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Sunshine greats

Florida erases Okla. St., completes Final Four field

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Posted: Monday March 27, 2000 09:50 AM

  Florida's Kenyan Weaks gives Oklahoma State's Alex Webber a little present from the NCAA tournament. AP

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Florida coach Billy Donovan thought his Gators had run out of energy. They found just enough to beat another higher-seeded team and advance to the Final Four.

With seven sophomores and freshmen in the 10-man rotation, the fifth-seeded Gators beat third-seeded Oklahoma State and its seven seniors 77-65 Sunday in the East Regional final.

"With eight minutes left, we were running on empty," Donovan said. "The last eight minutes, we had to grind it out with them. I think they were exhausted and we were, too."

Led by the 34-year-old Donovan, the Gators will play resurgent eighth-seeded North Carolina, which beat Tulsa 59-55 in the South Regional final, on Saturday in Indianapolis. Wisconsin, another No. 8 seed, will play Michigan State, the only No. 1 seed left, in the other semifinal.

"We're not going to play North Carolina differently than any other game," said Kenyan Weaks, the team's only senior.

The Gators' only other trip to the Final Four was in 1994, when most of the current players were in grade school and Donovan was about to become the youngest head coach in Division I at Marshall.

Using the same press that wore down fourth-seeded Illinois in the second round and top-seeded Duke in the regional semifinals, Florida (28-7) forced Oklahoma State (27-7) into turnovers and also wore the Cowboys down, especially point guard Doug Gottlieb, who looked exhausted in the first half from trying to constantly beat the pressure. On Site
SI's Grant Wahl
Two guys were really important in this game. Mike Miller took over when Florida's lead got down to 56-53. He hit two free throws, got a great rebound and hit a 3-pointer that put the lead back to 10. It's pretty clear now that when Florida needs a big play, it goes to Miller.

The other guy is Brett Nelson. It's interesting that Billy Donovan kept substituting, but Nelson stayed out there the last 8:36. After the game, Donovan told me that was no coincidence, that he needed someone out there who could handle the pressure.

The reasons for the Gators' rise are that they have found a leader in Miller and they also have a good understanding of giving up playing time for the good of the team.

Florida's Mike Miller explains why the Gators were so effective. (165K)

Miller says the Gators thought they could make it to Indy. (124K)

"I was really concerned, not with the mental part because we handled the Duke win well that way, but physically if we could play our style after spending so much energy against Duke," Donovan said. "The first five or six minutes I could see Oklahoma State was winded and tired, too."

A 10-0 run gave the Gators a 33-18 lead with 9:39 left in the first half and they were up 43-31 at halftime.

Twice in the second half Oklahoma State, which starts four seniors but was facing its first single-digit seed in the tournament, came up with runs to make it close, but the Gators didn't fold.

Desmond Mason and Glendon Alexander hit 3-pointers in a 9-0 run that brought the Cowboys within 50-42 with 14:12 left, but Donovan called a timeout, changed all five players, and the lead was back to 54-42 after Oklahoma State turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions.

Alexander hit another 3-pointer to cap a 7-0 that made it 56-53 with 7:56 left, but Florida scored the next seven points. Mike Miller scored the last five, making two free throws, grabbing the rebound on a missed jumper by Oklahoma State then burying a 3-pointer with 6:16 left to make it 63-53.

The closest the Cowboys got the rest of the way was eight points.

"We had a lot of chances to back in, but we didn't take advantage of them and missed some easy shots," Mason said.

Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton said he had to rest Gottlieb because he thought his point guard was fatigued.

No Kidding Around
Billy Donovan joined a select group with the Gators' 77-65 victory over Oklahoma State and built on his growing coaching legacy at Florida.

Click here to read about the historical significance of Donovan's accomplishments. 
"I thought we looked to be in a daze early," Sutton said. "The press didn't bother us as much I thought as it speeded us up and we didn't do a good job of controlling the tempo."

Miller led Florida with 14 points, and Udonis Haslem and Donnell Harvey added 10 each.

Fredrik Jonzen had 14 points for the Cowboys, while Alexander added 13 and Joe Adkins 12, eight in the final minute.

Miller, selected the regional's MVP, won the opening-round game over 12th-seeded Butler with a game-winning drive at the buzzer in overtime, the Gators' closest game of the four in the regional.

"I don't know there's been so much difference," Miller said of the team since the opening-round win. "We felt we lived to see another day and we're going to Indianapolis with the same mindset."

The most impressive of the wins was the 87-78 victory over Duke in the semifinals, the school's first win ever over a top-ranked team.

"We didn't have much gas today after the Duke game, but we found a way," Donovan said. "I'm not worried about that (Final Four) right now. I want to celebrate this for a little bit with these kids. The last 48 hours for us has been an emotional roller-coaster ride, from playing Duke to having to play Oklahoma State. These guys, to their credit being so young, really remained very, very focused and didn't get caught in the moment of Duke."

The Gators looked fresher than the Cowboys in the first half. Miller had a great spin move that led to a left-handed layup midway through and freshman Brett Nelson drew some cheers from the crowd of 30,388 at the Carrier Dome with an around-the-waist move as he went in ahead of the field for a layup.

Donovan, who played in the Final Four with Providence in 1987, will join Dean Smith, Bob Knight, Vic Bubas, Dick Harp and Bones McKinney as the only men to coach and play in the national semifinals.

"When you're young you're selfish, you're worried about you," Donovan said. "As you get older, the thing that makes this special is I got to share it with the people who matter to me and got a chance to see what it means to these kids."

Sutton was looking for his third Final Four appearance. He led Arkansas there in 1978 and Oklahoma State in 1995.

"After the game, I thanked Coach for the three best years of my life," Gottlieb said. "Every player dreams of getting to play four games in the NCAA tournament. A fifth would have been great."

Oklahoma State finished with 17 turnovers after committing just 33 in the first three tournament games, including only six in the semifinal win over 10th-seeded Seton Hall.

Related information
SI's Grant Wahl: Jönzén's timely shooting good in any time zone
Player spotlight: Doug Gottlieb, Oklahoma State
East notebook: Hairy proposition for OSU's Sutton
Florida-Oklahoma State Game Summary
Florida coach Billy Donovan could not be happier for his team. (139 K)
Florida's Mike Miller knew they couldn't let up despite having a huge lead at times. (102 K)
Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton believes that falling behind the Gators was their fatal mistake. (84 K)
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