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Sunday March 24, 2013Donovan and Gators Ready to Hunker Down for Challenging Minnesota Squad

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

AUSTIN, Texas -- His team finished off a victory in its NCAA Tournament opener Friday night around 8:45 p.m. local time. After post-game media obligations, Florida coach Billy Donovan went back out to the Erwin Center court, took a seat on press row and watched the first 20 minutes of UCLA and Minnesota.

By halftime, he’d seen enough.

Three hours or so later, Donovan had a detailed outline for a game plan ready after emerging from the “Hunker.”

That’s what Donovan and his staff call the late-night meeting he gavels to order for the quick-turnaround circumstances of postseason basketball.

The “Hunker” is the coaches’ bunker. It’s where they prepare, strategize and commence the whirlwind grind for the next two days.

“It’s a coaches' version of the locker room,” UF assistant John Pelphrey said. “As players, we all loved the locker room. We loved the smell, we loved the camaraderie, we loved the anticipation. The ‘Hunker’ is all that.”

It’s also necessary this time of year.

As easily as the third-seeded Gators (27-7) dispatched of No. 14 seed Northwestern State in the NCAA South Region, what 11th-seeded Minnesota did in carving up fifth-seeded UCLA 83-63 was enough to put the UF staff on high alert heading into Sunday’s night’s regional quarterfinal when a Sweet 16 berth will be on the line.

The rapid-research task facing Florida is no different than any other winning team in the tournament. The key is being organized and productive in the little amount of time available between games and Donovan, with an all-time tournament record of 29-10, has proven to be among the best in these circumstances.

Under Donovan, Florida has faced the two-games/three-days scenario 17 times and the Gators are 28-6. Throw in the Thursday-Saturday scenario that Southeastern Conference teams have faced the last four regular seasons due to their contract with ESPN. The Gators are 15-1 in those games.

All told, that’s 43-7 (and a winning percentage of .860), so obviously Donovan’s routine is working.

UF is halfway to adding another two to the winning side, but the next time out figures to be much tougher than the first.

“This is a really, really physical team that rebounds the ball and can cause all kinds of problems in transition,” Donovan said of a Minnesota team that cut its toughness teeth on a schedule that included 11 games against teams ranked in the top 10. “We’ve got our hands full.”

Work toward this next challenge actually began last Sunday night with the NCAA Selection Show.

When Florida learned of its seeding and bracket, Donovan assigned each of his three staff assistants one team to scout from the pod in which UF was placed. Rashon Burno got Northwestern State. Matt McCall got Minnesota. Pelphrey got UCLA.

Burno was charged with presenting the Demons, UF’s first-round opponent, to the team and served as Donovan’s second voice during practices leading up to the game. McCall and Pelphrey, meanwhile, spent the ensuing days becoming experts on their teams in the event the Gators advanced. One of the two, after all, was going to be waiting on the other side of the bracket.

“There’s a high level of trust involved,” Donovan said of his relationship with the staff. “Sometimes one of them might say, ‘I’m not really sure what’s the best way to do this,’ so we’ll watch it together and we’ll talk about it.”

After the Gators blasted Northwestern State 79-47 and the Gophers ran away from the Bruins in the second half, McCall immediately moved into the hot seat as the scout.

Meanwhile, other factions of the UF staff were at work.

At halftime of the Minnesota-UCLA game, Donovan, video coordinator Oliver Winterbone and his assistant, Billy O’Meara, returned to the team hotel and started reviewing Florida’s game and putting together an edit to show the team Saturday morning.

Back at the arena, a second video assistant, Todd Lewiston, was cutting tape of the Gophers while the game was going on. That edit came back after the second game with McCall and Pelphrey, along with director of basketball operations Darren Hertz and assistant to the head coach Mark Daigneault.

At just before midnight, the “Hunker” was called to order in an eighth-floor suite.

“When you hunker with Billy Donovan, you’re going to be in there a while,” McCall said.

“I wouldn’t say he asks hundreds of questions,” Burno deadpanned. “More like thousands.”

For basically two hours, the coaching team poured over tape, statistics and advanced metrics and basically loaded -- make that overloaded -- the head coach with as much information he deemed necessary to fill his notes, get a feel for the opponent and a plan for what the Gators need to do.

The trick is to narrow the focus to three or four points of emphasis.

“Hit the high points,” McCall said. “And you especially look at what they’ve done in recent game.”

In this particular case, the Gators took note that Minnesota offensive rebounds 44 percent of its missed shots, best in the nation. In other words, a missed shot is almost like a pass half the time. Then there’s point guard Andre Hollins, who torched the Bruins for 28 points and showed how to expose an athletic defense in transition. In the halfcourt, the Gophers screen with abandon and try to dictate the game’s physicality.

The “Hunker” ended around 1:30 Saturday morning.

“I may have been up until 2,” McCall said.

At 10 a.m., the team met for breakfast in a second-floor ballroom, with Donovan reviewing video of the Northwestern State game with his players, then McCall taking over the clicker and previewing Minnesota.

Three hours later, the Gators were practicing at the Erwin Center and putting the staff’s crammed plan into action.

The results of the whirlwind prep will play out Sunday.

Hunker down.

======================================================= 

GATORS GAMEBOX -- NCAA SOUTH REGION 

3rd-seeded Florida vs. 11th-seeded Minnesota  

Tip-off: Friday, 6:10 p.m. (Erwin Center, Austin, Texas.)  

Records: Florida 27-7; Minnesota 21-12 

TV: TNT (Tim Brando, Mike Gminski and Otis Livingston) 

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199

Game notes: Florida notes

Need to know: The Gators won their opening NCAA game for the third straight year Friday, defeating 14th-seed Northwestern State 79-47. UF is seeking its third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance and ninth in school history. ... With the win, Florida coach Billy Donovan improved to 29-10 in the NCAA Tournament for a .744 winning percentage that ranks sixth among the nation’s active coaches. ... UF and Minnesota have played just once and that was a postseason game too. The Gophers defeated the Gators 74-66 in first-round play of the 1993 NIT at Minneapolis. ... Northwestern State was the 13th opponent UF has held under 50 points this season. Minnesota averages 68.9 points per game (three less than Florida’s 71.9), but in eight of its 11 losses against Big Ten losses scored 53 or fewer points. That certainly wasn’t the case Friday night when the Gophers shot 51 percent from the floor and 56 from 3-point range in destroying sixth-seeded UCLA 83-63. Minnesota’s defense held the Bruins 32 percent and 18 from the arc. ... UF got big outings Friday from its big men, with senior forward Erik Murphy (12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and junior center Patric Young (10.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) combining for 34 points and 17 rebounds. ... Senior guard Kenny Boynton (12.3 ppg, 3 rpg) became the second player in UF history to pass 2,000 points for his career (2,006). ... The Gophers emerged from their rugged conference schedule with a plus-7.8 rebounding margin, a stat which will have the Gators’ attention. They’ve failed to out-rebound their opponent in eight of the previous 10 games. ... Minnesota is led by point guard Andre Hollins (14.3 ppg), the son of Memphis Grizzlies coach and NBA point guard Lionel Hollins. All he did against UCLA was score 28 points (8-for-16 from the floor, 5-for-8 from 3-point range), grab nine rebounds, dish five assists and make all seven of his free throws. He and Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin (9.1 ppg, 4.9 apg) will get to know each other very well. ... Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe (10.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is a 6-8, 245-pound load who takes up space and relentlessly chases rebounds. Mbakwe had 10 double-doubles this season, including one game with 18 boards. ... Florida and Minnesota share two common opponents this season. The Gophers defeated Florida State and went 1-1 against Wisconsin, while the Gators swept both teams. ... Minnesota is seeking its first Sweet 16 since 1997, which was also the last time the Gophers reached the Final Four.

 

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