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Gators, Owls shooting for long-range control

Despite different styles, foes rely on the three-pointer.

The rim-rattling dunk reigns as the most exciting play in college basketball, but the shot with the greatest impact in the NCAA Tournament rains.

From 19 feet, 6 inches.

"The three-point line is the key to tournament play," Florida guard Teddy Dupay said. "Every game, we try to stop teams at the three-point line and execute to get three-point shots for ourselves."

Florida, the No.

3 seed in the South Region, plays No.

11 Temple in the second round at 2:30 p.m. today at the Superdome. And though their styles clearly contrast, their game plans will converge at the arc.

Both plan to shoot threes.

Both plan to deny them.

Temple will try to slow things down. The Owls go on a fastbreak only when the opportunity is too good to pass up, preferring to run through the options of a methodical half-court offense.

Temple was 10-of-26 from three-point range in its first-round win over Texas, the ninth time this season it has made 10 or more. It has made 263 for the season, 11 shy of the school record set last season, and is hitting at a 35 percent clip.

The Owls have three long-range threats with more than 60 threes each: guards Quincy Wadley (79) and Lynn Greer (77) and forward Alex Wesby (68).

"Our offense is designed for the guards to take three-point shots," Greer said. "You don't see us doing a lot of fastbreaking. We run a slow-down offense to get players three-point shots."

Florida takes the opposite approach.

Always eager to run, the Gators look for three-point shots in transition, the quick strike that builds leads and fuels momentum faster than plain old two-point goals.

"If you come down and hit a couple threes, that definitely gives you some momentum," UF guard Brett Nelson said. "If you're not taking those open shots, you're hurting your team."

That's the message from UF coach Billy Donovan, who recognized the value of the three-point shot the season it was introduced, when he was a senior at Providence in 1986-87.

Donovan made 14 of 19 three-pointers in four NCAA Tournament games to earn Southeast Region MVP honors and lead the Friars to the 1987 Final Four.

"The three-point shot revolutionized college basketball," Donovan said. "It's the great equalizer. A 10-point lead used to be a lot, but now, if a team hits a couple threes, it's gone."

Florida has made 248 threes this season, hitting 38.8 percent. The top threats are guards Nelson (77) and Dupay (60) and forward Matt Bonner (39). Three others have at least 44 attempts.

"They're a perimeter-oriented team," said Temple's Wadley, who made 5 of 7 three-pointers against Texas. "We're going to have to get out on their shooters, but that's going to be tough because they stretch the floor."

The flip side to counting by threes is defending the perimeter, something Florida has done especially well in recent games with aggressive half-court defense.

The Gators' first-round opponent, Western Kentucky, made 44.2 percent of its three-point shots during a seven-game winning streak leading up to the NCAA Tournament. Against UF, the Hilltoppers shot 17.6 percent, 3-of-17.

"We definitely have to shut off the three-point line," Nelson said. "We have to stay up on the ball and be a really good help team. If someone penetrates, you have to step up to stop the drive and then rotate to get out on the three-point shooters."

Temple vows to be patient.

"If teams put a lot of emphasis on running out and trying to stop us from taking three point shots, we definitely are going to stop," Wadley said. "That's part of playing smart. We'll pass it inside, because it's going to come back to the three-point arc again."

It always does.