ATLANTA - Observations from the first half of the NCAA championship game in Atlanta:
- If you’re an Ohio State fan, you’d probably rather have center Greg Oden in foul trouble than point guard Mike Conley.
Oden is the first-team All-American who might be the best American-born, teen-age center in the last 15 years, but the Buckeyes were fine without him for 17 minutes in the first half of the national semifinal against Georgetown.
But when freshman point guard Conley went to the bench with two fouls in the first half, Florida immediately took advantage.
"White back to two," coach Billy Donovan called from the bench, signaling the Gators to press on made baskets.
Ohio State’s Jamar Butler immediately turned it over, giving up a fast-break three-point play to Walter Hodge.
- Florida forward Joakim Noah might have the most unorthodox shooting delivery in college basketball.
The ball spins sideways out of his hands when he’s shooting free throws or a jump shot, a flaw that certainly will have to be corrected when he gets to the NBA.
His poor shooting is one reason there’s a chance teammate Al Horford – who has improved his perimeter shooting – could be drafted ahead of Noah if both players enter the draft after this season.
- Noah, Horford and Lee Humphrey get more publicity than Corey Brewer, and they have been excellent players in their own right the last two seasons. But Brewer has been by far the most outstanding player in the Final Four.
Brewer made three 3-pointers and scored 11 points in the first half as Florida grabbed a 40-29 halftime lead. He led the Gators with 19 points in the national semifinal victory over UCLA.
And at 6-foot-9, he moves his feet quickly enough to defend opposing guards. He held Ron Lewis – who averages 12.7 points per game but is five inches shorter than Brewer – to two points on 1-for-3 from the field in the first half.
- Duke and North Carolina fans may differ in their opinion of the selection of Karl Hess to referee his first NCAA championship game Monday night. Hess was the lead official on the crew that ejected Duke’s Gerald Henderson for the flagrant foul that broke North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough’s nose March 4.
Whether you agree with that call or not, Hess is one of the ACC’s best officials and deserved his position in this game. Edward Corbett and Tony Greene, who both worked their third NCAA title game Monday night, also are excellent referees. - Ken Tysiac