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UF's strategy: Press on

The Gators are willing to go against conventional wisdom tonight against Duke.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 24, 2000


SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Coaches have been scheming for years to come up with ways to beat Duke. What they've compiled instead is a list of things not to try.

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[AP photo]
"We're going to bring it on," sophomore Mike Miller said. "We're not going to back down from them. We're not going to change our style of play for them. It may not turn them over a lot, but they only have six players, so we're going to bring it on."

At the top: Don't press.

Easy for them to say.

Full-court pressure is what fuels Florida's confidence, makes it believe it can win any game, beat any team. So even though conventional wisdom warns against pressing Duke, that's what the Gators plan to do in tonight's East Region semifinal.

It's what they always do.

"They say Duke is a bad team to press, and they probably are," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "But what kind of message am I sending my team if I say, "We're not going to press Duke; no one thinks we can do it?' I think in my heart we can press them. We can wear them down, and we can fatigue them if we don't foul and we do the things we're capable of doing."

Duke scoffs at that notion.

Despite relying heavily on six players, the Blue Devils say they thrive in up-tempo games. They lead the nation in scoring at 88.3 points per game and use the three-point shot as a transition-game weapon, as do the Gators.

"The full-court press may be a factor, but that's just a little sidebar everybody wants to hype up," junior Shane Battier said. "It's pretty ironic that we lead the nation in scoring this year, but all of a sudden we can't keep up with a team."

Duke is difficult to press for two reasons. First, it always has at least four capable ball-handlers on the floor with guards Jason Williams and Nate James, forwards Battier and Chris Carrawell, and versatile sixth man Mike Dunleavy. Second, it fights aggression with aggression, looking not merely to survive full-court pressure but to score against it.

"Attack the press, that's what we do," Carrawell said.

Press and trap every inch of the court is what Florida does. The Gators' press is different from most because it does not ease up after the first trap is broken. It traps every pass a team makes until the opponent can set up its half-court offense.

"It's somewhat unique," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

A huge part of UF's success this season is the Gators' ardent belief in BillyBall. Players say it's their "style of play" that wins games, their 10-player rotation and fatiguing full-court pressure that turns opponents into victims.

"We're going to bring it on," sophomore Mike Miller said. "We're not going to back down from them. We're not going to change our style of play for them. It may not turn them over a lot, but they only have six players, so we're going to bring it on."

Florida likes that Duke has just one true point guard in Williams, a freshman who plays nearly 34 minutes a game. This week, Williams said the press would not faze him, that he looked forward to it.

The Gators like that, too. They've heard it before.

"You see opposing point guards who at the beginning of the game are trying to dribble through your press, and they have huge egos," Gators guard Teddy Dupay said. "By the second half, they get it inbounds and they are not even trying to dribble. They are trying to pass to somebody or not even breaking to get the ball. And we say, "Here we go. That guy doesn't want it anymore; let's go get somebody else.' "

The Blue Devils say their six-player rotation will not be a problem because they are accustomed to logging 30-plus minutes a game. They've been doing it all season.

"I think it becomes an issue when you are used to playing 23 or 24 minutes a game and then all of a sudden you're thrust into a role where you are in for 40 minutes," Battier said. "When you know you are going to play 35, 36, 37 minutes a game, you just have a much better understanding of your body, and you don't get fatigued."

The Gators are insistent, too. The press is working, they say.

"There is no doubt in my mind they've been working on the press all week, and I know they don't usually do that," Dupay said. "Reporters are asking them, "What do you think about Florida's press?'

"If we don't get one turnover off the press, it's already taken a very big toll in our favor because that's what everybody is talking about and we're definitely confident."

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