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Tampa subregional

Sense of deja vu for UF seniors in tonight's match

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2003


TAMPA -- It's all come full circle for Florida's seniors.

On April 3, 2000, Matt Bonner, Justin Hamilton and Brett Nelson played in Florida's 89-76 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament championship.

Then they were freshmen bit players. Tonight, they face Michigan State as key figures, trying to prolong their college careers.

"It's really tough to put in words how emotional this is," Nelson said. "We've seen both ends of the spectrum. We've made the national championship game, and we've been knocked out in the first round.

"We know now that every possession, every minute counts because it could be our last."

Popular among younger teammates, the seniors have passed on the sense of urgency.

"We're feeding off their emotion and their energy, and they let us know every day if we don't come to play this could be their last game," reserve freshman forward Adrian Moss said. "And we don't want this to be their last game."

NO HYPE: Though the seniors were part of the 2000 title game, it would be a considerable stretch to call this a rematch.

Only Hamilton started that game, scoring zero in 14 minutes. Nelson had a good game off the bench with 11 points, but Bonner had zero points in seven minutes.

For Michigan State, only Aloysius Anagonye and Adam Ballinger remain from the 2000 title team. Both played off the bench, with Ballinger scoring two. FOOTREST: Nothing like a 30-point blowout to help the healing process.

The Gators' 85-55 win Friday over Sam Houston State allowed Bonner to sit out the final seven minutes and rest a right foot that has bothered him more than two weeks.

Bonner has had plantar fasciitis and a muscle injury in the foot since March 5 and did not practice until Monday.

"There have been times when he can't get out of bed and walk," coach Billy Donovan said. "I think Matt's hurting."

Bonner said the pain won't keep him out now, and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo sees him as a key.

"He's the glue to this team. He's so smart," Izzo said. "He seems to always be in the right position, he knows what to do on the press, he knows what to do on ball screens."

TWINS: The vital statistics on Bonner (redheaded senior, 6-10, 240 pounds) and Michigan State forward Ballinger (redheaded senior, 6-9, 250) have not gone unnoticed by UF.

"I do get ragged on a little bit about that," Bonner said. "We look alike and have a similar game. Us redheads have to stick together and represent."

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