INDIANAPOLIS – Offense means national exposure, and thunder dunks make for great highlight reels. Defense, though, is the password into this year's Final Four.
"There's no big secret to this," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "If you want to win ... you have to be able to play both ends."
What this season's survivors — UCLA, LSU, Florida and George Mason — have learned is that it's better to take away than give. All four play better on defense, especially in the NCAA tournament.
George Mason, the talk of college basketball as the first mid-major to reach the Final Four, meets Florida in the first game Saturday at 6:07 p.m. EST, followed by LSU and UCLA.
UCLA (31-6) is on an 11-game winning streak and has allowed just one team to score more than 60 points in that span. That was Gonzaga, and UCLA held the Bulldogs scoreless during the final 3 minutes for a 73-71 victory in the regional semifinals. The Bruins followed that by advancing to the Final Four with a 50-45 win over top-seeded Memphis.
LSU (27-8) hasn't allowed more than 64 points in its four tournament games, and the Tigers held No. 1 Duke to its lowest point total in 10 years in a 62-54 victory in the regional semis.
"Defensively, we've been quite good throughout the tournament, but really we've been quite good defensively this whole year," LSU coach John Brady said.
The second of the four wins that made George Mason (27-7) a household name was a 65-60 victory over defending national champion North Carolina, which entered that game as one of only 12 teams averaging at least 80 points. Using a zone defense installed by coach Jim Larranaga the week before the game, the Patriots held the Tar Heels to 36 percent shooting and sent North Carolina to the free-throw line just four times.
"I know at one point we were 19th in the nation in fewest fouls committed," Larranaga said. "I think we're higher than that now with the great defense we've been able to play in the tournament without fouling."
Florida (31-6) is on a nine-game winning streak, and in that run just one team has cracked 70 points. Opponents have shot 26.5 percent from 3-point range.
The Gators are the next team from a power conference to take a shot at ending George Mason's historic run.
"Everybody wants us to lose," Florida forward Corey Brewer said. "But that doesn't mean much. I kind of want to be the bad guy. Everybody wants them to win. They're going to have the crowd behind them.
"It's time to kiss Cinderella and send her home."