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The Gators expect a physical game on Sunday against Minnesota with a Sweet 16 berth on the line.

Saturday March 23, 2013Gators Expect a Physical Test from Minnesota with Sweet 16 Berth on Line

The Gators expect a physical game on Sunday against Minnesota with a Sweet 16 berth on the line.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

AUSTIN, Texas -- More than 1,000 miles north of here in the Twin Cities, there is talk that Minnesota coach Tubby Smith's job is on the line.

A headline in Saturday's St. Paul Pioneer Press proclaimed, "Gophers' win buys Tubby Smith a 48-hour reprieve."

The Gators (27-7) don't know much about the chatter concerning Smith's future, but they do know that his Gophers present some issues they must deal with Sunday or their season could be over.

At the top of the list, Minnesota (21-12) leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 43.9 percent of their misses. Senior 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward Trevor Mbakwe grabs many of those rebounds, but the Gophers come at teams in waves with their physical style of play that helped them upset then No.1-Indiana on Feb. 26.

Mbakwe had 12 rebounds (three on offense) in Minnesota's 83-63 win over UCLA on Friday night. Mbakwe didn't have to do all the dirty work alone, however, as sophomore guard Andre Hollins scored 28 points, grabbed nine rebounds and added five assists.

The No. 11-seed Gophers crash the boards from inside, outside and everywhere in between.

"On the film we watch, they are relentless. They don't give up on plays,'' Gators forward Will Yeguete said. "And off the bench, they have size, too. They come in and bring more energy."

After Minnesota started the season 15-1, including an 11-game winning streak, it struggled to play consistently in the Big Ten. The Gophers finished league play 6-10 and were knocked out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament by Illinois, one of the four teams left standing in Austin.

The Illini face Miami on Sunday after the Florida-Minnesota game. While Illinois defeated Minnesota two of three meetings this season, Illini coach John Groce prepared for Minnesota's rebounding much the same as Florida coach Billy Donovan.

"That's an area of concern every time we played them,'' Groce said Saturday.

Donovan stressed to the Gators that to advance to the Sweet 16 for a third consecutive season -- something the program has never accomplished -- limiting Minnesota's second opportunities is a good place to start.

"They're a tough, hardened team,'' Donovan said. "I think we realize at Florida what a great challenge we have in front of us. They chase it. They go after it. They get a large percentage of their misses back. They are relentless in terms of going to the glass."

In Friday's win over UCLA, Minnesota was actually outrebounded for a change, including 19-11 on the offensive glass. There weren't as many missed shots to clean up -- Minnesota shot 50.8 percent, improving to 8-0 when they shoot 50 percent or better -- in part thanks to an excellent all-around game from Hollins.

Hollins made 8 of 16 shots and hit 5 of 8 3-pointers. Florida's Scottie Wilbekin will be matched up on Hollins for much of Sunday.

"It's going to be a tough matchup. He can score in a multitude of ways,'' Wilbekin said. "They've got a lot of good shooters who come off screens, so we've got to be ready for that and the physicality of the game."

Hollins and his backcourt mates -- junior guard Austin Hollins, no relation, and sophomore Joe Coleman -- combined for 58 points Friday as Minnesota rolled to its largest margin of victory in an NCAA Tournament game in school history.

The trio combined to shoot 19 of 34 overall and 9 of 15 from beyond the arc. Austin Hollins hit 4 of 6 from 3-point range to finish with 16 points while Coleman added 14.

Gators senior guard Kenny Boynton knows Wilbekin will need a lot of support defensively.

"I think they are going to force us to get over screens,'' Boynton said. "The point guard [Andre Hollins], he does a good job. If you're not up as a big man or don't get back on the ball, he will shoot the ball. He's a good shooter. He's a lanky, tall guy, and he crashes the boards as well, so we have to box out on him."

Minnesota used 11 players Friday while the Gators stuck with their usual eight-man rotation in their 79-47 win over Northwestern State until Donovan emptied the bench with the outcome no longer in question.

With Mbakwe and forward Rodney Williams in the starting lineup, and 6-11 center Elliott Eliason and 6-10 forward Mo Walker coming off the bench, Florida's trio of big men -- Yeguete, center Patric Young and forward Erik Murphy -- will be tested to provide resistance in what figures to be a rough-and-tumble battle in the paint.

Murphy led the Gators with 18 points Friday and Young added 16 points and nine rebounds. Donovan wants to see a similar effort from Young on Sunday.

"He chased balls," Donovan said. "That's what we need from him. We need him playing with a motor. When he doesn't do that, we're not the same team."

Meanwhile, despite the speculation about his job status back home, Smith has the Gophers in the tournament and a win from the Sweet 16.

The Gators stand in their way. Smith has his own about the No. 3-seed Gators, most notably Florida's offensive talent. In Friday's win over UCLA the Gophers played zone for about 80 percent of the game against the cold-shooting Bruins.

Smith doesn't expect to have that luxury Sunday.

"I don't think you can give Florida a steady diet of anything defensively,'' Smith said. "We got to change it up, try to keep them off balance as best we can. So we'll try to mix it up in some form or fashion.  And the zone will probably be a part of it."

 

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