Donovan wants even more speed to combat UNC

With Carolina's size, Florida pins hopes on faster tempo, depth

April 01, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- As strange as it sounds, Florida coach Billy Donovan was talking like a man who wanted his team to run even more than it usually does in tonight's second NCAA tournament semifinal game against North Carolina.

In essence, he was asking a team that already presses more than any other team in the tournament to one-up itself, if possible.

All because his starting center, Udonis Haslem, is 6 feet 7, while power forward Brent Wright is 6-8. Compare that with the Tar Heels' Brendan Haywood (7-0) and Kris Lang (6-11) and it is understandable why the Gators will try to shy away from a normal-half court game.

"This will be by far the biggest team we've ever seen," Donovan said.

Donovan talked of how Lang and Haywood consumed Tennessee's big men, Isiah Victor and C.J. Black, in North Carolina's third-round win over the Volunteers, who were bigger down low than the Gators.

And he talked about needing something to counteract the size and muscle of the Tar Heels, with that being the same thing that has carried the Gators thus far in the tournament -- a 10-man rotation, maintaining a fast tempo and getting good shots on offense.

That, in theory, should hinder North Carolina from dominating down low, as it did in its four previous tournament games.

"The fact that North Carolina in the NCAA tournament has a plus-eight rebounding differential on its opponent, that's huge," Donovan said. "When you're an eight seed, you're playing against great competition every night. To outrebound your opponent four games by eight rebounds speaks volumes for their basketball team. They pose a lot of different problems with that backcourt and with their frontcourt."

So the Gators will not stop pressing, no matter how many times Tar Heels senior point guard Ed Cota breaks the press or finds one of his teammates for an easy basket, with the hope of a payoff coming from a tired Tar Heels team down the stretch.

It's a good bet that Cota will have his success and North Carolina, in turn, will get its fair share of uncontested layups, crowd-pleasing dunks and wide-open, three-point shots.

And Donovan conceded the Tar Heels will get a number of easy baskets; he just wants that number to be as few as possible, and that it takes its toll down the stretch.

Tar Heels freshman guard Joe Forte may be the biggest beneficiary of the Gators' gambles. Forte, the South Regional's Most Valuable Player and Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year, scored 28 points against Tulsa in the last game.

Forte led the Tar Heels in scoring this season, averaging 16.7 points.

"As far as him leading the team in scoring, he certainly owes a lot of that to Brendan Haywood and Ed Cota getting him the ball," North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said. "The thing I like most about Joseph, though, is his defense. He's become a great defensive player."

Cota, of course, will not be afraid to shoot it himself, either. This is his third Final Four in four years and his last chance to end his career as a champion.

"We just need to go out there and control the tempo," said Cota, who is the ACC's all-time assist leader. "Play them tight. As long as we don't get tired, we have the experience.

"We're going to try and make Florida pay for pressing us, but at the same time take good shots. We don't want to take the shots they want us to take."

Cota helped lead a remarkable turnaround for a school that looked destined for an early-round exit after an embarrassing, 58-52 loss to Wake Forest in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, in which the team shot a season-low 37.5 percent.

Four wins later, the Tar Heels ended up where many people thought they would before the season started -- making their NCAA-record 15th Final Four appearance -- and saving the job of their 62-year-old coach.

"Two Final Fours in three years. He looks like a pretty good coach to me," Haywood said.

In Donovan, Guthridge faces a man 28 years his junior, and with a different attitude about how college basketball should be played. Donovan and his prized player, Mike Miller, whose driving shot as time expired helped avoid a first-round loss to Butler, will lead the Gators in their second Final Four appearance, the other coming in 1994.

"I think the different styles are going to be interesting," said Miller, who has led Florida in scoring in three of the four tournament games. "It's going to be interesting to see who prepares the best for each person's style."

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