© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2002
GAINESVILLE -- In an effort to keep his star center and team leader out of early foul trouble, Florida coach Billy Donovan said Monday that he is toying with the idea of benching Udonis Haslem for the beginning of Friday's NCAA Tournament first-round game against Creighton.
"One of the things we would maybe look at is not even starting him," Donovan said. "I mean, that's a possibility we'll throw out there. I mentioned (Sunday) of making some lineup changes. I think there's some things that we've got to look at."
Haslem played three minutes in the first half of Friday's SEC quarterfinal loss to Mississippi State after picking up two fouls. He picked up his third less than three minutes into the second half.
The Gators have struggled all season without Haslem. But Donovan said forcing Haslem to sit might allow him an opportunity to see how officials are calling the game before he plays.
"If that's what he wants to do, that's fine," Haslem said. "But the bottom line is if he puts me on the bench, I don't know how much of a realistic look I'm going to get on the officials because David Lee and Bonell (Colas) don't post and aren't as physical as me so they're probably not going to get the calls I get."
Donovan said he is hesitant to bench Haslem because he is a senior playing in his final NCAAs.
SAN DIEGO STATE: Not even coach Steve Fisher could have imagined his team going from 5-23 to the NCAAs in two years.
But the Aztecs (21-11) have their first bid in 17 years and play No. 4 seed Illinois on Friday in Chicago. The trip will take Fisher back to Big Ten country, where he guided Michigan to a national championship in 1989 and two other NCAA title game appearances.
The Aztecs had one winning season in the 14 before Fisher arrived in 1999.
LONG TIME, NO SEE: Florida Atlantic is the only school making its tournament debut.
Nine teams make their first appearance in more than five years. San Diego State has gone the longest (since 1985). Other droughts broken: Mississippi State (since 1996), Texas Tech ('96), Southern Illinois ('95), Pittsburgh ('93), N.C. State ('91), UC Santa Barbara ('90), McNeese State ('89) and Wyoming ('88).
DAYTON, Ohio -- Come on in, Alcorn State and Siena. Lace 'em up and learn what it's like to play in the only NCAA Tournament game that inspires more dread than dreams.
It's the play-in, and it's like nothing else: the all-night travel, the missed meals, the quiet arena that feels more like a sideshow than center stage.
"It's been real, real strange," sleepy Alcorn State guard Jeff Cammon said Monday after practice.
For the second straight year, the NCAA has its two lowest seeds playing in Dayton for the 64th spot in the tournament. The winner of tonight's game will catch another flight to Washington to play No. 1 Maryland on Friday.
Alcorn State (21-9) and Siena (16-18) found out fast that just getting there is no fun.
The Braves were surprised to learn Sunday that they, not Winthrop, were headed to Dayton to play the only team in the tournament with a losing record.
They stayed up all night packing, then got on a bus at 3 a.m. in Mississippi for a two-hour ride to Baton Rouge, where they caught a plane to Atlanta, where they had a brief delay changing flights to Cincinnati, where they caught another bus for an hour ride up Interstate 75 to Dayton.
Siena had it a little easier; its flight didn't leave Albany, N.Y., until 9 a.m. The Saints weren't in position to complain. Siena won four games in four days at home to get the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's automatic bid. The Saints are the 16th team to make the NCAAs with a losing record.
The Saints knew they'd be relegated to the play-in. They had the lowest RPI ranking in the field at 218. Winthrop was 217 and Alcorn State 182.
"The success is in being here," Siena coach Rob Lanier said. "Everything else is gravy."
-- ANTONYA ENGLISH, TIMES WIRES