Location: US Airways Center – Phoenix, AZ [Capacity: 18,422]
Time: 4:30 p.m. (ET)
|(7) FLORIDA GATORS||(4) LOUISVILLE CARDINALS|
|Head Coach: Billy Donovan||Head Coach: Rick Pitino|
|Record: 26-10||Record: 29-9|
|Conference: Southeastern||Conference: Big East|
|Roster | Schedule||Roster | Schedule|
Odds: Florida -1; O/U 132
KNOW THE OPPONENT
No. 4-seed Louisville, which has won seven-straight games including four in a row to win the 2012 Big East Tournament, edged out Davidson and New Mexico in the second and third rounds before registering a dominant 57-44 victory in the West Region’s other Sweet 16 game over No. 1-seed Michigan State. The Cardinals went 10-8 in their conference this season and split a pair of match-ups against SEC opponents, winning at home against Vanderbilt and losing on the road to Kentucky. Louisville is led in the frontcourt by Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan, who combine to average 18.5 points and 16.5 rebounds per game. The Cardinals only double-digit scorers are a pair of guards in Kyle Kuric (12.9 points per game) and Russ Smith (11.4 points per game), though the team has six players who average at least nine points.
HISTORY and STREAKS
» Florida is making its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and 12th under Donovan. The Gators are 32-12 all time in the event (28-9 under Donovan) with two national titles in three championship game appearances and four trips to the Final Four. Florida is making its sixth ever and second-straight Elite Eight appearance and is hoping to earn its fifth trip to the Final Four.
» Louisville is making its 38th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and ninth under Pitino, who has led the program to the event six years in a row. The Cardinals are participating in their 12th Elite Eight and are hoping to advance to the Final Four for the ninth time in the program’s history.
» UL leads the all-time series against UF 7-1. Donovan is 0-2 against Louisville but 17-9 against the Big East since taking over the program.
» The Gators are 4-1 all-time in the Elite Eight and are in the event for the fourth time in the last seven years (2-1).
» The Cardinals are 8-3 all-time in the Elite Eight (1-2 under Pitino) and are in the event for the fourth time in the last eight years.
» Donovan is 0-6 all-time against Pitino.
» No. 7 seeds are 0-6 all-time in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight since 1985.
» Florida is the first team in the history of the NCAA Tournament to score more than 70 points and allow 50 points or fewer in its first two games.
» No team that has allowed fewer than 155 points in their first three NCAA Tournament games in the shot clock era (1986-present) has lost in the Elite Eight (3-0). The Gators have allowed 153 points through three games.
» Florida has made a three in 687 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» The Gators have registered a school record and nation-high in three-pointers this season with 349 over 36 games; the 9.8 treys per game is No. 1 in the country.
» All five of UF’s normal starters are averaging 10.2 points per game or more.
» Florida is 19-2 (two losses to Kentucky) this year when posting a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and are just 7-8 when the margin is even or negative.
» The Gators are 239-39 since 1998-99 when recording 15 or more assists in a game and 291-37 since 1988-89 when holding opponents under 70 points.
» UF is 6-6 against the NCAA Tournament field with four losses coming against No. 1 seeds (Kentucky, Syracuse) and one to a No. 2 seed (Ohio State). Conversely, UL is 13-8 against the same field with three losses to No. 1 seeds (Kentucky, Syracuse) and one to a No. 3 seed (Marquette).
» Florida and Louisville each have an ace up their sleeve heading into Saturday’s contest. The Gators and Cardinals traded staff members in the offseason with former UF assistant Richard Pitino going to UL as an assistant and Louisville team manager Billy O’Meara heading to Florida as assistant video coordinator.
» The Gators are shooting 77 percent from the free throw line in the postseason and have taken at least 15 attempts from the charity stripe in four of the last five games.
» Florida’s defense has improved immensely in the NCAA Tournament. UF’s three opponents are averaging just 51 points (with no team scoring more than 58) while shooting 31 percent from the field and 21 percent from beyond the arc.
» Louisville’s NCAA Tournament defense has also been impressive. UL has held their three opponents to an average of 54 points on 35 percent shooting from the floor and 22 percent from downtown.
» The Gators’ three-point shooting, however, has been less than impressive in the tourney. The Gators are averaging just seven treys per game (down from 10 during the regular season) and are shooting just 27 percent from beyond the arc.
» The Cardinals knocked off No. 1-seed Michigan State for the opportunity to play in the Elite Eight. Louisville is on a seven-game winning streak dating back to March 7 which includes victories over six NCAA Tournament teams including MSU, Notre Dame, Davidson, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Marquette.
Read the rest of this preview: Florida back to Elite Eight / Donovan vs. Pitino
BACK IN THE ELITE EIGHT
Exactly one year removed from a devastating loss in the Elite Eight to Butler, Florida has returned to the event and is hoping to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2007. Junior guard Kenny Boynton spoke about the team getting back to this point in the season and said that the team being confined together for so long is doing good things for the chemistry. “It’s definitely brought us closer,” he said. “We’ve been around each other pretty much every day. It’s been a fun trip, a fun ride – the whole NCAA Tournament experience.”
Boynton also discussed what the team has learned from the loss to Butler one year ago and how they UF will use that to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen this time around. “Last year what we learned basically was it is a 40-minute game,” he said. “We played good probably for 25 minutes. I remember looking up at the scoreboard and we were up 11 and we blew the lead off of rebounds and loose balls. [Saturday] we have to go out and play a full 40-minute game.”
FORGET “TEACHER VS. STUDENT;” BEST FRIENDS DO BATTLE ON SATURDAY
Plenty has no doubt been written about Donovan and Pitino going head-to-head on Saturday, and the game will certainly be perceived as a Teacher vs. Student match-up, but the fact of the matter is that it should actually be looked at more like two best friends going head-to-head.
It is a friendship that grew out of a singular teaching moment and blossomed from there. Donovan was looking to transfer from Providence in 1986. There was, as both men admit, nowhere for him really to grow and Pitino instead asked him to lose 30 pounds and work on his conditioning. If he was able to do that, he might have a shot at seeing major minutes and contributing to the team. “He didn’t promise me anything, said that if I would listen to him to him and I worked hard that it would be the greatest two years of my life. And he was right,” Donovan recalled on Friday. “I was committed to it and worked hard and tried to get better. He gave me and provided me with a great opportunity to play.”
Donovan heeding that advice changed both of their lives for good. “He was slow, couldn’t shoot that well. The transformation was nothing like I’ve ever seen,” Pitino said. “I say it and it’s truthful: I’ve never had a player work as hard as Billy Donovan – nobody even close to him. There’s nobody even close to him.”
That work ethic and change in attitude is why Donovan has reached the level of success he has at this point in his career. It was not something Pitino necessarily expected to translate into coaching, but he is certainly pleasantly surprised that it did. “I tell everybody I hire that I’m not hiring an assistant coach, I’m hiring a future head coach and I expect them to act like a head coach. I expect them to have the same pressure that I’m under that they drive themselves to limits that they feel the same pressure I would feel from a scouting standpoint and a recruiting standpoint,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how good of a coach Billy would be because Billy was very quiet as a player. Once he became a coach, everything changed in his life. He really took that leadership responsibility on.”
It was another lesson from Pitino, however, that shaped who Donvoan is as a coach. He already understood that hard work and determination were important, but his coach believing in him so much really shaped one particular philosophy Donovan carries of how to run a college basketball program.
“I realized playing for him how important it was – because I experienced it – of raising a player’s self esteem. Because my self esteem was obviously very low when he came in there. I was sitting on the bench,” he said. “My weight issues were certainly well documented; I don’t know if I was as heavy as they say I was but maybe I was. Belief in commitment by a coach in a player can really take a player to a different level. My last two years playing for him, I probably never envisioned in my wildest dreams that I could have that kind of career in the Big East. I was, at best, marginally recruited at that level. That’s something that was very important to me.
“The one thing for me as a player, going through the things that I went through, is I can relate to our guys. I can relate to sitting on the bench. I can relate to wanting to transfer. I can relate to wanting to run away from a problem and not really addressing a problem. I learned through him, as well as my parents, that we all have challenges and issues, but if you confront them and you work hard at them, you’re going to feel a lot better, you’re going to grow a lot more and you’re probably going to do a lot better in life of handling challenges and adversities.”
Now 25 years later, the two go head-to-head on the court for the seventh time in their respective careers. The game is not something either coach would shy away from if given the opportunity; instead they are pleased that they get to square off against another tough opponent that they know quite well. “It’s a great challenge all the way around to play against a terrific team with a terrific coach. In order to advance you have to beat really good teams and they’re a really good team,” Donovan said. Pitino agreed: “If we played school X tomorrow and lost, I’d be devastated not going to a Final Four. I’ll be professional very down about not going to a Final Four, but personally I’ll be very happy for Billy Donovan.”
Excuse Pitino if his heart swells just a bit on Saturday as he will not only be on the court with Donovan but another former player in Florida assistant John Pelphrey and his son (Louisville assistant Richard Pitino). Pitino called Donovan “no question about it – like a son to me” on Friday and recalled that the happiest moment in his coaching career is not when he won a national championship but when Donovan brought home the title to Gainesville, FL in 2006.
“We have a very unique relationship, very unique. I still call him ‘Billy the Kid’ today. We’re constantly thinking about each other,” he said. “When we won the championship, I had a great time. I was really happy for the players. We went out to the China Club in Manhattan and we stayed there until the sun rises. I was on Good Morning America and never went to bed. It was just an awesome night and we had a great time. I didn’t get overly emotional when we won.
“When Billy won the championship, I sat in Indianapolis and the first thing he did when he just won it and shook the other coach’s hand, he’s waving for me to come down. And I started crying. I was very emotional when I got down there and hugged him. I realized I actually felt better about him winning it than when I won it. And that speaks volumes to what I think about him as a young man.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan recounting a tale about Richard Pitino: “When I hired Richard, there was a picture that his mom sent and I was playing at Providence and I was in his house. It was Richard, Michael and Christopher – his brothers – and Richard is sitting on my lap at three or four years old. It’s kind of ironic and then I hired him.”
» Pitino on his son working with Donovan: “Richard is a carbon copy of Billy. He’s not like me at all when I was his age. He’s exactly like Billy. We have a picture at home where Richard is sitting on Billy’s lap in 1987. Richard idolized Billy growing up. Richard has patented his teaching off of Billy Donovan – exactly like that.”
» Donovan on Pitino helping make the three-point line famous: “Coach Pitino was so ahead of the curve because of his NBA experience, being in the NBA with the Knicks. He really understood the dynamics of the three-point line – how to defend it, how to take advantage of it. I just remember there was such a strong movement of coaches opposing it – it’s going to ruin the game, it’s a terrible shot, don’t’ shoot that shot. Coach Pitino may have been the first person that said, ‘The worst shot you can take is with your heels on the three-point line or your foot on the three-point line. It’s a long two-point shot.’ I think he changed the way people looked at the three-point line and there is no question I think that was a huge part of our team getting to where we got to and beating some of the teams we beat.”
» Pitino on if his and Donovan’s Providence team could have won without the three: “It wasn’t the fact that we embraced it. It was more the fact that our competitors did not. If my memory serves well, the first four Big East games that we played that year, I don’t teams made a three against us and I don’t think they took more than five. [...] My goal was to lead the nation in three-point shooting that year, which we did do. [...] We still would have been successful because we had an outstanding team, but our success was more derived by our competitors not taking them.”
» Sophomore center Patric Young on dealing with Gorgui Dieng in the post: “To be able to play 40 minutes is really difficult. To be able to play a disciplined 40 minutes is even harder for a guy that size. I’ve had to play games where I’ve been close to 40 minutes. It’s hard to have to come out there and show out on screens and still run the floor. Hopefully we can get this guy to continue to guard, lose a little bit of discipline, slip up and make a few mistakes or fouls here and there if possible.”
» Young on what people may not know about Donovan: “He’s underrated as far as being funny. He has some really smart jokes that just hit you hard sometimes. If Scottie [Wilbekin] or somebody has a bad pass, he’ll say something like, ‘We’re not at The Rock anymore, you can’t throw those one-handed passes.’”
» Senior point guard Erving Walker on what people may not know about Donovan: “He’s obsessed with hard practices.”
» Freshman G Bradley Beal on how Donovan recruited him to Florida: “Coach Donovan and I had a strong relationship when he was recruiting me. The biggest thing I liked the most about him when he was recruiting me was that he didn’t really always want to focus on basketball. He wanted to just get to know me and different things like that. He didn’t guarantee me anything when I came in. That’s what really drew me into this school and this program was that he didn’t really guarantee me anything and I had to work for it all.”
» Walker on Donovan as a player: “He was a great player. He lets us know about it all the time.”
» Walker on the perception that Florida is just a three-point shooting team: “We just like to focus on our defense. Like I said, that’s the main thing for us during this run. We’re not just a three-point shooting team. Everybody has their opinion, but we can only focus on ourselves.”