Duke stares into jaws of Gators' pressure

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2000

DURHAM, N.C. - Fifth-seeded Florida wants to run with No.1 Duke, because that's what Florida does. Florida presses and traps and throws alley-oops for 40 minutes, turning basketball into BillyBall, fourth-year coach Billy Donovan's preferred pace that is somewhere between fast break and fast forward.

And Duke wants to let it happen.

``We like to play fast, too,'' Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said this week, smiling. ``You know, we lead the country in scoring.''

No, Friday in Syracuse, N.Y., in the third round of the NCAA tournament, the Gators (26-7) probably won't have to try very hard to get Duke (29-4) to play at their frenetic pace. Florida will be like a spider trying to catch its dinner with a web - and catching an even bigger spider instead.

``It's exciting,'' Duke senior Chris Carrawell said. ``It's going to be an up-and-down game, the type game you want to play in. If we're going to go down, we're going down firing all our bullets.''

Florida accelerates tempo by pressing the entire court, for the entire game. Teams facing the Gators must run, or be run over, or, sometimes, both.

``We were able to score all game,'' said Illinois coach Lon Kruger, whose fourth-seeded Illini lost 93-76 to Florida in the second round of the East Regional on Sunday. ``We just couldn't stop them from scoring.''

Florida's press begins with two men guarding the point guard, trying to force the ball inbounds to someone else. The Gators then try to trap whoever gets the inbounds pass, then the next person to touch the ball, and the next.

The result of all those traps? Florida averages 10.2 steals per game - more than any team in the ACC. They are steals that lead to layups and dunks, steals that lead to blowouts. Florida was responsible for the worst defeats of five SEC colleagues: Mississippi State by 30, Auburn by 29, Vanderbilt by 26, Louisiana State by 25 and Kentucky by 17.

``Florida's press stays with you,'' Krzyzewski said. ``Some teams try to attack you with one trap, and then move it back. (Teams that do that) are just pressing to disrupt your flow. Florida tries to get something out of it.''

On paper, Duke looks susceptible. The Blue Devils have one pure guard in their starting lineup, point guard Jason Williams, and he's a freshman averaging 4.1 turnovers per game, including eight in the last one, against Kansas. After Williams, the Blue Devils are a bunch of small forwards - 6-foot-6 Carrawell, 6-8 Shane Battier, 6-6 Nate James and 6-9 center Carlos Boozer.

That's on paper. The reality is, most teams choose not to press Duke, not even teams that thrive on the press, like Virginia this season and Maryland last year.

Two reasons for that. One, Duke may not have another point guard to join Williams, but the Blue Devils always have four or five above-average ball-handlers on the floor, including 6-8 sixth man Michael Dunleavy. Two, Duke is one of the few teams in the country with the offensive firepower to counter aggression with aggression, looking not just to survive the press but to score against it.

``Attack the press. That's what we'll do,'' Battier said. ``We've been a very loose team offensively all year. Teams that face the press, they're not usually loose like that.''

In pregame comments, Duke almost seemed to be daring the Gators to press.

``We'll attack,'' James said.

But, James was asked, haven't other teams tried that against Florida?

``We're a little bit better than other teams,'' he said.

Touche.

For the second consecutive season, the Blue Devils ended the regular season leading the country - all 314 Division I teams - in scoring this season at 89.1 points per game.

Donovan knows. And doesn't care.

``We're not going to drop into a soft 2-3 zone,'' he said. ``We're going to play the style we're comfortable playing.''

And Duke will play the style it's comfortable playing. It'll turn the Sweet 16 matchup into 40 minutes of isometrics - Florida pressing this way, Duke running that way.

``They'll keep pressing, and we'll keep trying to break it,'' James said. ``Eventually, it will go one way or the other.''



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