Tonight’s trip to Allen Fieldhouse marks Billy Donovan’s first to the hoops shrine as a head college basketball coach.
He’s been here as an assistant, however.
“Not good. Not good,” he said Wednesday in Gainesville, when asked by Florida reporters if he had any memories of Kansas University’s tradition-rich building, site of tonight’s 8 p.m., clash between Bill Self’s (5-1) Jayhawks and Donovan’s (3-3) Florida Gators.
“I was there at Kentucky. We lost by 55. That was the first year, 1989 I think it was. I think it was 155-100 score,” Donovan added.
Donovan served as an aide to Rick Pitino when UK was hammered by KU, 150-95, on Dec. 9, 1989, in Allen. It’s the most points scored by KU in a single game in history and most given up by Kentucky.
“It’s a great environment,” 19th-year Florida coach Donovan said. “I think when you go on the road against high-level teams you’re always going to play in a great environment. And certainly they have a great environment.”
Florida has visited the fieldhouse once, the Lon Kruger-led Gators suffering a 69-63 loss on Dec. 7, 1994. Florida is 2-3 all-time versus KU with a 2-1 mark under Donovan, including last year’s 67-61 win in Gainesville in the initial Big 12/SEC Challenge. This year’s game is a Challenge rematch.
“They’ve got really a complete team. They certainly have a terrific front court and some very, very good backcourt players,” said Donovan, whose Michael Frazier III-led (15.2 ppg) Gators went 1-2 last week, beating UAB (56-47) and losing to North Carolina (74-65) and Georgetown (66-65, OT) at Battle4Atlantis in the Bahamas.
“Their talent level is extremely high. They’re learning and growing as they go as well. If you look at their pieces, front court and perimeter, they have it all,” Donovan added.
Junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who has been slowed by a pair of hairline fractures in his left hand, and senior center Jon Horford each average 10.3 ppg. Kasey Hill, a 6-1 sophomore point guard, averages 8.2 points and 3.5 assists per game.
“Kasey Hill and Walker (Chris, 5.0 ppg) were two of the most talented guys coming out of high school. They both were maybe top-10 guys, maybe even higher than that. They’re really talented,” Self said. “Frazier can score. He was their designated shooter last year. He hasn’t shot it poorly, but he hasn’t shot it great yet (42 percent, 35.9 from three). like he’s capable of. They have really good players,” Self added.
Hill, who hails from Umatilla, Florida, averages 8.2 points and 3.5 assists a game.
“I’ve never been there but I’ve heard it’s crazy,” Hill said of the fieldhouse. “Joel Embiid is one of my good friends. I talked to him last night actually on FaceTime and he said it’s a great environment.”
Former KU center Embiid spent a year at Hill’s Montverde Academy, before moving over to Florida Air Academy.
“We were just talking about our season and their season pretty much,” Hill said, referring to Embiid’s Philadelphia 76ers. “We both are losing right now but it was just out of jokes, honestly, talking about how he’s doing, how his (injured) foot is doing, seeing when he’s going to play again, stuff like that.”
Hill scored six points and had three assists in Florida’s win over KU last year.
“The seniors, the other guys, they were ready,” Hill said of the Gators. “They (Jayhawks) are experienced, they’ve been through it, and we’ll just try to be as ready as we can for the game and play as hard as we can and compete. They have good guards, we have good guards too, and we’re just gonna go out there and play hard and compete.”
Florida has hit 38.7 percent of its shots and 29.5 percent of its threes while averaging 63.5 ppg in six games (allowing 59.7). KU, meanwhile, has averaged 69.2 ppg off 42 percent shooting (32.6 from three). KU has allowed 62.3 ppg.
Of Florida’s 3-3 record, Self said: “They’ve played a hard schedule (also losing to Miami at home and beating William and Mary and Louisiana-Monroe). They were so beat up when they lost to Miami at home, so beat up. If you saw the shots that Angel (Rodriguez of Miami, former K-Stater) made to win the game, it was a joke. It looked like Sherron (Collins) against OU several years ago, just making some hard plays.
“And then you go over there (to Bahamas) and Georgetown is really good and they lose a one-possession game in overtime and (North) Carolina is really talented and they got off to a bad start and actually played pretty well after that. When you play good people, good teams, you sometimes lose, especially when you’re beat up; and they’ve been beat up, but they’re healthy now.”
Finney-Smith played in the Gators’ three games at the Battle4Atlantis. Junior guard Eli Carter (foot sprain) played in two of the games with his status uncertain for tonight.
Two-time champs: Donovan, 49, has won two national titles (2006, ’07) at Florida.
“He’s as good as our profession has. He’s a great coach. He’s a good guy and they do it the right way,” Self said. “What’s great about his two is that he won one when nobody thought they were any good and he won one when everybody expected them to go undefeated. So he’s been able to handle the pressures of both of those situations. They were the best team in America last year and ended up losing in the Final Four, but over time they were the best team.”
Tape session: Self has had players watch tape of last year’s loss to Florida. “We didn’t come as prepared to practice yesterday as what I thought we should based on how the game went last year,” Self said after Thursday’s practice, “so I just wanted to remind them of how good Florida was and how good they can be and certainly how good they were last year.”