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Smith says talk of move to Auburn is just that

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Tubby Smith dismissed a report that he is close to taking over at Auburn, calling it "just talk."

Citing an unidentified source close to the situation, CBSSports.com reported that Auburn is "close" to hiring Smith. But the Minnesota coach denied that and said he has not been offered a job by any other school.

"Obviously it's just talk, because I'm very pleased with what we've accomplished here. I'm pleased with where we are in the program," Smith said after Minnesota's 65-54 loss to Xavier on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. "I'm looking forward to coming back to Minnesota."

Asked if he's been offered a job by any other school, Smith quickly said, "No. No, I haven't."

Auburn fired Jeff Lebo a week ago after his fourth losing season in six years. Smith is a well-known commodity in the SEC, having coached at both Kentucky and Georgia. He led Kentucky to its seventh NCAA title in his first season there and won five SEC championships and five tournament titles with the Wildcats and Bulldogs. He's had 17 straight 20-win seasons, most among active coaches, and has made the NCAA tournament all but one of those years.

Smith left Kentucky after the 2007 season to take the job at Minnesota, where he has rebuilt a program gutted by an academic cheating scandal. The Gophers (21-14) made the NCAA tournament for a second straight year after just one appearance the previous decade — this despite losing three players expected to play key roles this season.

Royce White and Trevor Mbakwe became involved in legal entanglements before the season, and point guard Al Nolen was ruled academically ineligible in January.

"This team has really grown and matured," Smith said. "A lot of positive things have happened for us over the last couple of weeks — over the last month, as a matter of fact. That's what we're going to focus on going forward, that this is just another step of maintaining, continuing to grow the program.

"And there's some things we have to continue to do recruiting-wise, facility-wise, all kinds of things we can get better at. A lot of areas we have to get better at."

Minnesota loses starters Lawrence Westbrook and Damian Johnson next year. But it returns Blake Hoffarber, its second-leading scorer, and Ralph Sampson III. The Gophers also have signed Austin Hollins, whose father Lionel helped Portland win the 1977 NBA title and now coaches the Memphis Grizzlies.

"I don't know anything about the rumors," Sampson said. "Coach Smith, he loves it in Minnesota. He likes the program and where he's at right now."