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GAME 2 / NOTES

Guthridge Plays the Politician When It Comes to a Final Pick

April 02, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE and BILL PLASCHKE and ROBYN NORWOOD

INDIANAPOLIS — North Carolina has lost to Michigan State and Florida this season, but Coach Bill Guthridge isn't ready to pick a winner in Monday night's championship game.

"I think it's two very good teams," Guthridge said. "Michigan State is an excellent team. They run the offense and they're so sound defensively. And yes, they defeated us early in the year and they didn't have Mateen [Cleaves] and now they're even better.

"And I think Florida's a very good team and very well-coached. So I think it should be a great championship game."

Thanks for going out on a limb, Coach.

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Florida is the first fifth-seeded team to advance to a national title game. The Gators will attempt to become the lowest-seeded team to win the championship since No. 6 Kansas won the title in 1988.

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Since its last-second, one-point win over Butler in the first round, the Gators have won four games by an average of 12.5 points. With 29 victories, the Gators have tied the school record for victories. The 1993-94 squad, coached by Lon Kruger, also won 29 games and advanced to the Final Four.

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If Florida's Billy Donovan wins the national title, he will become the third-youngest coach to do so. Donovan will be 34 years 10 months and four days old on Monday.

Wisconsin's Harold Foster was 34 years nine months 29 days old when the Badgers won the title in 1941 and Indiana's Branch McCracken was 31 years nine months 21 days old when the Hoosiers won in 1940.

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During most of the regular season he was a hotshot freshman guard who made things uncomfortable even in the boiler room that is the Florida offense.

"He was trying to do a lot of things his way, like freshmen like to do," teammate Udonis Haslem said.

But in this tournament, and Saturday's semifinal victory over North Carolina in particular, Brett Nelson grew up.

Nelson, considered the best prospect to leave West Virginia since Jerry West, not only led the Gators with 13 points, but added four assists with one turnover, six rebounds, and great perimeter defense.

After averaging only 7.9 points during the season, he has scored 16, nine, 15 and 13 in the Gators' last four games.

"Brett has been like night and day," Haslem said. "He's finally figured it out."

Like the rest of his teammates, Nelson credits his success to that former hotshot guard who is his coach.

"I attribute how I'm playing now all to [Donovan]," Nelson said. "He never lost confidence in me. We would have talks, he said just keep your head up. And I have."

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