Battle on boards may decide if UF, Minnesota advance
Published: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 12:33 a.m.
AUSTIN, Texas — Florida senior forward Erik Murphy is aware of Minnesota's reputation on the boards.
Who: No. 3 seed Florida Gators (27-7) vs. No. 11 seed Minnesota Golden Gophers (21-12)
When: 6:10 p.m.
Where: Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
Gainesville-area TV: TNT
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM
He knows Minnesota leads the rough-and-tumble Big Ten with a rebounding margin of plus-8.8. He knows the wide-shouldered Golden Gophers are deep and physical across the frontline.
But given what's at stake, Murphy said the Gators won't be intimidated when they face Minnesota tonight in the NCAA Tournament.
“We're a physical team, too,” Murphy said. “We're not worried about getting bullied or anything like that. We're going to come out with a mindset that we have to match their energy and match their physicality and exceed it as well. I think we'll be fine.”
Consider tonight's matchup between third-seeded Florida and 11th-seed Minnesota as another test. How well the Gators control the boards could weigh heavily in the outcome.
It's one thing to outrebound undersized Northwestern State, like the Gators did 43-26 in their 79-47 win Friday night to open the NCAA Tournament. It's another to knock bodies against a Minnesota team that ranks ninth in the nation in rebounding margin.
“When shots go up, you've got to find guys,” said Florida assistant coach Matt McCall, who handled scouting duties for the game. “You've got to hit them first because they will hit you.”
Florida's rebound margin of plus-5.1 is respectable. But prior to Northwestern State, Florida had been outrebounded in six of nine games. The Gators went 5-4 during that stretch.
Florida coach Billy Donovan called the rebounding matchup against Minnesota “a great challenge.”
“They really do a great job getting off the glass,” Donovan said. “They are a terrific offensive and defensive rebounding team.”
The heavyweight battle to watch inside is Florida's 6-foot-9, 247-pound Patric Young against Minnesota's 6-foot-8, 245-pound center Trevor Mbakwe. A senior, Mbakwe willed Minnesota to an upset over then-No. 1 Indiana with a 21-point, 12-rebound night. Mbawke leads the Big Ten in rebounding at 8.8 per game.
“Mbakwe is as good as there is in the country,” Donovan said.
Mbakwe said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith sets a physical tone in practice. About the first 15 minutes of practice are non-contact, and the rest features bodies banging and elbows flying as shots carom off the backboards.
“I got a scratch from practice the other day on my nose,” Mbakwe said. “I had to get stitches a couple of times this season. That's the fun thing about it. We have big guys, strong guys and we all push each other and we compete. And I think that's what has helped us have success this season.”
If practice intensity isn't physical enough, Mbakwe said Smith will let his team know about it.
“He's a tough-nosed, hard-disciplined, old-school-type of guy, and we feed off it,” Mbakwe said. “We see it every day in practice. He let's us know when we have to pick up the intensity. He's never shied away from yelling, screaming, throwing things. We respect that (and) we think it translates from practice to games.
Maybe that's why Mbakwe chuckled when told Murphy said the Gators weren't afraid of being bullied.
“We don't back down to anybody,” Mbakwe said. “You battle so hard during the season and you don't want to let up. Especially for us seniors, like Murphy and I, you play every day like it's your last. I wouldn't expect anything less from him or anyone that we're playing. He's a competitor and he plays every day against Patric Young in practice. He's experienced all of the pain and bruises already.”
Donovan is hoping for a repeat performance from Young, who came close to a double-double with 16 points and nine rebounds against Northwestern State. Mbakwe has 10 double-doubles this season. Young has six double-doubles this season and 10 for his career.
“The biggest thing for me was that he chased balls yesterday,” Donovan said. “That's what we need from him. He chased balls and got involved in the game early.
“That's something internally he needs to be more accountable and responsible for. He's got to take ownership of it and make the decision ‘this is what I need to do.' And he's got to go out there and do it as hard and as aggressively as he possibly can.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 12.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 12.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 9.1 ppg, 4.9 apg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg
MINNESOTA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Austin Hollins 6-4 Jr. 10.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg
G Andre Hollins 6-1 So. 14.3 ppg, 3.5 apg
G Joe Coleman 6-4 So. 8.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg
F Rodney Williams 6-7 Sr. 10.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg
C Trevor Mbakwe 6-8 Sr. 9.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg
Notes: Florida is playing in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament for the 12th time in school history and ninth time under Florida coach Billy Donovan. Donovan is 29-10 (.744) in NCAA Tournament games and 6-3 in Round of 32 games. … The Gators rank first in the SEC and second in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 53.5 points per game. The Gators have held 13 opponents under 50 points and 24 opponents under 60 points. Florida is 24-0 when it holds opponents under 70 points. … Minnesota advanced in the NCAA Tournament following an 83-63 win over six-seed UCLA. … The Golden Gophers can be shaky with the ball at times, turning the ball over a Big Ten-high 13.7 times per game. Minnesota had 24 turnovers in a 71-45 loss at Ohio State. … Florida senior Kenny Boynton is at 2,006 points, 84 points shy of Ronnie Williams' school record (2,090 points) … Minnesota coach Tubby Smith is 30-14 in NCAA Tournament games.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.