two games back of the Kings for the West's final playoff spot. The Jazz (35-38) trail the Kings by 2 1/2 games.

What's up with Portland? The Blazers lost last night in Seattle 122-83, for the team's 11th straight loss (2-9 ATS)! Going back to February 4, the Blazers are 3-25 SU and 7-21 ATS!

Ness Notes is available Monday through Friday by 1:00 ET.

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