But it has been awhile.
The two played in the 1987 Final Four — Donovan at Providence College and Alford at Indiana. In 1999, the two coached their first Sweet 16 teams — Donovan in his third season with the Gators and Alford in his fourth and final one at Missouri State.
Now, Donovan and Alford’s paths will cross once again, only this time the two contemporaries will be going head-to-head when the Gators and Bruins square off Thursday night in the Sweet 16. Tipoff is slated for 9:45 p.m. and will air on CBS.
“I’ve always liked Steve,” Donovan said Monday. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a person. He’s a really, really good guy.
“I think there’s probably a lot we have in common because we both played in the same era at the same time.”
Alford, now 49, had the edge as a player. Donovan, now 48, has the upper hand as a coach.
A two-time All-American and member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning team, Alford made seven 3-pointers during the 1987 national championship games as Indiana beat Syracuse.
Two days earlier, Donovan’s incredible run with Providence ended against the Orangemen.
Yet, Alford’s Sweet 16 appearance in 1999 was his only one as a coach until UCLA’s 77-60 win over Stephen F. Austin on Sunday night. Since 1999, Donovan’s teams are 6-0 in Sweet 16 games — and have won two national championships.
To advance to another regional final and keep their 28-game win streak going, Donovan said the Gators have to slow down a high-scoring Bruins’ offense that typifies its coach.
“Steve is a really, really good offensive mind,” Donovan said. “I think he does a lot of really good, unique things with his team. I think he puts his guys in situations to be successful. He’s probably taken some things from Indiana and playing for Bobby Knight. He’s probably taken some things on his own based on his team.
“But [his teams have] always been really, really good offensively.”
Alford left Indiana the school’s all-time leading scorer because of his remarkable shooting ability and basketball IQ.
The Bruins (28-8) average 81.5 points, shoot 49.1 percent from the floor — best among the remaining NCAA Tournament teams — and average 17.3 assists — fifth in the nation and second to national leader Iowa State (18.5) among Sweet 16 squads.
The Gators (34-2) counter with a lineup ranked third nationally in scoring defense (57.5 points allowed per game) and 23rd in field-goal percentage defense, at 39.8 percent — a figured topped by just five remaining teams.
“We hope that we can slow them down,” UF point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “We’ve just got to get our style of play into the game and hopefully make UCLA do what we want to.”
Wilbekin, a two-time SEC All-Defensive Team member, said he is fine after he suffered a bruised left knee during Saturday’s 61-45 win against Pitt.
The 6-foot-2 Wilbekin could face his toughest defensive assignment to date in UCLA’s 6-foot-9 sophomore point forward Kyle Anderson. Anderson, a former Gators recruit from New Jersey, averages 14.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and is sixth in the nation with 6.5 assists a game.
“It’s a little bit unique for a point guard to get as many rebounds as he does and starts the break,” Donovan said. “That’s where they’re really, really great is in transition. [They] may be the most explosive offensive team we’ve faced and may be the most unique offensive team we’ve faced this year.”
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