Florida's bright spot is Haslem, as odds of 1-on-1 suit him

Center contributes 27, may change role next year

Notebook

NCAA Championship

April 04, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- After his time on college basketball's biggest stage, Florida center Udonis Haslem may see more balls coming his way next season.

Haslem led the Gators with 27 points last night and, at times, was the only offensive threat on a team that is supposed to be loaded with scorers.

The output was a season high for Haslem, who could be the focal point of many offenses, but often gets overlooked because of Florida's guard play.

He was not overlooked last night, and Florida coach Billy Donovan took advantage of the Spartans' choosing to guard him one-on-one.

"Anytime I get the ball one-on-one in the post, Coach has been telling me since I've been here he has total confidence in me to make strong moves to the basket," Haslem said.

The problem is Haslem does not always get the ball down low because the Gators like to get up and down the court and take their three-pointers.

Before last night, Haslem only led the team in scoring three times this season, although, at 6 feet 7, 260 pounds, he had at least a weight advantage over many of the players who had tried to guard him. He averaged 11.4 points this year.

"They didn't have an answer for Udonis tonight," Donovan said. "We got the ball inside against them just about anytime we wanted.

"I thought some of our perimeter guys taking some quick rush shots did not enable us to get the ball inside more to him."

Haslem went 10-for-12 from the field last night and made all seven of his free throws.

He made up for some poor shooting otherwise for the Gators, including 6-for-18 from the three-point line, and virtually single-handedly kept his team in the game.

"Tonight was a night my teammates got me in a position to score," Haslem said. "It was a tribute to those guys looking for me."

Big-name support

Michigan State's student section used the television timeouts to alert the RCA Dome crowd of some of the Spartans' distinguished supporters.

The fans chanted the names of former star Magic Johnson, Steve Smith, football player Plaxico Burress, football coach Bobby Williams and even the mother of point guard Mateen Cleaves until each stood up and acknowledged the crowd.

All were sitting in the makeshift seats near the Spartans' bench.

Granger comes through

Donovan called Michigan State forward A. J. Granger the "X factor" before last night's game.

Granger confirmed Donovan's suspicion that he would play a major role for the Spartans by shooting 7-for-11 from the field and scoring 19 points.

Granger also pulled down nine rebounds and shot 3-for-5 from three-point territory.

He had perhaps the biggest basket of the night after Florida guard Kenyan Weaks made a three-pointer with just over 12 minutes left in the game to cut the Spartans' lead to three.

Granger came back to hit a three with a hand in his face and the shot clock running out.

"We called Granger the X factor, that we could not allow him to step out and make three-point shots," Donovan said. "He did that. I thought Granger made some tough ones. You have to give him credit. Granger played a great game.

Joy at home

Michigan State got off to a fast start, and so did its fans at home in East Lansing.

Crowds hit the streets even before the NCAA championship game was over in Indianapolis last night, celebrating the school's first national title in 21 years.

In the minutes following the Spartans' 89-76 victory over Florida, students outside the Cedar Village apartment were high-fiving, chanting the school fight song and waving flags.

One student had a Florida Gator hanging by the neck from a pole, while others held up newspapers with banner headlines proclaiming the Spartans national champions.

One side of Grand River, the main thoroughfare through campus, was closed. Some people were riding on top of a moving bus.

There were about 10,000 to 12,000 people taking part in the celebration, East Lansing Police Lt. Kevin Daley said.

Even-year streak

Florida's loss ended a streak of NCAA champions from the Southeastern Conference in every even-numbered year since 1994.

Arkansas won the title in 1994 and Kentucky was the champion in 1996 and 1998. Florida beat Arkansas and split a pair of games with Kentucky this season.

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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