Long shots N.C., Fla. net berths

Florida again puts up its dukes and depth, lassos Cowboys, 77-65

It beats post-Duke fatigue

Late 5-0 Harvey run refuels No. 5 seed

March 27, 2000|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- They almost didn't make it out of the first round when some kindly officiating, two missed free throws and Mike Miller's last-second basket that had to be reviewed on tape for authenticity enabled Florida to escape from Butler in overtime.

Ten days later, the Gators clinched their reservations for the NCAA's Final Four.

Before 30,388 at the Carrier Dome yesterday, full-throttle Florida used its depth to claim another victim, this time against a seasoned Oklahoma State club that couldn't emerge from a deep deficit and lost the Eastern Regional final, 77-65.

Even winning coach Billy Donovan was worried about the fatigue factor for his fifth-seeded team although his 10-deep rotation had worn out Duke, the nation's No. 1 team, in the semifinals.

"With eight minutes to go, there was nothing in us," said Donovan. "We were running on empty. I think both teams were fatigued from playing difficult games on Friday. We tried to grind the game out with them. I think it said a lot about these kids' character and commitment."

The erstwhile national football power has reached the Final Four for the first time since 1994 when it lost in the semifinals to, yes, Duke. And, according to Donovan, putting a victory over Duke behind them was a crucial element for his Gators (28-7).

"I wasn't concerned about the mental part because I looked at my team after they beat No. 1 and there was no celebrating, no nothing. I knew mentally they would be fine," he said.

Oklahoma State (27-7) never overcame its inability to hit a number of shots in close, its unforced turnovers and some effective first-half rebounding by Florida freshman point guard Justin Hamilton, who scored four times on put-backs to assist his team to a 35-20 lead.

"I didn't box out Hamilton three or four times," said Cowboys point guard Doug Gottlieb. "That was a new experience to me. Coach warned me about it a number of times. I'm not used to point guards going to the glass like that."

Down 43-31 at the break, Oklahoma State had to bear down on defense and capitalize on several sloppy Gators offensive stretches to get back into contention.

With eight minutes remaining, Glendon Alexander drilled a three-pointer to provide some fuel for hope by shaving Florida's lead to 56-53. The rally died there.

"We came back and competed, but we could not get over the hump," said Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, who watched seven seniors play for the last time. "You use up so much energy just getting back, it makes it very difficult."

"We had a lot of chances to get ourselves back in the game, but we didn't complete a lot of plays," said Oklahoma State's top scorer, Desmond Mason, who was restricted to two field goals and nine overall points. "Our shots weren't falling. They felt good, but they weren't going down."

Oklahoma State forged a 7-2 lead at the start before Hamilton began crashing the boards for follow-up baskets and the Cowboys started getting reckless with the ball against the press. During the next 10 minutes, Florida hit four three-pointers, ran off a 33-13 streak and took command of the game.

The defensive pressure wasn't bothering the Cowboys immensely at the striking point, but it was altering their ways.

"They run waves at you and that's a different style than we usually see," Gottlieb said. "The big thing when you play at that speed is that sometimes some shots are taken out of rhythm because you're moving so much."

When the Cowboys ignited their comeback, it was freshman forward Donnell Harvey who smothered it for Florida.

With five minutes remaining, the score was 65-57. A minute and a half later, Harvey had accounted for five straight points, finishing the run with an authoritative dunk that signaled the beginning of the end for Oklahoma State.

"Harvey opened the game up for us," Donovan said. "He showed you can be tired and still be a super player out there."

Because the press was faltering and his team was tiring, Donovan pulled Florida out of the frenzy mode and dropped into a half-court defense "to see if they could score against it. I was even thinking about zone, but they were shooting the ball well and I didn't want to give up three-pointers. Then, we did a pretty good job of rebounding and limiting them to one shot."

The players dedicated the game to loved ones and drew motivation from that cause. Donovan believed that would be inspiring. "I think when you're playing or doing something for someone you love, you have a tendency to dig down a little bit deeper," he said.

Kenyan Weaks, the team's lone senior, was so motivated that he defied Donovan's orders and executed a monster slam as the clock expired.

"It was an exclamation point, that's what it was," Weaks said. "Coach told us to hold the ball, but I did my own thing."

With surprising North Carolina next on schedule for the Gators, Sutton surmised that Florida's quickness will be a problem in the semifinals.

"I thought Tulsa would beat North Carolina," he said. "I saw the first half and thought Tulsa's quickness hurt them, but North Carolina has some very big players who will hurt Florida."

Gottlieb thought it was simply a matter of Oklahoma State not connecting on shots that were there for the making.

"We were down three with our best player with his best look at a three and it doesn't go in. We got a three for Joe [Adkins] and that didn't go in and Brian [Montonati], the best 15-foot jump shooter on the team, gets a couple of them and they didn't go in. That's the story of the game," Gottlieb said.

NCAA tournament

Yesterday's games

South Regional final

N. Carolina 59, Tulsa 55

East Regional final

Florida 77, Okla. State 65

Final Four

Saturday's semifinals

Michigan State (30-7) vs. Wisconsin (22-13), 5: 42 p.m.

North Carolina (22-13) vs. Florida (28-7), 8: 12 p.m.

Next Monday's title game

Semifinal winners, 9: 18 p.m.

TV coverage: Chs. 13, 9

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