Another Familiar Coaching Match-up

Less than a week after coaching against a former colleague in Herb Sendek Billy Donovan gets set to match strategies with his first protégé in the coaching profession.

Donovan and Massachusetts coach Travis Ford built a very close relationship when Ford was a player and Donovan an assistant coach at Kentucky. That relationship remains close to this day and adds another subplot to Tuesday's NIT semi-final. Additionally, Ford relies on assistant coach Tim Maloney who was on Donovan's staff from ‘98 to ‘02.

Donovan on relationship with Ford: "I had a chance to work with Travis for four years because he transferred from Missouri. He had to sit out and, it's hard during the season to sit out because of the transfer rule. Before every game, after the shoot around, we would play one-on-one for an hour or two. He and I developed a very close relationship. He did a great job (at Eastern Kentucky) and he's doing a great job at U-Mass. I think my bond with him is a little different in both of us being point guards under Pitino."

Donovan on Ford the player: "He's one of the greatest shooters I've ever been around. He's a phenomenal shooter and I would put him in the same category as a Lee Humphrey. Travis is a great competitor, and he had a lot of options coming out of high school. Not being one of the most athletic guys, you have to find away to still be competitive at that very high level. He was instrumental in us getting to a Final Four. Travis because of being a point guard and having to do the things because of his size, you could see that he was going to be a great coach."

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As for the game itself the Gators will have to deal with something rather unusual. Massachusetts likes a faster, more frenetic game than the Gators do. U-Mass averages 82 points a game, scored 88 in a loss to Vanderbilt and loves to make the game hectic and chaotic.

Their best player is senior forward Gary Forbes, the Atlantic Ten Conference Player of the Year. The 6-7 wing man leads the team in scoring (19.5) and rebounding (7.7). He will be a tough match up for Florida. Forbes is supported by another All-conference honoree in sophomore guard Ricky Harris. The 6-2 shooter averaged 18 points and was named the league's most improved player. Etienne Brower (12.7/6.6) and Chris Lowe (11.8/3.4) are double digit scorers. Brower is a forward and Lowe, a guard was a high school teammate of Jonathan Mitchell three years ago.

U-Mass is not strong on the inside and that's something Florida should be able to exploit. It'll be interesting to watch Matt Bonner's little brother Luke playing against the Gators. The 7-1 245 junior doesn't play a lot (3.7/2.3) but you know he's excited about this one.

This looks like a fairly even game with the Gators needing to make the most of Speights in the middle, just like against Arizona State, but in a very different way. Florida can play the U-Mass pace, but they cannot allow that pace to take Speights out of the offensive mix with too many quick shots.

Florida will try to continue its recent run of excellent defense. In their first three NIT games the Gators have allowed just 53.3 points after giving up 81.3 a game in the previous three contests. Florida's NIT opponents are shooting just .429 from the field and .268 from three-point range. The Gators have also been terrific on the glass in the NIT, out rebounding San Diego State, Creighton and Arizona State by almost ten boards a night.

Donovan on the U-Mass team: "They are very good. They went into Vanderbilt and had a chance to win there. They've gone on the road and beaten Syracuse (twice) and had some other great wins on the road. I think people realize how great a conference the Atlantic 10 is with where Xavier is. They come from a good league. They have good personnel. They're very well balanced. There's a similar style (to UF) in the sense that they want to run and press and go up and down the floor, so I think the game will be played a lot in transition. I have the utmost respect for them."

Gator Tidbits

  • Nick Calathes needs seven points to set a new UF freshman scoring record. Ronnie Williams scored 546 points in the 1980-81 season.
  • The Gators have never won an NIT game in New York (0-4), losing to Temple in '69, Wyoming and Louisiana Tech in '86 and Minnesota in '93.
  • Walter Hodge needs ten points to score more points this year (378) than his first two seasons combined.
  • A Gator win would give Florida its sixth season with 25 or more wins. Five of those seasons ('00, '03, '06, '07) have been on Billy Donovan's watch. The other came in 1994 when Lon Kruger led the Gators to 29 wins and a trip to the Final Four.
  • This is the third coaching match up between Donovan and Ford. Florida dominated Ford's Eastern Kentucky teams in two games in Gainesville (109-63 in '03 and 98-49 in '04).

    Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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