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It’s a whole new ballgame for Wisconsin

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McClatchy Tribune
March 18, 2009
— It was just about a year ago that a skinny kid from a tiny school few could find on a map was about to take the country by storm.

Everyone knows who Stephen Curry is now thanks to an amazing two-week run in the NCAA tournament that nearly culminated with a Final Four berth for Davidson. As Wisconsin found out last March in Detroit, Curry is the kind of player who can carry a team far by himself.


Just UW’s luck, it’s about to face another player poised for postseason stardom.


Badgers fans, it’s time to get re-acquainted with Florida State’s Toney Douglas. “You have guys that you can prepare for all you want, but Toney Douglas is going to do what he is going to do . . .” said Dave Leitao, who recently resigned as Virginia’s coach. “He is in another place than most players.”


The 12th-seeded Wisconsin Badgers (19-12) will see for themselves about 9 p.m. Friday when they play fifth-seeded Florida State (25-9) in an East Regional first-round NCAA tournament game at Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho.


The last time Douglas faced UW, he scored 24 points in an 81-66 loss to the Badgers in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Two years later, he appears on the verge of All-American honors.


The 6-foot-2 guard averages 21.3 points per game, shoots 44.4 percent and dishes out a team-high 2.9 assists per game.


But what has made him so valuable for the Seminoles is his work without the ball. He defends like a mad man and has led a team filled with fresh faces to the school’s first NCAA berth in 11 years.


“He was vocal. He was intense. He played hard on every possession in practice,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “From his training to his sleep to his diet, he did all the things that you’d like to see a leader do.”


It has paid off in a major way.


The Seminoles, who were picked to finish 10th in the 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference, finished fourth and beat top-ranked North Carolina last weekend in the ACC tournament. Douglas, who wasn’t on the preseason all-conference team, finished a close second to North Carolina’s Ty Lawson for conference player of the year.


“He’s not been stopped all year and we won’t stop him,” UW assistant Gary Close said. “We’ve just got make him work and make his shots tough and hope he doesn’t shoot a real high percentage.”


Douglas accounts for a third of the team’s points. No other Seminoles player averages more than 8.5 points per game, although the team has five players averaging between 8.5 and 5.0 points per game.


Those players make their biggest impact on defense.


Led by Douglas, the league’s defensive player of the year, Florida State was the top defensive team in the ACC and one of the best in the nation.


According to the NCAA’s statistics, they rank seventh in defensive field-goal percentage (38.6 percent) and 10th at 5.8 blocks per game.


Overall they’re holding opponents to 65 points per game. In the high-octane ACC, they held teams to a league-low 68.1 points per contest.


“I think their thought has been that we’ve got to improve on the halfcourt end of the game in terms of defense, and they have,” Close said. “And I think that is the difference between the team we played a couple of years ago.”


The key for the Seminoles’ defense is their length.


In the frontcourt Hamilton starts freshman Solomon Alabi (7-1, 241), senior Uche Echefu (6-9, 225) and freshman Chris Singleton (6-9, 220).


And off the bench, Hamilton brings more rangy bodies in guards Luke Loucks (6-5, 205) and Deividas Dulkys (6-5, 195) and forwards Ryan Reid (6-9, 235) and Jordan DeMercy (6-7, 208).


Most of them are young. Six of the nine players playing more than 10 minutes per game are underclassmen.


“The guys now are really coming around now with their savvy,” Hamilton said.


It helps to have a player of Douglas’ caliber. A fifth-year senior, he set the tone for the season during the summer by taking 1,000 jumpers a day, 500 in the morning and 500 in the afternoon.


Off the floor, he came out of his shell and became a vocal leader and has been known to call meetings to make sure his teammates are doing the right things.


The way Douglas is playing, how could they not listen?


“The ability to communicate with six first-year players and bring them together during some tough times and compete at a very high level in a very tough conference says a lot about his character and the kind of person he is,” Hamilton said. “I hope that people recognize that.”



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