Gators Endure Bumpy Road to Atlanta

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Those days when Florida was the program with potential and not much else are long gone.

As much as the national title trophy sitting in the basketball office proves that, so does Joakim Noah's encounter with a Nike representative last summer.

While Noah was working on his game, the Nike guy was planning new uniforms for the 2007 NCAA tournament.

The encounter gave Noah a glimpse of how much everything would change.

Florida made a surprising run in the NCAA tournament last year, relying on size, shooting and maybe some obscurity to win its first national championship. The Gators took a far different path this year, playing with sky-high expectations, mounting pressure and the highest of profiles.

It made for a much tougher road to the Final Four in Atlanta, where the Gators will face UCLA - which lost to Florida in last year's NCAA final - on Saturday night for a spot in the championship game.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)