Lot to learn
Young Gators undone by mistakes, inexperience
Posted: Tuesday April 04, 2000 02:42 AM
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- They walked off the court with their heads bowed, looking disappointed but shedding few tears. The Florida Gators figure they'll be back here again.
But the youth that brought about so much optimism over this season and this magical tournament run turned out to be Florida's undoing in the title game Monday night.
The Gators lost 89-76 to a court-savvy Michigan State team, a performance in which the effort was there but the experience wasn't.
"They were just a better team today," said Kenyan Weaks, Florida's lone senior. "They came out and took it to us and took advantage of our youthfulness."
It showed up all over the court, but nowhere as dramatically as at guard, where it seemed nobody could shoot straight.
Or pass well.
Or defend anyone.
Freshman Brett Nelson hit two early 3-pointers, then spent the rest of the game forcing shots, passes and everything else a point guard is supposed to do well. He finished 4-for-10.
Sophomore Teddy Dupay, a 5-foot-10 gunner, looked about three inches shorter and nothing like the 41-point-per game scorer he was in high school. He didn't score.
"I could never get into a flow," he said.
The voice of experience was supposed to be Weaks. He finished with three points.
Billy Donovan, the 34-year-old mastermind of this youth movement, inserted Justin Hamilton, a freshman defensive specialist, into the starting lineup. The thought was that Hamilton could contain senior Mateen Cleaves. Guess what? Cleaves finished with 18 points and Hamilton was totally ineffective, too.
"From last year to this year, we made great strides and jumps," Donovan said. "But we've got to make some more steps. I think we'll use this as a great learning experience."
Clearly, there was plenty to learn from a team that made the Final Four last year.
Like how to keep going to a guy when he gets hot.
Center Udonis Haslem finished with 27 points, but didn't get the ball enough. The guards, Donovan said, were more intent on shooting quick jumpers than working the ball inside.
So, Haslem's success did nothing but underlie his teammates' failure. The 6-8 sophomore carved out room in the middle and shot 10-for-12. The rest of the Gators shot 16-for-48, a measly 33 percent.
Part of the failure included the performance of Mike Miller. The can't-miss forward from Mitchell, S.D., looked as confused as the kids in the backcourt. He shot 2-for-5 and finished with 10 of the most invisible points he's ever scored.
"For a team that was young and didn't know what to expect coming into this situation, we did a great job," Miller said. "Any time you get in situations like this and come out losing, it's definitely difficult. But I think we grew up, and that's the most important thing."
Next year, Weaks will be gone and Miller, a sophomore, could leave for the pros. But another strong recruiting class is coming and the Gators know the future looks bright.
Another year of experience should work wonders.
Just ask Michigan State.