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Heels see 'much better' UF team

By JOANNE KORTH, Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 2, 2000


INDIANAPOLIS -- North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said Florida is a much different team from the one his staff scouted early in the season, when both schools were in the Maui Invitational.

The teams did not play in the November tournament because the Gators failed to reach the championship game.

"They're much better," Guthridge said. "All those freshmen had played one game against Florida State. They were true freshmen then. Now they're more like sophomores and juniors instead of freshmen."

Guthridge praised freshman forward Donnell Harvey, calling him one of the best offensive rebounders the Tar Heels have played. He also saluted coach Billy Donovan's ability to blend 10 talented players into a system without stars.

"Billy Donovan has done an amazing job of assembling the type of players he wants and then done a great job coaching them, too," Guthridge said. "It's hard to get 10 people to be happy in that situation. But their style of play dictates they need more people. Billy has done a good job convincing his team of that."

WELL-WISHER: An old Florida foe paid an unlikely visit to the Gators during dinner Thursday night -- former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, now with the Indianapolis Colts.

"We looked up and said, "Oh, it's Peyton Manning,' " forward Brent Wright said. "He just offered us good luck and said he wanted us to win because we're in the SEC."

MONEY NO OBJECT: Florida student Charlie Jordan and three of his classmates drove 24 hours from Gainesville in Jordan's two-door Monte Carlo to get to the Final Four. Along the way, their Gator flag got sucked out the window, but their dedication was unflappable. They weren't the least bit interested in offers of $2,000 each for their tickets -- floor level, behind the basket, Row 6.

"That's a lot of money, but we didn't go to every single Florida home game and then make this trip just to watch the game in a hotel room," sophomore Paul Sjoberg said.

DOUBLE DIPPING: Florida and Michigan are the only schools in the past 10 years to appear in multiple Final Fours and win a national title in football. The Gators are one of four SEC schools to make the Final Four more than once, joining Kentucky, Arkansas and LSU.

TOP JOBS: Florida's success has made assistant coaches John Pelphrey and Anthony Grant candidates for head-coaching jobs. Pelphrey has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Danny Nee at Nebraska; he said no one has contacted him. Grant has been mentioned as a replacement for Marcos "Shakey" Rodriguez at Florida International.

WHOLE LOTTA NOISE: The RCA Dome crowd of 43,179 was the largest the Gators have played before. The high was 30,681 last weekend in the East Region at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.

YOUTH MOVEMENT: The starting lineups were comprised of one senior, two juniors, five sophomores and two freshmen. UNC's Ed Cota was the lone senior.

SOUR SUBJECT: Butler coach Barry Collier, whose school is hosting the Final Four, has seen and heard enough about Mike Miller's overtime buzzer-beater that lifted Florida past his team in the first round: "If I see the replay one more time, I think I'm going to vomit."

LAST HURRAH: Jody Silvester, who is retiring after four decades as a referee, worked the Florida-North Carolina semifinal. Silvester, 63, has worked in every NCAA Tournament since 1979.

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