Center Udonis Haslem says half-court offense and maturity are crucial if the Gators are to win.
By JOANNE KORTH
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2000
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Many times this season, Florida has credited big wins to its style of play. So too has Butler.
One goes fast.
One goes slow.
Florida (24-7) and Butler (23-7) play Friday in the first round of the NCAA's East Region, setting up a clash of contrasting styles. The No. 12 seed Bulldogs will use a methodical approach to try to impede the No. 5 seed Gators.
"It's going to come down to style of play," UF coach Billy Donovan said.
Butler coach Barry Collier has built a winner in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference using an odd assemblage of misfits and a deliberate, throwback system that befits a small school from the heart of Indiana basketball country.
The result: three NCAA Tournament appearances in four seasons.
"We don't play against the Big Ten, so we aren't going to have their caliber of player," Collier said. "But we have very good players for our league, and they still don't even get recognition for that. ... We don't do a good enough job of tooting our own horn, and we're a little bit lost in a big city and in a state where Purdue and IU dominate."
Senior forward Mike Marshall (6 feet 4, 235 pounds) has the build and skills of a linebacker but prefers basketball. Junior center Scott Robisch (6-11, 215) lacks the strength to battle inside but can step out for a 15-foot jumper. Sophomore point guard Thomas Jackson (5-9, 160) makes up for his lack of size with quickness.
"Most of our guys are undersized," Collier said.
Together, they come up big.
Butler's home court, Hinkle Fieldhouse, was used to film the climactic scene of the movie Hoosiers, so the Bulldogs know all about hoop dreams. But their success is reality.
The Bulldogs enter the NCAA Tournament on a 15-game winning streak, the nation's third-longest behind Utah State (19) and Penn (16). Among their more impressive wins are a 77-55 pounding of Indiana State and a 62-43 thumping of Detroit, one of last year's NCAA Cinderella teams, in the MCC tournament final.
To compete, Butler employs a methodical style, slowing the game with patience on offense and diligence on defense. It ranks third in the nation in team defense, holding opponents to 55.7 points a game. It is a direct contrast to Florida's high-flying, up-tempo system of full-court pressure and fastbreaks. The Gators rank fourth in the nation in scoring at 84.2 points a game.
"Teams know we're the running, pressing Gators," UF center Udonis Haslem said. "A lot of teams are going to try to slow us down, and that's where maturity becomes a factor. We have to learn how to execute in the half court."
Butler held Detroit to season lows in points and shooting percentage (26.2), and star guard LaVall Jordan held Detroit's Rashad Phillips, the nation's sixth-leading scorer, to 11 points on 4-for-19 shooting.
"Our guys carry out the plan pretty well," Collier said.
So do the Gators. Florida will stick to its seasonlong strategy of pushing the pace in hopes of wearing down Butler with its 10-man rotation. Patience, Donovan said, will be the key at both ends of the court.
"On defense, we have to be patient and not foul them when the shot clock is winding down and send them to the free-throw line," said Donovan, who lost to Butler 102-92 in 1995, his final season coaching at Marshall.
"On offense, we've got enough firepower that our outside shooters can open up the inside, or if they take away the three-point line we've got guys who can score around the basket. We need to score to get our press on and force tempo."