Speedy Spartans Sprint Past Gators
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Florida found out Michigan State can outrun the best of them.
After plodding through the NCAA tournament against slower, more physical opponents, Michigan State was challenged to a footrace by the up-tempo, full-court-pressing Gators in the championship game Monday night.
The Spartans adapted to the style change with poise and precision typical of their senior-laden roster, and they ran to a national title with an 89-76 victory. By game’s end, the Gators were pulling on their shorts while the Spartans were shouting at the top of their still-fresh lungs.
Throughout the season, Florida intimidated opponents with its press and wore them down with superior conditioning. Florida could do neither against the Spartans and floor general Mateen Cleaves, who kept the Spartans cool and collected while waves of Gators roared at them.
Michigan State essentially won the battle in the game’s first five minutes. Using a variety of long passes and clear-outs for Cleaves, the Spartans attacked the press aggressively and got the ball downcourt so quickly that they rarely needed to run an offensive play in the first half.
The tactics led to several layups and easy shots before most fans had settled in their seats in the RCA Dome. Michigan State scored on seven of eight possessions in the first five minutes and led 17-11 before the first timeout.
With the press ineffective and Michigan State about to pull away, the Gators were forced to try to match the Spartans basket for basket. Florida couldn’t do it, as Michigan State played its usual tough defense and got several baskets in transition even when the Gators weren’t pressing.
The Gators didn’t force a turnover with their press until 9:09 remained in the game. But after Florida scored on that play, the Spartans immediately attacked once again, and Morris Peterson got behind the defense and converted a three-point play.
The celebration was all that remained.