Hartman: Gophers' Smith, Gators' Donovan familiar foes

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 24, 2013 - 7:13 AM

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

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Though this is Tubby Smith’s first game coaching against Florida since joining the Gophers, he is plenty familiar with the Gators and coach Billy Donovan’s program from his time at Kentucky. Donovan won his past six games against Smith’s Wildcats before Smith left Kentucky to lead the Gophers in 2007.

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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.

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