By JOHN C. COTEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001
NEW PORT RICHEY -- Give Palm Harbor University some credit. In reaching the finals of the Class 5A, District 9 tournament, the Hurricanes turned in the most exciting performances of the week.
In the quarterfinal win, two overtimes.
In the semifinal win, one overtime.
But in Saturday's championship against Land O'Lakes, the overtime PHU faced was of a different variety.
Over: very early.
Time: oh, about three minutes into the game.
Using its superior quickness and displaying the kind of tenacity that helped it to an undefeated district season, Land O'Lakes routed PHU to capture its second straight championship with a convincing 66-43 win at Gulf.
Wasting little time, the Gators ran PHU into the ground with a 16-2 spurt to start the game and led by 33 before emptying its bench and allowing the Hurricanes to score 11 straight points in the final three minutes.
Once the Gators opened up a double-digit lead three minutes into the game, PHU got no closer in falling to 16-14.
The Gators won their 28th game of the season (against two losses), breaking the school record set last year.
PHU coach Michael Walters was duly impressed.
"That's a final four team; they have a legitimate chance to be there," Walters said. "I wish we could have competed better. Going in we knew it would be tough anyways. They are just a solid team. You can't play just one guy. They are just a tough team to play against. We couldn't handle their power or experience."
In giving the Gators too many second chances, the Hurricanes were outshot 29-13 in the first half as Land O'Lakes scored, by Walters' estimation, "18-20 points on second chances."
The Hurricanes, who made the final this season after failing to win even a district game their first three years of existence, did not shoot poorly (16-for-34, 47 percent) but also did not shoot enough.
A final 11-1 run after Land O'Lakes emptied its bench while leading 65-32 helped prevent the Hurricanes from being doubled up. They were led in scoring by Chad Anderson's 17 points.
PHU moves on to the regional playoffs as runner-up for the first time, traveling to Boca Ciega on Thursday.