Billy the Kid and His Gators Eager to Take One Last Step

You can always pay $120 for a ticket and $60 for a sweatshirt and $2.50 for a glass of water to cheer the work of kids who would be severely punished for accepting one penny of that.

Or, you can just read this.

8:18 p.m. CDT--The start of tonight's NCAA national championship basketball game between Michigan State and Florida.

Only, it doesn't start. The referee is still holding the ball. The players are still pulling up their socks. A little-known streak stays alive.

No sports championship advertising a starting time to the exact minute has ever started at that minute.

Watching from the RCA Dome stands, perturbed Super Bowl officials announce that next year, they will begin the game at "six-ish."

8:34 p.m.--A young, animated coach with slicked black hair is jumping up and down in front of the Florida bench as the Gators, surprisingly more confused than creative, fall quickly behind.

Suspicious security guards appear at the coach's side.

"The jig's up, Mr. Lavin," they say. "You're coming with us."

8:36 p.m.--Rubbing tape burns on his wrist, Billy Donovan emerges from a storage closet and runs into the Florida huddle to a standing ovation.

8:59 p.m.--Midway through the first half, with his harried team already on the brink of exhaustion, Spartan guard Mateen Cleaves pauses before a free throw to accept a towel from a cheerleader.

An NCAA official jumps up from a recliner in a CBS suite, dodges two hostesses carrying drinks, and runs to the floor to suspend Cleaves for accepting illegal gifts.

9:24 p.m.--Just before halftime, play is stopped because of a disturbance under the basket.

Bob Knight, who drove in from nearby Bloomington with two high school recruits, is beating them with an extension cord for spilling their sodas.

With the recruits writhing in pain at his feet, Knight is handcuffed and marched away as the locals chant.

"Let him go! Let him go!"

9:31 p.m.--It is halftime, the Spartans are trailing by seven points, Coach Tom Izzo tells a courtside interviewer why.

"We look so different without our Cleave-age," he says.

9:32 p.m.--Spartan captains are summoned to midcourt to accept an award from the Environmental Protection Agency for sending the Wisconsin basketball team home early.

9:33 p.m.--Spartan captains are booed by an association of beer vendors and cigarette manufacturers for sending the Wisconsin fans home early.

10:01 p.m.--Midway through the second half, both teams are running and shooting and styling as the score grows and grows.

Just as Florida threatens to tuck a victory away, Michigan State seniors Morris Peterson and A.J. Granger pull it back.

There is a brief scuffle for the ball. Both teams are screaming for possession.

The officials meet at midcourt.

"What do you think?" asks one.

"Who cares?" says another. "I've got the 'overs.' "

10:31 p.m.--With Florida leading by a half-dozen with six minutes remaining, the game is stopped for another disturbance, this time above midcourt.

After plugging his extension cord into a press table outlet, Knight is attaching electrodes to the sensitive parts of the Indiana University president and athletic director.

Winking policemen again handcuff him and march him away. The sophisticated populace again chants.

"Un-fair! Un-fair! Un-fair!"

10:37 p.m.--After Spartan guard Charlie Bell beats the press and hits a jumper to pull Michigan State within one point, weary Gators Teddy Dupay and Mike Miller each take a swig from a cup of water on the scorer's table.

Unfortunately, the cup belonged not to the University of Florida, but to one of the scorers, a rather large man who was unusually dehydrated from too many halftime nachos.

Watching this from a TV inside his complimentary Chevy van, an NCAA official closes the box on his discounted Pizza Hut meat lover's special and dashes back inside to suspend both players for accepting illegal gifts.

10:46 p.m.--With a minute remaining and the score tied, a cell phone rings on the Florida bench.

"Git that kid back here," bellows a voice on the other end, followed by silence, followed by the sound of a visor hitting the floor.

School officials immediately order Udonis Haslem, the 6-foot-7, 260-pound center, to leave the court and return to campus so as not to miss any more spring football practice.

10:48 p.m.--Taking advantage of a depleted Florida roster, the Spartans use their experience and Peterson's jump shot to finish their comeback for an 85-80 victory.

Izzo spends the postgame news conference crediting the inspiration of Danny DeVito.

Donovan spends it blaming Lavin.

"But can he coach?' Donovan asks.

10:56 p.m.--While climbing the ladder to cut down the nets, two Michigan State seniors are knocked to the floor by a large man attempting to climb over them.

Magic smiles.


Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address:

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