Created: 03/23/2013 11:57 AM KSTP.com By: Maricella Miranda
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith knows his next opponent all too well.
Six years after their last meeting in the Southeastern Conference, when Smith was still at Kentucky, he will coach against Florida's Billy Donovan again - this time in the Lone Star State with a trip to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 on the line.
"I'm pretty familiar with Billy Donovan," Smith said after his 11th-seeded Gophers pulled away for an 83-63 win over UCLA in the South Regional late Friday night. "They're sort of like UCLA, they like to get the ball up-and-down the court."
Well, No. 3 seed Florida got the night session in Austin started with a 79-47 victory over fast-paced Northwestern State, which came in as the NCAA's top-scoring team but was held 34 points under its average.
After that, Smith got the win he needed to calm down his critics at home, while UCLA's Ben Howland took a loss that will only ignite a new round of howling for his job out West.
Andre Hollins scored 28 points for the Gophers (21-12), who gave Smith his first tournament win in his six seasons with Minnesota. It was their first win overall since March 3.
The 20-point loss will be tough for Howland to bring back to Los Angeles. Despite winning the Pac-12 regular-season title, the Bruins (25-10) came to Austin hearing intense rumblings of dissatisfaction with a program that hasn't made it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2009. UCLA missed the tournament altogether last season.
Howland, who led the Bruins to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08, wouldn't talk about his future after the game.
"I'm really proud of this group of kids, and I'm really indebted to them for the great season they provided," he said.
The afternoon session at the University of Texas consisted of two East Regional games. Second-seeded Miami rolled past Pacific 78-49 and No. 7 seed Illinois recovered to win 57-49 over Colorado after blowing a 16-point halftime lead.
Minnesota started the season 15-1 then lost 11 of its final 16 to limp into the NCAA tournament.
The Gophers found their early-season form in time to thump the Bruins. Minnesota shot 50 percent, with Andre and Austin Hollins knocking down a combined nine 3-pointers. The Gophers had seized control by halftime and never let go.
"We haven't played well in a while," Smith said. "It was good to see our guys having fun, playing the right way."
UCLA looked disjointed on offense and freshman Shabazz Muhammad, expected to leave for the NBA, missed all seven of his shots in the first half. Muhammad finished with 20 points.
Muhammad got more involved in the second with seven quick points and UCLA pulled within five when Norman Powell made a 3-pointer. The Gophers responded with consecutive 3-pointers from Andre Hollins from opposite corners to push the lead back to 11.
Erik Murphy scored 18 points for Florida (27-7), including a 3-pointer that started and layup that ended a 19-1 run in the second half. He led four players scoring in double figures, including Kenny Boynton with 11 points after he missed most of the first half because of two early fouls.
DeQuan Hicks had 12 points for the Demons (23-9), who upset Iowa as the No. 14 seed in their last NCAA tournament seven years ago.
Murphy and Boynton are seniors who arrived at Florida not long after the Gators had won consecutive national championships in 2006 and 2007. They have been to the NCAA tournament each of their four seasons, but the last two ended with losses an NCAA regional final.
This is their last chance to get a championship of their own and they're off to a good start - even after Boynton missed most of the first half.
Donovan was with the Gators for those back-to-back national championships.
Smith won the 1998 national title to cap his first season at Kentucky, but never got back the Final Four the next nine seasons before going to Minnesota.
In their head-to-head meetings during that time, Smith was 12-10. But Florida won the last six after Kentucky had won eight in a row in the series.
Durand Scott had 21 points with five 3-pointers Miami (28-6), four of those long-range shots on assists by ACC player of the year Shane Larkin, the sophomore point guard who is the only non-senior starter.
While Larkin was only 2-of-8 shooting for 10 points, he matched a career high with nine assists. And he also had two free throws, an alley-oop pass and a three-point play to start a 14-0 run midway through the first half.
The Hurricanes' most-lopsided NCAA tournament victory brought to an end the coaching career of Pacific's Bob Thomason, who finished 437-321 in 25 seasons at his alma mater. He had already said last year that this would be his final season, and the Tigers finished 22-13 with a Big West Conference tournament championship.
"Great team, great pieces. They played tremendous," Thomason said of the Hurricanes. "I'll be rooting for them the rest of the time, so maybe they can win a national championship. If I had to go out in coaching, you want to go out to a great team, but also to a great coach and a class coach, and Jim (Larranaga) is that."
After Illinois (23-12) let its big first-half lead slip away Friday, and Colorado (21-12) went ahead by 5, Illini senior guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson bailed out the Illini with consecutive 3-pointers with 6 minutes to play.
"It's March Madness," Paul said. "That stuff happens all the time."
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