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Spartans match Gators' pace

Michigan State beats Florida's pressure with ease

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Posted: Tuesday April 04, 2000 12:46 AM

  Andre Hutson, Mateen Cleaves Senior Mateen Cleaves doles out advice to Andre Hutson. AP

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Michigan State can outrun the best of them. Just ask Florida.

After plodding through the NCAA tournament against slower, more physical opponents, Michigan State was challenged to a foot race by the up-tempo, full-court-pressing Gators in the championship game Monday night.

The Spartans adapted to the style change with poise and precision typical of their senior-laden roster, and they ran to a national title with an 89-76 victory. By game's end, the Gators were pulling on their shorts while the Spartans were shouting at the top of their still-fresh lungs.

"We were in attack mode," A.J. Granger said. "We knew the way to beat the press was to get the ball upcourt quick and take care of it. We had to take the initiative."

Throughout the season, Florida intimidated opponents with its press and wore them down with superior conditioning. Florida could do neither against the Spartans and floor general Mateen Cleaves, who kept the Spartans cool and collected while waves of Gators roared at them.

"It was just staying cool; that's all it really was," Cleaves said. "They can disrupt you if you let them, and we didn't."

Michigan State essentially won the battle in the game's first five minutes by showing it would use the Gators' pressure against them.

Using a variety of long passes and clear-outs for Cleaves, the Spartans attacked the press aggressively and got the ball downcourt so quickly that they rarely needed to run an offensive play in the first half.

"I liked the way we attacked immediately," coach Tom Izzo said. "We got the ball to the middle of the floor and got it up the court. That's the way we diagrammed it for them."

The tactics led to several layups and easy shots before most fans had settled in their seats in the RCA Dome. Michigan State scored on seven of eight possessions in the first five minutes and led 17-11 before the first timeout.

"What they were doing was hitting the sideline and then slashing Mateen Cleaves over the top, and they were hitting him," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "At times, he just outran our guards. He was just faster. That's when they got some easy baskets."

With the press ineffective and Michigan State about to pull away, the Gators were forced to try to match the Spartans basket for basket. Florida couldn't do it, as Michigan State played its usual tough defense and got several baskets in transition even when the Gators weren't pressing.

The Gators didn't score off a turnover forced by their press until 9:09 remained in the game. But after Florida got a layup on that play, the Spartans immediately attacked once again, and Morris Peterson got behind the defense and converted a three-point play.

Seniors Peterson, Cleaves and Granger each shot 50 percent or better from the field while scoring 58 of the Spartans' 89 points. Michigan State had 19 assists against just 14 turnovers. The Spartans even shot 55.9 percent, a remarkable number against a defense as tough as Florida's.

It all added up to a convincing win for a veteran team that learned from the pressure of their appearance in last year's Final Four.

"All of these guys knew how important it was to focus on our game and not worry about their press," Izzo said. "I felt like we stayed focused pretty much all night."

 
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