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Donovan, Smith have friendly face-off

Tubby Smith drops to 14-11 in matchups against Billy Donovan.

Tubby Smith drops to 14-11 in matchups against Billy Donovan.

AUSTIN, Texas — When Florida coach Billy Donovan and Minnesota coach Tubby Smith faced off Sunday night in the NCAA Tournament third-round game, it was familiar ground for both.

It was the 25th time Sunday the former colleagues and close friends coached against each other with opposing teams. During his tenure at Georgia and Kentucky, Smith and Donovan met 24 times with Smith holding a 14-10 advantage. But while they have met battling for conference titles, Smith said Sunday night's game, won by UF 78-64, was more important than their other matchups because of what was at stake: a trip to the NCAA Sweet 16.

"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," Smith said. "Because his teams are here on a regular basis."

Donovan said while he and Smith have a very close relationship, it had no bearing on the game.

Smith, 61, who left Kentucky six years ago after winning the 1998 national title but coming under intense criticism from fans in later years there, said the two share similar styles of coaching in many ways.

"I think we try to coach and try to teach and play a similar style," Smith said. "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."

SHEeR JOY: Although his season has been filled with adversity, you won't hear Miami senior center Reggie Johnson saying one negative word right now. Miami is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008, which means it's the first for Johnson and his fellow teammates. And nobody appreciates the opportunity more.

"I just can't even say how much this means to me," Johnson said as the Hurricanes prepared to play Illinois Sunday night. "It's been such a long, hard road. We've worked so hard, been through so much. Coach (Jim) Larranaga came in and said if we just trusted in him, things would work out. We did, and here we are. But we're not just happy to be here. We want more. We want to win it all."

depaul's larkin what-if: Two years after Shane Larkin's brief stint there, DePaul message boards still are pinned with questions, regrets and what-ifs about the point guard.

Instead of revitalizing the Blue Demons, Larkin is a star at Miami.

"It still stings," one post read this month on a DePaul blog. "Is he really that good? To the point where he was thinking about leaving early to the NBA? If he is, then it really just adds insult to injury to us Blue Demon fans."

Another read: "Yes, I'm still bitter."

The sophomore had signed to play at DePaul, but soon left, citing a medical issue that required him to be closer to his family in Orlando.

"It was probably the hardest decision I had to make in my life," Larkin said. "Just going back on my word. I had nothing but good intentions going up there and being successful at DePaul."

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Donovan, Smith have friendly face-off 03/24/13 [Last modified: Sunday, March 24, 2013 8:41pm]
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