Injury updates for Kitchens, Murphy and Prather

A number of Florida Gators have suffered injuries over the last few days but detailed updates on three student-athletes in particular have been released this weekend.

Gators sophomore linebacker Darrin Kitchens, playing coverage on the opening kickoff of the second half during the tilt with Florida State on Saturday, was hit had and laid motionless on the field for nearly 10 minutes Saturday evening. He was eventually placed on a stretcher and carted off to the locker room.

Florida announced Sunday morning that Kitchens was taken to Shands Hospital for further evaluation. Doctors determined that he suffered a concussion during the game but luckily all tests done on his neck came back negative.

Kitchens was released late Saturday night and is said to be doing fine.

Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan also updated the respective statuses of junior forward Erik Murphy and sophomore guard/forward Casey Prather on Saturday.

Donovan said Murphy, who bumped knees with a teammate in practice Thursday prior to the Jacksonville game, has a tear in his meniscus and will be out indefinitely.

The extent of Murphy’s tear and a determination as to whether or not he will need surgery will give the team a better idea of how long he will be out of action, but he is expected to return at some point this season.

Prather pulled his groin during practice Thursday but was able to participate in shoot around and play the first half of Friday’s game. However, he felt some discomfort while on the court and sat out the second half.

Donovan said that Prather has been cleared to return to practiced on a limited basis but his status for Monday’s game against Stetson in Orlando, FL is to be determined.

Florida may choose to rest Prather during Monday’s contest in order to have him fully healthy before UF travels to face No. 5 Syracuse on Friday.

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11/25: Florida vs. Jacksonville post-game notes

The No. 9/10 Florida Gators defeated the Jacksonville Dolphins 107-62 Friday evening in Gainesville, FL, avenging an upset loss from one year ago. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan provided his thoughts on the contest his team just played.

BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON

Florida had already won two games by 30+ points this year but there is no doubt that their win over Jacksonville on Friday was the Gators’ most complete victory of the young season. In addition to UF outscoring their opponent by 45 points, Florida saw five players score in double digits, only committed seven turnovers and never relented after taking a big lead early in the game.

“This game was the best game we played in terms of how I envision our team playing offensively and defensively,” Donovan said. “There was added incentive. Our guys were probably disappointed about last year losing to Jacksonville on our home court. They were very focused and realized this was going to be a battle, that they were going to come in here very confident and had a lot of players from last year still on the roster. They beat us soundly in a lot of aspects, and I thought our guys came in really focused and wanting to play well.”

Senior point guard Erving Walker, junior guard Kenny Boynton and sophomore center Patric Young all agreed with Donovan’s assessment.

“No disrespect to Jacksonville, but on our home court we’re not supposed to lose to a team like that,” Walker said. “Today was our best game overall as a team from start to finish. I think we did a great job.”

Boynton and Young believed the Dolphins quit when the going got tough.

“We definitely feel like they gave up tonight,” Boynton said. “That’s how it goes. Once you feel like a team gives up, you want to keep pushing to try and kill them.”

Young added, “I really noticed it mentally with their team. They started arguing with each other a little bit and losing their team chemistry. After that they started turning the ball over. It affected them being a team. They couldn’t run their plays and were taking bad shots, and we took advantage of it.”

WELCOME BACK, ERVING

Walker himself admitted on Wednesday that he was trying to break himself of some bad habits. He played within himself Friday, finishing with six assists, just one turnover and 21 points on 6-of-9 shooting including going 2-for-4 from downtown and 7-for-8 from the charity stripe.

“Erving Walker did a great job recognizing that we were in the double bonus. He kept getting himself to the free throw line,” Donovan said. “He didn’t take a lot of shots tonight – and obviously he shot the ball better tonight than he had the previous four games – but he got himself to the free throw line. He had a level of recognition and was aware what was going on.”

If Walker can continue playing like he did on Friday, ensuring his teammates get open looks while hanging onto the ball and taking advantage of opportunities to get to the line, he could wind up having a very special season for Florida.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Boynton on the team focusing on rebounding: “We know the offense is going to come, so basically the plan is to rebound. We knew that they were going to come in here and try to fight hard because they had a lot of confidence last year.”

» Young on his extra energy in the second half: “Coach was talking about in the halftime how we need to come out with a lot of energy. […] It was a good opportunity for me to come out with a spark. I didn’t play too much in the first half, and I just felt like I could spark our team and give us what we needed.”

» Young said he will continue wearing the Oakley goggles for the short term because his eye is still bothering him a bit. However, it is not likely that he will have to wear them for the remainder of the season.

» Walker on Donovan being one game away from 400 wins: “I’m just a part of it. He’s been getting these wings for so long. I’ll be happy for him. He’s a great coach and hopefully we’ll get it for him.”

» Donovan of the fast tempo of the game: “We moved the ball, shared the ball, but we were really active in our press. We were able to cause a lot of havoc. Even though we didn’t turn them over a lot, it created a tempo and a pace where offensively we really were able to get out on the break.”

» Donovan on the play of sophomore G/F Casey Prather: “Casey coming off the bench – how he played in the game in the first half is exactly how he had been practicing all the way through. Getting him to transfer the practice to the game has been something we’ve been trying to help him with.”

» Donovan on nearing 400 wins: “I’ve had a lot of good players. It makes me feel very old, you know? Anytime you get to those milestones, they’re somewhat special, but more than anything else they reflect back on the guys that I’ve had a chance to coach. These guys are in their 30s now. I see Jason Williams here last week. The guy’s in his mid-30s and he’s retired. I just feel older now. It’s a different feeling. To be able to be here for so long and for that to happen, I’m just blessed to have a lot of really good players.”

» Donovan on freshman G Brad Beal spending some time at the four: “He’s just got an incredible mind in terms of picking things up. He just let the game come to him tonight. He had five turnovers; I thought a lot of his turnovers were off his defensive rebounds when he was trying to start the break. He gets 15 points and you don’t even know it. He grabs eight rebounds and you don’t even know it. I feel comfortable playing him anywhere.”

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Trio of Gators – Murphy, Prather, Adams – injured

Three Florida Gators student-athletes – two basketball players and one cheerleader – have suffered or aggravated injuries over the last two days.

Junior forward Erik Murphy was forced to miss Friday’s 107-62 blowout victory over Jacksonville after injuring his right knee during practice Thursday. He went to the hospital for an evaluation, but head coach Billy Donovan said the seriousness of the injury remains unknown. Trainers have ruled out an injury to Murphy’s anterior cruciate ligament and expect him to return this season.

“He kind of banged knees with somebody in practice. It was kind of a fluke play,” Donovan said. “It wasn’t anything that prevented him from [finishing] practicing. It happened early in practice, and he didn’t even remember it. He finished up practice last night. With it being Thanksgiving, I had the guys at the house yesterday. He was really complaining that his knee was really bothering him. It continued to swell. With it being Thanksgiving, it makes it difficult to get MRIs and X-rays at 8:00 at night.

“There is a concern right now because he’s had a very difficult time walking. He can’t put any pressure on it.”

Playing one of the best games of his career Friday, sophomore guard/forward Casey Prather saw extensive time in the first half but did not return to the court coming out of the locker rooms after reinjuring a sore groin muscle that had previously been been bothering him. He finished with six points, three rebounds and two steals.

“He slipped in practice yesterday and he kind of tweaked his groin,” Donovan explained. “It was bothering him a little bit in shoot around, but he was able to go tonight and then he tweaked it again.”

The Gators will further evaluate Prather over the weekend and determine whether or not he will be able to participate against Stetson on Monday.

While Florida was upending Jacksonville on the court, a Gators cheerleader was hurt on the side. Senior Laura Adams, a second-year member of the squad and a physical therapy major, tore her Achilles tendon while tumbling and was helped off by teammates.

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No. 9/10 Gators cruise past Dolphins 107-62

Revenge is a dish best served from downtown.

The No. 9/10 Florida Gators (4-1) utilized 11 clutch three-pointers to upend the visiting Jacksonville Dolphins (2-3) Friday evening, avenging an overtime upset one year ago with a blowout 107-62 victory at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Gators junior guard Kenny Boynton led the way for his squad with a game-high 22 points on 50 percent shooting (4-for-7 from downtown), and senior point guard Erving Walker chimed in with 21 points on 6-of-9 shooting while hitting 7-of-8 free throws and adding a game-high six assists.

Jacksonville opened up hot with a pair of threes to take an early 6-2 lead, but Florida quickly responded with an impressive 26-4 run spanning 6:21 to jump ahead 18 points with 10:25 left in the first half. Boynton made consecutive treys to end the run and also contributed a layup and two free throws during the stretch.

Undeterred by the Gators’ offensive breakout, the Dolphins countered with an 8-0 run to reduce their deficit to 10 points. However, UF kept the pressure on and used an 11-0 run including two baskets by sophomore center Patric Young to go up to go up 22 points.

Florida increased that advantage to 24 points but ended the first half with a 20-point lead after JU’s Russell Powell hit an off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer.

The teams traded deuces to open the second half, but the Gators scored 11-straight points and held a 31-point lead with 17 minutes to play. Young scored five-straight points during the run, which was capped off with a trey from sophomore PG Scottie Wilbekin.

Florida maintained its big lead for the remainder of the contest and wound up winning by 45 points, their largest margin of the evening.

All 10 Gators scored and five reached double figures. Joining Boynton and Walker were Young (14), freshman G Brad Beal (15) and redshirt junior G Mike Rosario (12).

Young, Beal and sophomore forward Will Yeguete each registered nine rebounds with Yeguete, who started in place of injured junior F Erik Murphy (right knee), also scored a career-high eight points.

Florida notched double-digit threes for the fifth straight game, and Boynton improved to 19-for-35 (54.2 percent) from downtown this season.

The Gators outrebounded the Dolphins 42-30, dished 11 more dimes (19-8) and hit 63 percent of their attempts from the charity stripe (22-for-35). UF held JU to 38 percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers on the evening.

Florida only committed seven turnovers Friday with Beal coughing it up five times. Young added three blocks on the evening and three Gators registered two steals.

UF will travel to Orlando, FL on Monday to take on Stetson in the second annual Florida Citrus Sports Shootout as head coach Billy Donovan goes for his 400th career victory. The game will tip at 7 p.m. and air live on Sun Sports.

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

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Florida not taking Jacksonville lightly this time

It has been just over 11 months since the Jacksonville Dolphins upset Florida Gators basketball at home but no one wearing orange and blue has forgotten the overtime defeat that gave Florida its second loss to an unranked opponent in under three weeks.

Gators sophomore center Patric Young, who grew up in Jacksonville, FL, said Wednesday that he played basketball with some friends and Dolphins players that offseason and laughed at the possibility that Jacksonville could beat Florida on their own turf in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

He wasn’t laughing after JU upended UF 71-68 in the House of Horrors.

“I played pickup with them in the summer, and they were talking all the noise before the game,” he reminisces. “They came in our own home court and beat us, embarrassed us in front of our fans.”

That is why Young’s phone blew up with missed calls and text messages after the game.

“I didn’t text any of the guys back. I’ll tell you that,” he said with a smile.

Young’s recollection of the game is quite vivid. He points out that while it was a back-and-forth contest with Jacksonville certainly playing quite well, miscues by Florida at the end of the second half cost the Gators the game.

It was tied at 58 with 2:55 remaining, but Florida had taken a two-point lead with 56 seconds left after Alex Tyus hit a free throw. Chandler Parsons turned the ball over with 24 seconds to play, Ayron Hardy threw down a dunk to tie the game and senior point guard Erving Walker missed a jumper with four seconds left to send it into overtime.

“The worst part was actually when the dude took the ball out of CP’s hands and just scored at the end of regulation. That was the worst part,” Young recalls. “Even though we were playing so poorly (UF shot 36 percent from the field, 21 percent from three), we still had the game in our hands and literally gave them the ball right there.”

JU outscored the Gators 10-7 in overtime to capture the victory. Walker – who missed the three at the end of regulation as well as two threes, a layup and two free throws in overtime – believes the loss wound up helping Florida last season.

“It was a huge wakeup call,” he said. “When we lost, coach said our backs were against the wall. We just beat Kansas State and we didn’t handle success well. We learned from that last year, and we’re not going to let that happen again.”

With so many players on that Dolphins squad returning for this year’s tilt, Gators head coach Billy Donovan has reminded his players not to take Jacksonville lightly. Florida has to treat them just like any other opponent and realize that one team can beat another on any given night.

“If there’s anything for the returning guys to understand and know from that game, it’s that there are a lot of players on Jacksonville who were on that team and a part of them coming in here and winning. Our guys have a respect level for their talent, for their team. This is a team that has our guys’ attention going into it,” Donovan said.

Young is certainly on high alert. He would prefer not to have anyone to answer to after Friday night’s game is in the books.

“We can’t take back the game from last year, but a lot of the guys have that game in mind from last year and want to win big,” he said.

“Just taking a win would be good enough in my book.”

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is 28-5 all-time against Jacksonville and 9-1 under Donovan. JU defeated UF 71-68 in overtime in 2010.
» The Gators are on an eight-game home winning streak dating back to last season.
» Florida has outrebounded all four opponents this year and is averaging an +11.5 rebounding margin in each contest.
» The Gators are shooting 43.5 percent from downtown and have hit at least 10 threes in each game. Florida has made a trey in 655 consecutive games, a school record.
» Three Gators – Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy – are shooting better than 50 percent from three (each has a minimum of 14 attempts).
» Florida is 17th nationally in scoring (85.5), 29th in rebounding (41.8) and 27th in assists (17.0) whereas Jacksonville does not rank better than 168th in any of the three categories. However, the Dolphins are shooting one-tenth of a percent better from the field than the Gators, hitting 47.9 percent of their shots on the season. JU ranks 66th nationally in field goal percentage, while UF ranks 67th (47.8 percent).
» The Gators are tied for 298th nationally in free throw shooting (60 percent).
» Florida is No. 6 nationally in points per possession (1.23).

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Erving Walker: “Bad habits are hard to break.”

Senior point guard Erving Walker has left it all on the court for the Florida Gators during the first three years of his career in the orange and blue and is looking to do the same this season before riding off into the sunset in March.

Despite his smaller stature (listed at 5’8”) and all of the obstacles he has had to face as a basketball player, Walker has had the full support of head coach Billy Donovan, who appreciates how much his leader gives to the team during each practice and game.

The duo of Donovan and Walker are somewhat kindred spirits, score-first players from New York who love to shoot the three, run the floor and lead their team offensively.

Yet while Donovan appreciates Walker’s mental fortitude and ability to never shy away from the spotlight, he decided to give him a different mission for the 2011-12 season: become a facilitator.

“He’s such a good, solid player. He’s made a lot of big shots, and he’s done a lot of great things for us,” Donovan said, “but he’s got to understand that as a catalyst back there, he’s got to almost show a disposition and attitude of great mental toughness that is not going to break or wilt at all.”

Walker’s assist-to-turnover ratio (2:1) has improved from a year ago, but he is only averaging five dimes per game and is coughing the ball up half as often.

“[I’m happy that I’m] getting my teammates shots. A few too many turnovers maybe and obviously I’m not shooting the ball too well right now, but I’m working on that,” he said.

His shooting has been a major concern through the first four games even though the team as a whole is making plenty of baskets. Walker is only hitting 36.4 percent of his field goals and shooting 27.8 percent from downtown this season, numbers that are shockingly low for a player who has been as consistent of a scorer as the Gators have had over the last few years.

He is undoubtedly pressing, something Donovan recognizes and hopes Walker can overcome in due time.

“As a senior, he has such high expectations for himself that he probably at times puts too much on his shoulders,” Donovan said. “He’s got to understand that he’s got a bunch of guys with him that can help.”

Walker may recognize that fact, but he admitted Wednesday that he is just as frustrated as fans are at his penchant for turning the ball over, driving in the lane without a plan, rushing shots and making other poor decisions on the court.

Unlike years past, his ability to recognize and embrace these flaws as things that he needs to change about his game may pay dividends as the season wears on.

“It comes with the territory sometimes with me playing, but I’m still trying to work on that and continue to get better at it,” he said. “It’s a bad habit. Bad habits are hard to break. Sometimes you revert back to it. You just got to stay conscious of it and keep working at it.”

Donovan knows if anyone can do a 180, it is Walker, a player that impresses him day after day regardless of how many times he might be disappointed in him after a costly turnover or rushed shot. He is especially pleased with his defensive exertion and rebounding effort even while up against larger players.

“There’s just subtle things he does that I can’t take credit for as a coach,” he said. “Erving a few times gets in there too deep – travels or turns it over – but he also gets rid of it at the right time where it puts the defense in a bind.

“There’s times where bigger people get position on him, but he finds a way to work his way around into a position where he can eliminate some of that height. I feel comfortable with him defending most people because he’ll work at it and give an effort.”

Despite the frustrations both are having early in the season, there should be no question that on this Thanksgiving, Donovan and Walker remain quite thankful for each other.

Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

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11/23: Donovan on Young’s eye, Meyer’s decision

With No. 9/10 Florida Gators basketball set to take on the Jacksonville Dolphins Friday evening in Gainesville, FL, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media Wednesday to discuss what preparations have been made for his team’s next non-conference home game.

YOUNG’s EYE NOT A BIG DEAL

Despite sophomore center Patric Young sporting a bruised eye with plenty of swelling after being poked in it during Monday’s game, Donovan said that his big man is fine, practiced in full all week and will be good to go on Friday. Young has a small tear sclera (white part) of his eye and will wear goggles during the game to prevent irritation and potential further injury. He has not had any blurred vision and did not have anything happen to his pupil or retina.

“You don’t know how important your body parts are until you can’t use them, especially your vision,” Young said Wednesday.

UNDERSTANDING URBAN MEYER’s TOUGH SPOT

As a two-time national championship winning coach, Donovan empathized with the situation that former Gators head coach Urban Meyer finds himself in. Donovan commented at length about Meyer and his potential decision to return to coaching.

“He loves football. He’s really evaluating what he wants to do as a coach. Sometimes people look at things maybe a little bit differently than what reality is sometimes. The biggest thing for him right now, that he’s trying to get his arms around, is when you get a chance to win a couple national championships, every coach wants to experience that. There is a perception created that it brings a level of worth and value to your life, and it really doesn’t. […]

“You got to really enjoy the process of dealing with these guys each and every day. Sometimes there’s victories that nobody sees that you got to really look at in terms of helping these guys get better. What happened for Urban – and it happened to me too – is you look at it’s happened twice so why am I coaching? What is my purpose for coaching besides just winning? I don’t think your drive or desire diminishes as far as wanting that to happen, but it doesn’t necessarily make your life complete when it does happen. There are so many coaches out there chasing that, thinking that something is going to change, and when they get it I’m not so sure it does.

“For Urban, it’s that balance now for him of chasing championships, his family, his health, those things. ‘Can I balance all that? Can I make it all work? Can I do it in a way that I can feel good about myself, feel good about my family, feel good about myself as a coach?’ I think he’s evaluating those kind of things and then he’s got to figure out how he can go about enjoying the process.

“My guess would be – and this is not about Ohio State. Do I think he’ll go back and coach? Yeah, I think he will, but I think for himself he’s got to get himself to a place where he feels good about the other aspects of his life that he was missing out on or wasn’t as attentive to as he wanted to be or felt comfortable with himself internally that he was handling the right way. That’s what I think it’s all about for him.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On the good and bad things coming out of the Wright State game: “The way we have shot the ball has been good. We’re taking a lot of threes and we’re having a little bit of presence at the basket. […] Rebounding continues to get better. We’ve done a good job on the glass. We’ve got to become more consistent defensively, guarding actions, screens and those kinds of things. We’re not giving up a great percentage statistically, and we look pretty good defensively, but I’m looking at some of the shots that we’re giving up. As we play better and better teams, those are shots that are probably going to be made.”

» On being pleased that the guards are getting plenty of rebounds due to effort and recognition of the importance of giving the team chances to score: “We’ve certainly had a size advantage the last three games we’ve played, but our guards are trying to get in there. That’s something that we can embrace and have to understand. That’s a commitment and mindset each and every game we play. We’ve at least proven that with a good level of focus on that, we should be able to hold our own.”

» On playing redshirt freshman forward Cody Larson more: “The hardest thing for a guy coming off the bench is, ‘When am I going in?’ We’ve got a little bit of that with our bench right now. There’s not a flow of them knowing when they’re coming in. […] We’ve got to get Cody in the rotation and get him in a position where he’s giving us some more depth across our frontline. I do trust him out there, but I just got to get him in a better rotation right now.”

» On how he statistically evaluates defense: “It’s pretty clear when [Mike] Rosario’s guarding a guy and a guy goes right by him. There is no chart for that.”

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Tebowing, Macklin, Young

1 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow will don the cover of yet another edition of Sports Illustrated. This time it is a far shot of him taking a snap from under center before handing the ball off with the subtitle “Tim Tebow Demands…”

2 » Speaking of Tebow, the “Tebowing” meme that blew up on the Internet a few weeks ago has now reached a new level. According to NFL.com, “Tebowing” is the name of horse from Little Red Feather Racing out of California that is the daughter of a Kentucky Derby winner. “We are so mesmerized by Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and the latest craze ‘Tebowing’ that we decided to rename our Fusaichi Pegasus filly Tebowing,” LRF Racing explained. Also interesting is the fact that LRF Racing is looking for investors in the horse and will give a 5 percent discount if an investor includes a picture of themselves Tebowing with their offer. The filly is not scheduled for any races.

3 » Former Florida Gators center Vernon Macklin is still waiting to step on the court for his first game with the Detroit Pistons. In the meantime, he and future teammate Ben Gordon handed out donated turkeys to underprivileged families at the Volunteers of America facility in Detroit, MI on Tuesday. “I was once one of those families,” Macklin told the Detroit Free Press. “My family had times when we were in need and to be in a position to help out, it feels great to do it.”

4 » Gators sophomore center Patric Young was poked in the eye Monday night while playing Wright State in Tampa, FL. Young’s right eye swelled up a bit and was half shut most of the remainder of the game. For protective purposes, Young will be wearing a pair of goggles Friday when Florida takes on Jacksonville. Teammate and redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario snapped a photo of Young, which you can check out below.

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