3/23: Donovan and Smith are familiar foes, Gators must get physical, Wilbekin vs. Hollins

By Adam Silverstein
March 23, 2013

The three-seed Florida Gators (27-7) advanced to the round of 32 in the 2013 NCAA Tournament with a 79-47 take down of the 14-seed Northwestern State Demons (23-9) on Friday evening at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, TX. On Saturday, head coach Billy Donovan and some of his players met with the media to discuss their upcoming game against the 11-seed Minnesota Golden Gophers (21-12) in the round of 32 on Sunday evening at 6:10 p.m. live on TNT.


Donovan and Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith have gone head-to-head 24 times in their storied careers with Smith holding a 14-10 edge on Donovan despite the Florida coach winning the last six meetings between the two. On Saturday, Donovan and Smith were asked about going up against each other once again; they had plenty of praise for each other and their programs heading into the game.

Donovan on Smith and the Golden Gophers:

“[I’m] excited about the opportunity to play against Minnesota. Obviously Tubby and I go back a long way; he’s done a terrific job. [I have] a lot of respect for their team. I know we have a great challenge in front of us. But I think that all of us at Florida are excited about the opportunity to be able to play again [Sunday]. […]

“Tubby and I have got a very good relationship. I love his family. […] All I can say is Tubby is a terrific coach, he’s done a great job with his team. They’re very talented, they’re very gifted, they have got a lot of experience, they have played in a very, very difficult conference, they’re a tough, hardened team. And with all those things being said, I think we all realize at Florida what a great challenge we have in front of us. […]

“Minnesota, right now, forget about the seeding, they have played in the Big Ten, arguably the best conference – from what people say – in the country. They have probably played against 10 or 11 top 10 teams over the period of time, playing Indiana twice, playing Michigan State, all that. So our guys understand that the playing field of college basketball, anything can happen in a one game deal. And our guys live in that for five, six months. We see that happen quite a bit.”

Smith on Donovan and the Gators:

“We have gone back way when Billy first got into college coaching as a graduate assistant at Kentucky and we have had our battles when I was at Kentucky and at Georgia. But I’m happy to be here facing him again in this type of a venue versus any other. […] He’s got some outstanding players and what Billy’s been able to do, what he’s done at Florida has just been outstanding. Florida’s a program that really wasn’t noted for its basketball and he’s taken it to unbelievable heights. So I certainly want to compliment him and his team on their 27 wins. Doing the things they have done in the SEC, winning championships. I know he’s the dean, so he’s getting older now, of that conference. It’s something to be said when you’re…because Billy got involved in coaching I think at a very early age and was very fortunate. […] He has done an unbelievable job in coaching and growing that program. […] At some point in time if you’re going up against him, you know your team has probably risen to that level of good play. Because his teams are here on a regular basis. […]

“One thing I’m impressed with this team that he has now is their ability to force tempo, turn you over, push it in the open court, shoot the three. We’re really going to have our hands full trying to defend them. But that’s the biggest concern I have is just their defense. Because they will press you, speed you up, and we have a propensity to cough the ball up, so we really need to concentrate on taking care of the ball. But his teams always defend well. I know when he had some of his great teams that won championships, they were great defensive teams. This team is pretty good also. You don’t win 27 games not playing defense.”


In preparing for Northwestern State, Florida got ready to go up against a team that substituted entire lines of players, scored a nation-high 81.0 points per game and had more possessions per 40 minutes than any other team in the country. The Gators now must shift gears while going up against a team that is extremely physical and can dominate the boards (ninth nationally in rebounding margin and 12th in blocked shots).

“[It will be] a great challenge. They really do a great job getting off the glass. They’re a terrific offensive and defensive rebounding team,” Donovan said. “[Trevor] Mbakwe is as good as there is in the country. But they chase it, they go after it. They do a really good job and this will be, again, not only a challenge for our frontcourt, but it will be a challenge for our team to collectively be able to rebound the basketball. Because certainly their misses, they get a large percentage of misses back. They are relentless in terms of going to the glass.”

To their credit, Florida’s players do not seem overly concerned with the physicality they are expecting to see from Minnesota.

“Every game is going to be physical from this point out. We got to do a good job of being ready and on every possession, box out and limit their easy buckets,” junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said.

“We got to make sure we come ready for the physical confrontation up front and got to do great job on the board and block out and limit them to one shot,” added junior forward Casey Prather.

In order for the Gators to be successful against the Golden Gophers’ size and strength, Florida is going to need junior center Patric Young to step up in a big way. Young was active and gave great effort during Friday’s contest but is not necessarily consistent in those characteristics game-in and game-out.

“The biggest thing to me was that he chased balls [Friday]. That’s what we need from him. He chased balls and he got involved in the game early,” Donovan said of his big man. “We found him a couple times on some plays. After the game he was winded, but I’m sure he was excited. But we need him playing with a motor. He does not play well when he does not play like that. It’s pretty simple.

“That’s something that internally he’s got to be more accountable and responsible for. And he’s got to take ownership of it and make the decision that this is what I need to do. And then he’s got to go out there and do it as hard and aggressive as he possibly can. When he does what he did [Friday] – not so much the scoring but the chasing of the balls and rebounding and the defense and being in the lane and clogging it up – it makes us a better team. And we need that from him as long as we continue to play because when he doesn’t do that, we’re not the same team.”


When it comes to containing the opposition’s best backcourt player, Donovan relies on Wilbekin to be a defensive stalwart for the Gators. Wilbekin’s next test will be the Golden Gophers leading scorer and best all-around players, Andre Hollins.

“He’s a great scorer and he can score in a multitude of ways. So I really got to just be ready and I got to count on my guys to help me if I get beat. But I don’t know, just be ready to contain him and don’t let him get any easy shots, always have a hand in his face,” said Wilbekin of his upcoming opponent.

Donovan agreed with the junior’s evaluation. “He’s an outstanding player,” Donovan said of Hollins. “He shoots it, obviously [Friday] night really shot it well from behind the three point line. He puts it on the floor, he can create, he can get in the lane, he gets other people involved. When he gets going, and he really gets into a rhythm, he’s a very, very difficult guy to stop.”

Minnesota was equally enthralled with Wilbekin’s ability. Hollins said that he is up for the challenge while Smith compared Wilbekin to one of the Big Ten’s top players.

“Scottie is … I’m just impressed with his all-around game. He does some good things. Scottie’s a guy that really – I haven’t had a chance to watch them play much – but he’s a pretty crafty guard that can really deliver passes to people,” Smith said.

“He can stretch the defense with his ability to shoot the ball, and again, he’s shooting for a very good percentage. I don’t know, we have got to find a way to contain him as best we can. But I’m very impressed with his ability to defend as well. He reminds me, he’s got a little bit of Aaron Craft in him, from Ohio State, that he really takes a lot of pride in his defense.”

Asked what makes Wilbekin such a great defender, Donovan went into detail to explain what Wilbekin does well and why he is so valuable to what Florida does defenisvely.

“I think he has three qualities that enable him to be very, very good. The first thing is he’s got great feet. He’s really got good feet. The second thing is, he is a physical defender. He can get through, around, and off screens very, very well. And then I would say the third thing is he is a guy that’s a tough-minded defender maybe more so than any guard I’ve ever coached,” Donovan said.

“He puts a lot of value on defending. I think most kids put a lot of value on scoring or what they do on the offensive end of the floor. I think he understands the impact he has and can have defensively when he’s really locked in guarding the way he guards. But he’s somebody that really enjoys that challenge and that part of the game. Is he great all the time, does he stop everybody? No. But you know his focus defensively is going to be where it needs to be. […] He has great internal competitiveness and pride in playing defense. Maybe more so than anybody I’ve coached.”


» Statistician Nate Silver, who before the NCAA Tournament calculated that Florida was the third-likeliest team in the field to come away from the event with a national title, updated his FiveThirtyEight blog after the first round came to a close on Friday. With Georgetown now out of the picture, UF’s road to a title got easier and Silver now has the Gators listed as the second-likeliest team to win at 17.1 percent. Louisville precedes Florida at 25.2 percent with Indiana (15.3 percent), Ohio State (7.2 percent) and Duke (5.1 percent) rounding out the top five.

» Smith had Texas head football coach Mack Brown speak with Minnesota on Saturday. The gist of Brown’s speech to the team was that the players need to seize the moment and make the most out of their opportunity in the NCAA Tournament.

» Donovan on why he chose to sit redshirt senior G Mike Rosario for most of the second half: “That’s over with and done with. For whatever reason he was not as in tune, or in line mentally, as we needed him to be [Friday]. We come out [of halftime] and he just gives up an offensive rebound, doesn’t even block his guy out. And that’s what we kind of had talked about was getting some stops. So I just basically he took him out of the game and we started to obviously make a run at that time and started to extend the lead. I wasn’t mad at him to the point I was going to bench him the whole game. But the game was going well while he was on the bench – that probably contributed to part of it – and also him not blocking out there.”

» Donovan on why this Gators team is one of his best from a defensive standpoint: “The addition of Scottie Wilbekin, defensively, has added something different to our team. I think Patric Young has grown in a lot of ways in terms of his knowledge and understanding of the game. That he’s kind of been an anchor, not so much a shot blocker, but he’s been an anchor back there that he can see actions and things starting to develop before they happen. And he’s a good communicator and he’s been able to call out different coverages. We felt like we needed to tweak some things from last year that we needed to get better. We also thought we could do some different things because our personnel was a little bit different. But we really looked to break down our defense and find areas that we could get better. And to our guys’ credit, they have been really committed in that area all year long to try to make the right strides and growth to become better defensively.”

» Young on a bat flying around the gym during practice: “It didn’t really bother me at all or bother coach at all either. He was like…what did he say? “If you get bit, I’ll pay for your medical bills.” [Laughing] It was a little distracting, but we just kept doing what we were supposed to do.”

2013 NCAA TOURNAMENT (South Region)
* As of Friday at 11:59 p.m.


  1. Michael Jones says:

    Glad to read that these guys understand that today will be a physical battle. I think teams believe that in a heart contest, a battle of wills, that Florida will fold down the stretch. Would love to see our Gators turn that around.

  2. Michael Jones says:

    And they did. At least for one game.

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