Pressing the issue
Florida depth wears down UNC for 71-59 win
Posted: Sunday April 02, 2000 03:54 AM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Florida sent another opponent home from the NCAA tournament looking worn out, frazzled and wondering just how many Gators are out there.
With the same relentless energy and stifling pressure that has become the trademark of coach Billy Donovan, Florida used the same 10-man rotation, full-court press and balanced scoring that brought it to the Final Four for a 71-59 victory over North Carolina on Saturday night.
The Gators (29-7) will play for its first national championship on Monday night in the RCA Dome against Michigan State, which beat Wisconsin 53-41.
"The one thing people don't understand about our style of play is you can be tired. You can have 10 guys tired," Donovan said. "I play 10 guys, 10 guys to be tired."
After an opening-round scare against Butler, fifth-seeded Florida dispatched higher seeds Illinois, Duke and Oklahoma State to reach the Final Four. Each of those teams struggled through the game's final minutes as did North Carolina as its improbable NCAA tournament run ended.
"We really battled. I think we did wear out there," North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said. "This team gave us a great ride to get here."
Freshman Brett Nelson led the Gators with 13 points, while Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem added 10 each.
"I pay tribute to our style of play for that one," Nelson said.
An 18-3 lead in the opening eight minutes made it look as though the Gators wouldn't need the late edge that brought them the earlier wins.
But the Tar Heels (22-14), an eighth seed who many felt shouldn't have even made the tournament field but found their way to a record-tying 15th Final Four, were back in the game by halftime.
"That run certainly hurt us and probably we had to expend so much energy to catch up that that could be a fatigue factor," Guthridge said. "We got going in the second half and probably expended a lot of energy there. And then came the foul problems and the fatigue."
The Tar Heels had a 50-46 lead with 13:31 to play.
North Carolina point guard Ed Cota picked up his fourth foul just 13 seconds later and despite not being removed the game, his lack of aggressiveness played into Florida's hands. The rest of the Tar Heels now had to handle the pressure and it helped wear them down. The Gators took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Major Parker with 11:02 left and that started a 9-4 run.
During that span North Carolina managed just one field goal mostly because Cota, who finished with eight assists, just wasn't the same.
"It definitely changed the momentum of the game. My team wasn't comfortable playing with me having four fouls," Cota said. "My approach to the game was entirely different. I wasn't being aggressive anymore. I was giving guys open shots. I didn't want to pick up my fifth foul. Florida did a good job of just keeping the pressure on us and they just played an overall great game."
The Tar Heels, making their third Final Four appearance in four years, have lost four straight national semifinal games.
Brendan Haywood had 20 points, 16 in the first half, for the Tar Heels, while freshman Joseph Forte had 15, 13 in the second half - and 10 of those came in an early two-minute burst.
"We got up and down with them playing Florida basketball," Haywood said. "They did a good job of double-teaming the post every time I got the ball in the second half."
This was Florida's second Final Four appearance, the first -- in 1994 -- ended with a semifinal loss to North Carolina's archrival, Duke.
Led by Donovan, only the sixth man to play and coach in a Final Four, these Gators have run by their opponents after surviving a 69-68 first-round scare from Butler. Miller won that game with a shot at the buzzer, and Florida got to practice on Butler's home court this week in preparation for the Final Four.
Parker's 3-pointer came less than a minute after he and Forte were charged with double technicals for an incident under the basket. Nelson sandwiched a jumper and a 3-pointer around a 3 by Forte to keep the deciding run going.
Florida finished with a 43-42 rebound advantage with Brent Wright, Donnell Harvey and Miller each grabbing seven. Haywood led the Tar Heels with 12 and Jason Capel added 10.
"At the five-minute mark they started grabbing their shorts and bending over," Wright said. "They weren't making shots and they weren't getting back on defense. Our style is to play 40 minutes of pressure, try to get up and down the court and see which team is in better shape."
Florida finished 25-for-64 from the field (39 percent), the 17th straight opponent North Carolina has held under 50 percent. But the Tar Heels struggled themselves, shooting 35 percent (20-for-57).
Florida jumped to the 18-3 lead as the Tar Heels struggled from the field, making one of their first eight shots, and with the ball, committing five turnovers.
"I thought our guys had great intensity to start the game. North Carolina took some ill-advised shots," Donovan said.
Kenyan Weaks' 3-pointer with 11:43 to play in the first half
gave the Gators the 15-point lead, but North Carolina made four of
its next five shots and Haywood's layup on a pass from Cota had the
Tar Heels within 21-17 with 7:50 left.