2 BITS: SEC/Big 12 Challenge, Miller, Hernandez

1 » The Southeastern Conference and Big 12 announced Thursday that the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge, which began last season, will undergo a significant format change. Instead of being 10 games played over three days in the fall, it will now be 10 games played in one day early in the spring. That date has been set for next season with all 10 games tipping off on Saturday, January 30, 2016, though match-ups have not yet been determined at this time. “Moving the Big 12/SEC Challenge later int he season will raise the profile of this event and give our coaches, student-athletes and fans the attention that it deserves,” said Mike Slive, the SEC’s commissioner. The 10 games will all be played on ESPN networks with the four SEC teams not given match-ups going head-to-head against each other on the SEC Network that day.

The Florida Gators wound up playing a home-and-home series against Kansas in the first two iterations of the event, hosting the Jayhawks last season and travelling to Lawrence, Kansas, this fall. Florida is expected to host an SEC/Big 12 Challenge game in 2015-16, though renovations to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center would have proved that difficult if the game was played during its previously-scheduled window. Whether the event was moved to help accommodate UF remains to be seen, but the scheduling adjustment was not just made for next season but for the duration of the event’s existence.

Continue Reading » 2 BITS: SEC/Big 12 Challenge, Miller, Hernandez

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Fastbreak: Dorian Finney-Smith helps Florida scrape past Alabama 52-50

The Florida Gators‘ season was not saved on Tuesday night, but Florida (11-9, 4-3 SEC) did avoid blowing yet another double-digit lead as it inched its way past the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-7, 3-4 SEC) in the final seconds of the contest to pull out a 52-50 win at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The Gators, losers of three-straight games, avoided dropping four contests in a row for the first time since 2003-04 as head coach Billy Donovan improved to 10-0 all-time against the Crimson Tide.

OnlyGators.com breaks down Tuesday’s action with 10 quick-hitters:

It was over when: Alabama erased a five-point Florida lead as Ricky Tarrant drained a three (giving him 12 points in the half) with two minutes to play. Still tied with less than 30 seconds left, Gators redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith received a pass beyond the arc, pump faked and drove the lane to finish with a hammer dunk, putting UF up 52-50 with 22 seconds to play. It wound up being the game-winning basket for the Gators, as Finney-Smith delivered a block at the other end to negate a shot attempt and conclude the contest. “It was a little anger, I struggled tonight, but my teammates did a good job staying together when adversity came,” Finney-Smith told ESPN after the game. Added Donovan: “I thought he had a pretty decent look to take a three, it was probably a smart decision to drive it, obviously with the way it finished up. … It was good to see him go to the rim strong like that.”


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Gameday: Florida Gators at Alabama Crimson Tide – Donovan struggling with inconsistent team

Location: Coleman Coliseum – Tuscaloosa, Alabama [Capacity: 15,383]
Time: 9:00 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN (Brad Nessler, Sean Farnham, Shannon Spake)
Streaming Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app

SiriusXM: 92/191 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]

Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

FLORIDA GATORS ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Anthony Grant
Record: 10-9 (3-3 SEC) Record: 13-6 (2-3 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Odds: Florida -1.5

FLORIDA’S JUST ‘NOT OK’

The Gators are not a good team losing games, they’re a floundering group of players still trying to find their footing 19 games into the 2014-15 regular season. This is not opinion, it is fact, and it is Donovan’s unwavering belief, too.

To a similar point, Florida has not played well for 40 minutes in quite a while. It may put together some solid 30-, 20- or 10-minute stretches, but the Gators getting the most out of their abilities for 40 minutes? That is not happening.

“This group is never ‘all right.’ Ever. Ever. They’re not. They’re ‘all right’ when I can see them do it day in and day out. And they really, really struggle in that area. They really, really struggle,” Donovan said on Monday.

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Florida AD Jeremy Foley answers questions, expects to spend $1 million on cost of attendance

In a question-and-answer session held on the program’s official website, as well as another on its Twitter account, Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley discussed a number of topics including how the recently-passed cost of attendance legislation will affect his program next season.

“The cost of attendance that passed is obviously an opportunity for us to do something that we’ve all talked about for our student-athletes for a number of years now. In essence, it increases the value of their scholarship. There’s going to be a financial impact for us, a little over a million dollars,” he explained via the school’s website.

“But it’s money well spent and certainly I think the new autonomy structure has allowed that to happen. It excites us that we had the flexibility to do something like that, and I’m sure there will be more changes in the future.”

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The Silver Lining for Monday, January 26: Florida coaching staff vacancy, Gators recruiting

Updated on Wednesday at 2:50 p.m.

Still missing: wide receivers coach

As was mentioned one week ago in this space, new Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain has been in no rush to fill the last position on his initial coaching staff with Florida still looking for its wide receivers coach 21 days (as of press time) after every other member of the staff was officially announced.

Nevertheless, a source close to the program reaffirmed to OnlyGators.com on Sunday that there is indeed a high level of interest in the position with at least two former Gators players, and one former Florida assistant coach, in the pool of candidates for the job. There are also a couple NFL assistants hoping to get the gig. McElwain has a few front-runners in the aforementioned grouping and will continue interviews this week between recruiting visits and phone calls.

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Fastbreak: Ole Miss edges Florida 72-71 in Oxford

A season on the brink may have very well reached it on Saturday evening as the Florida Gators (10-9, 3-3 SEC) gave up multiple leads and ultimately fell 72-71 to the Ole Miss Rebels (12-7, 3-3 SEC) at the Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, Mississippi.

Florida has now lost three-straight games for the first time since the end of the 2011-12 regular season, and the Gators are on pass to miss both the NCAA Tournament and NIT.

“I thought this as a microcosm of how little room for error there is,” Donovan said. “That really just goes to show you how hard it will be for us unless we can really, really, really become a very, very disciplined, connected team, because we just break down.”

OnlyGators.com breaks down Saturday’s action with 10 quick-hitters:

It was over when: A 6-0 stretch for the Gators put them ahead of the Rebels 69-65 with 2:52 to play. However, Ole Miss ended its 4:08 field goal drought with a mid-range jumper at 1:54 on the clock and scored five-straight to retake the lead at 70-69 with 31 seconds left. Florida junior guard Michael Frazier II stepped up to make two free throws that pushed UF ahead 71-70 with 9.8 seconds remaining, but the Gators fouled on the other end and Jarvis Summers made two of his own to give the Rebels back a 72-21 lead with 3.5 seconds left. The final play of the game belonged to UF sophomore point guard Kasey Hill, who caught the ball in the backcourt and attempted to not only drive the length of the floor but finish with a reverse layup; he failed with the buzzer going off before the ball even left his hands.

“Kasey has got to recognize, three-and-a-half seconds, you got to get a shot up,” Donovan said. “You just got to stop and shoot the ball. He could have taken it to the free throw line and got that shot up. His speed got him to that point, which was good, but he obviously probably took it a bit too far.”

Significant stretches: Ole Miss took its first substantial lead of the game at 53-46 on the back of an explosive 13-0 run; the streak included three-straight triples for the Rebels and five consecutive missed shots by the Gators, all occurring in a span of less than three minutes. UF responded with an extended 11-4 stretch to tie the contest at 57 with 7:30 to play, and the team’s traded leads for the duration of the game.

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Gameday: Florida Gators at Ole Miss Rebels – Donovan hopes humbled UF is ready to rebound

Location: Tad Smith Coliseum – Oxford, Mississippi [Capacity: 9,061]
Time: 6:00 p.m. EST

TV: SEC Network (Dave Neal, Joe Dean Jr.)
Streaming Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app

SiriusXM: 92/191 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]

Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

FLORIDA GATORS OLE MISS REBELS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Andy Kennedy
Record: 10-8 (3-2 SEC) Record: 11-7 (2-3 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Odds: Florida +3

ANOTHER TOUGH WEEK

Two poor performances. Two embarrassing losses. Two winning streaks ended. That’s what the last seven days have been like for Florida, which fell 73-61 on the road against Georgia last Saturday (ending a six-game series winning streak) before being stomped 79-61 at home by LSU (ending a 20-game SEC home winning streak) on Tuesday.

The Gators have proven to be an incredibly flawed and inconsistent team, one void of leadership and – more importantly – overall top-to-bottom talent. That is why Florida, if current trends continue, will not just miss the NCAA Tournament but also the NIT while posting the worst record of a Donovan-coached team since his second season at UF.

“I’m just trying to get these guys to understand that individually, on their own, we’re no good. We’re not talented enough, we’re not good enough,” Donovan said Friday. “Collectively as a group, the sum’s got to be greater than the parts. [I] got to get them to understand what ‘team’ actually is.

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Gameday: Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers; second-year F Chris Walker still not ready for prime time

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, Florida [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 7:00 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN (Braed Nessler, Sean Franham, Shannon Spake)
Streaming Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app

SiriusXM: 84 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]

Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

FLORIDA GATORS LSU TIGERS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Johnny Jones
Record: 10-7 (3-1 SEC) Record: 13-4 (2-2 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Odds: Florida -10

STILL NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME

Forward Chris Walker, despite joining the Gators during the mid-way point of his first season and being suspended for the first two games of the 2014-15 campaign, has played in 33 games at Florida. He may have been listed as a sophomore before this season began, but his first full year of actually being a college basketball has just passed.

And the results, at least to this point, indicate that Walker is far from the phenom many expected the day he committed to the Gators. In fact, he more closely resembles former UF center Patric Young, a freakish athlete who has a long way to go to be a capable college starter, let alone an NBA player.

“I just know I need to improve,” Walker said Monday. “I just need to come in every day and be focused and just work hard.”

Averaging just 16.3 minutes per game this season, Walker is doing little right. He only hits 48.6 percent of his field goals – despite being positioned around the basket – and is a team-worst 37.0 percent from the free throw line (he’s only drawn 27 fouls and made 10 gimmies in 245 minutes of court action). Walker is rebounding at a high rate with an average of 4.2 per game, and his ability to block shots has helped the Gators’ defense, though his inability to be reliable on pick-and-rolls and other sets has been a hindrance.

Continue Reading » Gameday: Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers; second-year F Chris Walker still not ready for prime time

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