Bruce Pearl began his Friday media availability by going down a long list of now-historical facts.
The year was 1996. Pearl’s son, Auburn assistant coach Steven Pearl, was 7 years old. Auburn’s other assistant, Mike Burgomaster, was 2 years old. The rest of Pearl’s senior staff, Chad Prewett and Ira Bowman, were at completely different stops, with the first two years coaching high schools and later suiting up for Penn. Bill Clinton was president. Gas cost $1.22.
“And that was the last time we beat Florida in Florida,” Pearl said, concluding. “That’s a long time ago.”
When men’s basketball No. No. 12 Auburn plays Florida at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Gainesville, it will be 28 years to the day since the Tigers last beat the Gators at The O’Connell Center. That was a 73-70 score in Auburn’s favor, but the ball hasn’t bounced the same way in 14 tries. Maybe the 15th time will be the charm, but if it is, it will be in the middle of a tough game.
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Florida (15-7, 5-4 SEC) is the top rebounding team in the nation, averaging 44.5 boards per game. They also average the second-most offensive rebounds in the country (16.1) and have a top-25 mark on the defensive glass.
“They crash the glass a lot, but they have three or four really good guards that can shoot it really well,” Auburn center Johni Broome said. “They have two 7-footers. They just shoot it, and they just go get the shot. They are aggressive. They’re like Texas A&M – you have to be physical with them and wear them out. I think the more physical team will win the game.”
While the Tigers beat the Aggies earlier this year, when they square off against them on the boards, it’s been a tougher contest. The Tigers are 5-2 this season when losing on the rebounding margin, with the two losses coming at Alabama and Mississippi State.
“If you take their offensive numbers at home, they’re the seventh-best offense in the country, if it’s just at home,” Pearl said. “And I think we can go down there and I think we’ll have a chance. I think the one thing I would also say about where we are right now is, coming off the bottom of the second half against Ole Miss and the two halves against Alabama, which are probably the three best halves we’ve played all year.
“I’m going to go back and remind our guys how we were at Alabama or Mississippi State or even Ole Miss in the first half, which weren’t very good. The body of our work against the best on the road it’s still not very good. And it’s not good enough to beat Florida unless we really step up.”
Another assistant reunion
For the second time this season, Bruce Pearl will face a former member of his coaching staff. Florida coach Todd Golden, who was hired by the Gators in March 2022, was on Pearl’s staff for two years, from 2014-16.
“He had a good offensive mind and a great analytical mind, and he was a really good player,” Pearl said of Golden. He played point guard at Saint Mary’s for one of the best coaches in the country. He then coached in Columbia and San Francisco as an assistant coach for the coach who is now at Washington State and is recognized as one of the best coaches on the West Coast.
“You know, he’s had great preparation. He is a smart kid. He’s one of the best young coaches in the country.”
Ole Miss assistant coach Wes Flanigan, who was on Pearl’s Auburn staff from 2018-23, was the next practice fixture. The Tigers won their two games with the Rebels this season, first hosting a then-ranked Ole Miss team and later going on the road last week in Oxford for their first Quad 1 win.
For Pearl, facing his former assistant has little or no impact on pregame preparation, but has a different impact on the competition.
“The emotion is probably a little different five minutes before the game and a few minutes after the game,” Pearl said. “Then this is it. I want him to do well. I want Florida basketball to do well and I want to beat the pants off them on Saturday. I mean both. But it really has nothing to do with preparation.”
Opponent Preview: Florida
- AP Poll Rankings: Not getting votes
- Coach polls standings: Not getting votes
- Adjusted Efficiency Margin (KenPom Ranking): +17.08 (No. 35)
- Net ranking: No. 39
- Series history: Auburn leads, 86-80
- Last time out: Auburn won 61-58 on Dec. 28, 2022, at Auburn.
- G Walter Clayton Jr.: Clayton transferred to Florida after two years at Iona, averaging 16.9 points for the Gaels last season. He is averaging a team-high 15.9 points for the Gators, He has the same amount of points at home as overall, but he is shooting at a high percentage, shooting better from the field, 3 and the free throw line.
- F Tyrese Samuel: On a team that leads the nation in rebounding, Samuel is at the core of the Gators’ glass attack. Another first-year Gator, the 6-foot-10 Seton Hall transfer is averaging 8.4 rebounds per game. That mark is tied for 71st nationally and is third-best in the SEC, behind only Andersson Garcia and Texas A&M’s Broome.
- F Micah Handlogten: Marshall’s transfer average is just 7.0 points, but he is the Gators’ second-leading rebounder, averaging 7.6 points. He also has the best offensive rating on his team, according to KenPom, and he scored a career-high 23 points against Georgia on Jan. 27.
What coach Todd Golden said
- About learning from Bruce Pearl: “The different ways you can be successful. Obviously playing for Randy Bennett at Saint Mary’s, working for Kyle Smith, it was just a very different experience than working for Bruce. And they’re very different in the way they run their programs and coach their teams, but they’re all obviously really, really successful.”
- For Pearl’s Passion: “I think he does a really good job of making sure his guys know he cares about them; making sure he spends time with his players. And there’s not a lot of off-the-park talk about him to do with basketball. I think that’s something I’ve tried to learn a lot from building relationships with our guys.”