SEC rivalry renewed as Auburn’s Pearl squares off with Florida’s Donovan


Bruce Pearl is returning to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Thursday.

Gator fans will be waiting — and that’s just fine with the bombastic Pearl, the former Tennessee coach hired by Auburn prior to this season.

Florida (9-6, 2-0) puts a 20-game regular-season SEC winning streak on the court against Auburn (9-6, 1-1), which has made decent progress under a more understated Pearl after a 14-16 season in 2013-2014.

Coach Overall Record Current School Record
Billy Donovan 495-195 460-175
Bruce Pearl 240-150 15-9*
*145-61 record at Tennessee in six seasons.

At least Pearl hasn’t stripped to the waist, painted his upper body orange and shown up at a women’s game — as he did at Tennessee.

But Pearl still doesn’t mind being the lightning rod.

“We’re not sneaking up on anybody. That’s one of the problems when you hired me,” Pearl said earlier this week during a media availability at Auburn. “I’m not sneaking up on anybody. I’m a guy that people are going to want to beat as badly as they are going to want to beat anybody, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Florida coach Billy Donovan, who said he took the chance during Pearl’s hiatus from coaching to get to know him better, said Pearl’s return to coaching is good for the SEC.

“I’ve gotten a chance to know [Pearl] as a person and spend time with him,” Donovan said this week during the SEC coaches teleconference. “I respect him a great deal, on and off the court. It brings a very experienced coach back into this league, who had great success, and him being back only helps the league.”

Pearl had nice a rivalry going with Donovan when he was at UT. Pearl’s Volunteers were 8-5 against Donovan’s Gators, at one point winning six consecutive games.

UF had the last word with Pearl in Knoxville. Florida swept three games against Tennessee in 2011, including an 85-79 victory in the SEC tournament.

The last time Pearl was in Gainesville, Florida won 61-60 on Feb. 12, 2011, on an Erving Walker layup with 14 seconds left.

I’ve gotten a chance to know [Pearl] as a person and spend time with him, I respect him a great deal, on and off the court. It brings a very experienced coach back into this league.
— Billy Donovan

Donovan said Pearl has already put his imprint on the Tigers, who enter the game with the SEC’s leading rebounder in Cinmeon Bowers (11.3 per game) and prolific guards K.T. Harrell (17 points per game) and Antoine Mason (14.6).

“They play hard with great passion and great enthusiasm for the game,” Donovan said. “That’s his style and how he envisions the identity of his teams. He will have his guys well prepared and ready to play. As he continues to recruit and build, [the Tigers] will get better.”

Anything will be an improvement on Auburn’s track record against Donovan.

Florida is 20-4 against the Tigers with Donovan on the sideline, winning the past seven.

Florida is 9-0 at home against Auburn, with the last home loss coming on Feb. 10, 1996, in Lon Kruger’s final season with UF.

Auburn rebounded from an opening SEC loss to Vanderbilt to beat Missouri 85-79 on Saturday.

“That was a great win for us,” Pearl said during the SEC teleconference. “It was our fourth victory after we were down nine or more points in the second half, and it speaks to our effort and character.”

Pearl returned Donovan’s compliments.

“Florida is one of the toughest places to play in the country,” he said. “They’re playing great basketball. They’re on their game right now.”

This article was written by Garry Smits from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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