Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Later, Gators Florida's Magical Journey through NCAA Tournament Ends on Final Step as Michigan State Rolls to National Title

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Later, Gators Florida's Magical Journey through NCAA Tournament Ends on Final Step as Michigan State Rolls to National Title

Article excerpt

INDIANAPOLIS --- The championship hopes of the new-age Florida Gators were bowled over by The Flint-stones.

Even Bedrock never looked this good.

Michigan State, full of senior experience and led by three stars from Flint, Mich. --- The Flint-stones --- rolled to an 89-76 victory last night to claim the NCAA basketball championship in front of 43,116 fans at the RCA Dome.

The Gators' NCAA run, which turned a football-crazed town into basketball heaven for three weeks, came up one game short.

"It's hard to sit here and describe the feeling," said Florida center Udonis Haslem. "We had such a great ride, and now it's over."

Destiny suddenly became deflating for UF, which stumbled through a night of poor shooting and poor decisions --- and chasing the Flint-stones all over the court.

Flint natives Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell combined for 48 points, and the Spartans (32-7) atoned for last year's loss to Duke in the national semifinals with their first national title since Magic Johnson led the way in 1979.

"I could sit here and make excuses, but you have to give them credit," said UF coach Billy Donovan. "They played a great game. Every time we made a run, they answered. This should be a tremendously motivating experience for us."

UF (29-8) can take some solace in the fact that a majority of its roster returns for next season. Guard Kenyan Weaks is the Gators' only senior, and only one underclassman --- sophomore forward Mike Miller --- may leave early for the NBA.

With all the comparisons to football at Florida, the basketball team should also consider this: The football team lost in its first shot at the national title in 1995, then came back and won it in 1996.

"I'm going to sit down with Coach Donovan and talk with him," Miller said. "I trust him with my life. Hopefully he'll steer me in the right direction."

Said Johnson, a former NBA all-star and one of the league's all-time greats: "He's not ready. He needs another year of seasoning. I would advise him to stay and get another year under his belt."

Ironically, it was Cleaves who stayed for his senior season for just this reason. His play --- he was named Final Four most valuable player --- ignited the Spartans at every turn. Even when he had to leave the game early in the second half with a sprained ankle, he returned minutes later to key another big run.

UF never led in the game, trailed by as many as 20 and never really had a chance. The Spartans made UF's press and depth ineffective with perimeter shooting (11 of 22 beyond the arc) and good decisions.

"They stepped up and made some big shots," said UF guard Teddy Dupay. "We were hitting 2s and they were hitting 3s."

Even when it looked as though UF may get back in the game, the Spartans had an answer. Cleaves sprained his right ankle after a collision with Dupay with 16:18 to play and MSU leading 50-44. But Mike Chappell hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing play, and a tip-in a minute later to push the lead back to double digits at 55-44 and keep momentum.

Once Cleaves was hurt, six of Michigan State's next 11 field goals were 3-pointers --- three by Peterson --- to put the game away at 82-62 with 5:17 to play. …

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