While the Gophers and Florida are programs that are not familiar with each other — they have only played once, a 74-66 victory by the Gophers in the 1993 NIT — the coaches know one another well.
Both teams had been in slumps before winning their first NCAA game.
The Gophers had lost eight consecutive games on the road and had not scored 80 points in 14 of the previous 15 games before defeating UCLA 83-63. Meanwhile the Gators were 5-4 in their previous nine games, having lost at Ole Miss, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri, before winning Friday.
As for the familiarity of the coaches, Tubby Smith and Billy Donovan have faced each other 24 times over the years as they battled in the SEC when Smith was with Kentucky. Smith owns the head-to-head lead with a 14-10 record, but Donovan got the better of him in the past few years, winning the final six meetings before Smith left the Wildcats for the Gophers in 1997.
What’s even more amazing is that their history stretches further back than even their days as opposing coaches. Both men were hired at the same time in 1989 by Rick Pitino at Kentucky. Smith was brought in from South Carolina as an assistant coach and Donovan was hired as a graduate assistant.
As Smith said after the Gophers’ victory over UCLA: “I’m pretty familiar with Billy Donovan. [Florida] is sort of like UCLA, they like to get the ball up and down the court.”
Florida finished the season 26-7 but did have that late-season stumble. The Gophers and Gators have two common opponents: Wisconsin and Florida State. The Gators beat the Badgers 74-56 in Gainesville in November and beat the Seminoles on the road 72-47 in December.
The Gophers split their season series against Wisconsin, with each team winning a close game at home, and won at Florida State 77-68 in November as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
And while Florida has such a high seed, the Gators had three victories this season over ranked teams. Their victory over Wisconsin came when the Badgers were ranked 22nd in the country. In conference play they beat then No. 17 Missouri at home in January, and No. 16 Ole Miss at home in February. Florida also beat Marquette when the Golden Eagles weren’t ranked.
Hollins is key
How important has Andre Hollins, who scored 28 points in Friday night’s victory over UCLA, been to the Gophers? They lost eight of 11 before beating the Bruins. In the eight losses, Hollins averaged 12.1 points per game, and in the three victories he averaged 15.4. The Gophers are 6-3 when Hollins scores 20 or more.
UCLA had won the Pacific-12 regular-season title a few weeks ago and included three outstanding transfers from North Carolina in Larry Drew II, David Wear and Travis Wear. They also had four freshmen — Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker, who were part of the No. 1 recruiting class in the country a year ago.
Kill ready for spring
With Gophers football players on spring break this week, coach Jerry Kill had a message for his staff before the break.
“I told our coaching staff. … We’re in a good situation but we have to go back and tighten everything down a little bit,” Kill said.
“We go back and look at the things we didn’t do well a year ago and look at our program. We all have to be more accountable, even though we’ve improved in some areas; we have much to improve in. Everybody has to be accountable for that and we’re going to make sure that happens during the spring and during the offseason, coaches as well.”
Greatest Gophers team
It was a good story but sad reading in the Saturday Star Tribune about the death of former Gophers basketball star Ray Williams.
I have been watching Gophers basketball for a long, long time, and without a doubt Williams was the best basketball player who ever wore the maroon and gold. There was nothing he couldn’t do and he continued his great play for 10 years in the NBA.
There was a period of three years where some of the best Gophers players in history came through Minneapolis, most of them brought in by the late Bill Musselman.
The 1976-77 Gophers lineup consisted of Mychal Thompson at center, Williams and Kevin McHale at forward, and Flip Saunders and Ozzie Lockhart at guard. Williams averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds over two seasons with Minnesota.
That team, which went 24-3 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten, was coached by Jim Dutcher, and they would have won any number of national titles had the program and Musselman not got in trouble with the NCAA.
• Gophers men’s hockey coach Don Lucia has been named coach of the 2014 U.S. national junior hockey team.
• Greg Childs, the 2012 fourth-round draft choice by the Vikings who injured both of his knees before the season started and never played, is at Winter Park every day getting treated by trainer Eric Sugarman. But it’s no sure thing that the receiver will be able to play again.
• On the recent signing by the Vikings of Greg Jennings, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said: “You didn’t want to see him go [to] the Minnesota Vikings but he was in a clear-cut business decision. When you are there, you do what is best for you and your family. I respect what he has done. I will let the smoke clear, and I’m sure we will talk in the near future.”
• Gophers AD Norwood Teague has hired another one of his Virginia Commonwealth staff, adding Corrie Sears, who was in charge of advertising and promotions for all 16 VCU sports programs. Before joining VCU, Sears spent four years as director of marketing at Nebraska.
• In helping 14th-seeded Harvard beat third-seeded New Mexico, giving the Crimson its first NCAA tournament victory in school history, former Hopkins guard Siyani Chambers played all 40 minutes, went 2-for-5 from the floor for five points and led the team with seven assists. Former DeLaSalle standout Jonah Travis also got into the game, scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds in eight minutes of action. Harvard was ousted by Arizona on Saturday.
• Some time ago, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez made a statement that Big Ten football teams need to play a stronger nonconference schedule. Well Alvarez has booked one tough foe when the Badgers open the 2015 season against Alabama in the Dallas Cowboys stadium.