By JOANNE KORTH, BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 25, 2000
Duke freshman point guard Jason Williams occupied the pregame spotlight, but Florida freshman backup Brett Nelson stole it in the opening minutes of the East Region semifinal in Syracuse, N.Y.
Nelson made an impressive Sweet 16 debut by scoring eight points, forcing a turnover and dishing an assist during a 13-1 run that gave the Gators a 20-13 lead with 12:06 left in the half. Nelson made back-to-back three-pointers and hit his first three shots before finishing the half 3-for-5.
"People have no idea how far he's come from the beginning of the year," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "It's great to see him have some success."
Williams' debut was less auspicious. As Duke's only true point guard, Williams was considered the key figure in breaking Florida's full-court pressure. But he committed four first-half turnovers and was 1-for-8, including 1-for-5 from three-point range.
HAMILTON FINE: Florida freshman Justin Hamilton, who sprained his right ankle at the end of Thursday's practice, started for the fifth straight game. He showed no ill-effects from the injury.
HOMECOMING: The trip to Syracuse has been a homecoming for Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb and his family. Four members of Gottlieb's family graduated from Syracuse: his mother, a grandfather, an uncle and a cousin. "It was always one of my dreams to play at Syracuse," Gottlieb said.
He never got the chance. The Orangemen were busy recruiting Stephon Marbury in 1995. Everyone thought the New York City star would go to Syracuse, but he signed with Georgia Tech. Gottlieb committed to Notre Dame, where he played one year before transferring to Oklahoma State.
FAMILIAR FEEL: Florida doesn't have much experience playing in domes, but the predominantly orange and blue decor of the Carrier Dome's home team, Syracuse, helped the Gators feel comfortable. "I know it sounds funny, but just seeing all the orange and blue in the background helps make it feel like home," UF's Teddy Dupay said.
DOME OF DOOM: Donovan does not have fond memories of the Carrier Dome from his playing days at Providence. The Friars were 0-4 on the road against Syracuse from 1984-1986.
LID-LIFTERS: The Tennessee Volunteers, seeking the focus to advance in the South Region at Austin, Texas, relied for the second consecutive weekend on, of all things, a Tom Landry-like gray fedora.
Yep, partner. A hat.
Tennessee football coach Phil Fulmer told the basketball team that during his team's championship run a couple of years ago, he used a stick, a "synergy stick," he called it, as a focal point for concentration when things weren't going well.
"We had this old hat that had been sitting on top of a television for about three months, and that became our synergy hat," basketball coach Jerry Green said.
"It may seem silly to you, it may seem silly to a lot of people, but it's very important to those 13 players. ... It's probably the most beautiful hat in the world."
But it doesn't look that way on him.
"Coach Green isn't the cutest guy in it," senior forward C.J. Black said.
FAMILIAR TERRITORY: Tulsa's trip to Texas has been something of a homecoming. Four players -- Greg Harrington, Demario Hooper, Kevin Johnson and Charlie Davis -- are from Texas.
"In order for us to survive at Tulsa and have the chance to compete at the highest level, we have to be able to recruit this state," coach Bill Self said. "We have to be able to keep the best players in our area at home and be able to recruit in Texas. Tulsa can't go into Chicago and beat Illinois or DePaul for a kid, but there are so many athletes in the state of Texas that we feel we can get a kid that a Texas or a Texas A&M or an Oklahoma missed on and he can pan out."
LOCAL TIES: Former North Carolina football coach Mack Brown, now at Texas, showed up at Thursday's practice to visit North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge. He even took Guthridge out for barbecue afterward. But for Guthridge, that show of hospitality was a bit overshadowed by the burnt orange seats in the Erwin Center. "I hope we are a sentimental favorite in Austin, but I don't like the color of your arena; that's Tennessee's color," Guthridge quipped.