Florida halts road woes with win at South Carolina

It may have taken 20 minutes for the No. 19 Florida Gators to find some defensive intensity on Saturday, but once they did it was off to the races as Florida (14-4, 2-1 SEC) topped the South Carolina Gamecocks (8-9, 0-3 SEC) 79-65 to pick up their first true road victory of the season at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC.

With Gators sophomore center Patric Young coming off the bench due to tendinitis and an ankle injury, sophomore forward Will Yeguete stepped in and scored a career-high 14 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting with a team-high eight rebounds (four offensive).

Florida sophomore guard Kenny Boynton posted a team-high 15 points but was only 5-of-13 from the field, hitting 4-of-7 attempts from downtown while adding three boards and three dimes for the Gators. He and Yeguete were two of six Florida players (including all five starters) to score in double figures on the evening.

Junior F Erik Murphy got UF to a hot start, scoring the team’s first five points in 76 seconds. After USC evened the score out, the teams went back-and-forth for a few minutes until an 8-0 run put the Gators ahead 26-18 with 9:26 remaining until the break.

The Gamecocks provided their answer at the end of the half, using a 10-2 scoring advantage lasting over three minutes to take a 41-37 lead.

As the shot clock wound down on Florida’s final possession, Boynton nailed an off-balance trey as the buzzer sounded, leaving just five seconds remaining in the first half. It helped to negate South Carolina’s half-ending run, giving USC just a one-point lead as the teams headed into the locker rooms.

The Gators quickly retook the lead out of the break by scoring five points in 46 seconds and never bothered to look back. Already up one, Florida exploded on a 14-0 scoring stretch lasting 7:52 to jump ahead 59-44 more than midway through the second half.

Freshman G Bradley Beal posted eight of those 14 points by hitting two three-pointers and a pair of free throws during the impressive run.

The Gators and Gamecocks traded buckets the rest of the way as UF earned their first true road win of the season after dropping contests against Ohio State, Syracuse, Rutgers and Tennessee away from home.

Florida shot lights-out all evening from downtown, connecting on 12-of-23 attempts (52.2 percent) while also knocking in 25-of-47 shots (53.2 percent) from the field and hitting 17-of-21 tries (81.0 percent) from the free throw line.

The Gators’ defense held the Gamecocks to 41.1 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from three; however, USC outrebounded UF 28-25 in the game and 14-6 on the offensive glass while outscoring Florida 14-8 in the paint.

Beal added to the Gators’ totals with 14 points and six boards, Murphy chipped in 11 points and four assists, senior point guard Erving Walker was an efficient 3-of-5 (3-for-4 from downtown) with 11 points and seven assists, and redshirt junior G Mike Rosario scored 10 points with a pair of boards and dimes while played 19 minutes off the bench.

South Carolina G Bruce Ellington led the Gamecocks with 17 points.

Florida will have a full week to celebrate the victory as the Gators do not suit up again until they host LSU next Saturday in Gainesville, FL. The game will air live at 6 p.m. on FOX Sports Network (check your local listings).

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Gators looking for first road win at Gamecocks

The No. 19 Florida Gators head square off Saturday on the road against the South Carolina Gamecocks, playing in a true road game for the fifth time this season while still looking to pull out their first victory in such contests. Head coach Billy Donovan, senior point guard Erving Walker and sophomore center Patric Young met with the media on Friday to discuss some of their recent struggles and the upcoming contest before practicing and jumping on the plane to Columbia, SC.

STILL TRYING TO CURE FLORIDA’S ROAD WOES

Donovan knows what ails the Gators on the road but getting the team to correct those issues is another story. As is obvious to many fans who have watched Florida complete in true road contests, the Gators are struggling with their energy and intensity but also in three other areas: turnovers, shooting efficiency and defending field goals.

“The only thing that I can talk about is coaching our team and what we do, so I never want to take away anything from our opponent,” he said. “We played against obviously a very good Syracuse team, a very good Ohio State team, Rutgers is a very good team, Tennessee is a very good team. We’ve had four road games against four really good teams. And I don’t think South Carolina at home is any exception; I think they’re a good basketball team. As it relates to winning on the road, our guys got to learn. We have a lot of guys in situations for the first time going through something like this.

“There’s a learning process. As much as I want that to be expedited and sped up and have it all figured out, there are certain things they’ve got to get better at. When you go on the road and you do play against good teams, if you do turn it over, if you do shoot a real low percentage, if you do give up a high percentage, that’s a problem. If you look at our stat sheet on the road, teams have shot a very high percentage [.466] against us, we’ve turned the basketball over [17.3 per game], we have not shot a high percentage [.429]. […] That’s not a formula on the road to really be able to win.”

If you compare those numbers to what Florida puts up in other games, the differences are apparent. The Gators shoot 48.9 percent on home/neutral courts, only give up 9.6 turnovers per contest and defend at a 40.0 percent clip.

There is one thing Florida does quite well away from home that Donovan is noticing.

“There is a level of persevering that goes on [while] on the road. There is a level of fortitude and an ability to handle the adversity when a team goes on a run, how you respond. The one positive that we have had on the road is we have had some level of resiliency where we have gotten down and we have fought back,” he said.

“Our resiliency and our fight is there; they have done that. Sometimes when you have a 40-minute game with turnovers, not a great shooting percentage, giving up things defensively that need to be taken away, sometimes that’s not the best formula to really put yourself in a true position to win. […] It’s not like our team has been blown out by 25 points on the road and we’re just ways away from being competitive. We’ve been competitive; it’s just how do we find a way to get the result we want?”

PRACTICES A “LOSE-LOSE SITUATION”

Following Florida’s loss to Tennessee, Donovan swore that he would be increasing the intensity of practices in order for his team to understand how vital defense and a focused mentality are in every single game. The Gators responded, playing much better against Georgia on Tuesday, and say they are just as focused for their fifth true road game of the season on Saturday.

Walker, the only senior and the single player on the team who has spent four years under Donovan, knew that Florida was in for some trouble after dropping the contest in Knoxville, TN. “I know when [those hard practices] are coming,” he joked. “Being around him for a couple years now, I’m pretty much used to it.”

He said that “Coach D has been pretty much handing it to us in practice, but we accept the result” even though the tough practices will not be stopping if the Gators pull out a victory. “It might make it worse now because he’ll think that works, so he’ll keep doing it,” he joked. “We have a lose-lose situation.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on if Young is more careless than some other players in practice (in regards to hurting teammates): “I give our team a lot of credit. I think probably Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons being older, veteran guys, they probably did a good job of moving away from him in a lot of situations. [Laughing] The one thing that I really admire about Cody Larson is every single day he gets beaten up physically. Every day he goes in there. Will Yeguete, he gets beaten up. I think they do that because they understand that’s going to make our team better, that’s going to make Patric better.”

» Young on if he is worried that he’s knocking around his teammates: “I feel kind of bad at first, but once I see they’re OK, it’s just part of the game.”

» Donovan on keeping in touch with former players in the NBA and how proud he is of them: “[Thursday] I talked to [Joakim] Noah and [Al] Horford. Obviously I felt bad for Al and his injury, being out for as long as he is. I had a good talk with Jo; he’s having some issues with his hand. I talk to those guys, I wouldn’t say on a regular basis, but I do reach out to them and do communicate with them. For someone like Chandler, I’m really proud of him because of where he was as a freshman and sophomore and what he went through here and then at the level he’s at now. Hopefully here at Florida, the experience that he had here as a player, prepared him for that next step in his life as a player. It’s encouraging to see a guy that got taken in the second round has started some games and done well. Same thing with Vernon.

“As much as I want the process – and believe me I’m constantly force-feeding these guys because as you look at their perspective in life, I only have them for a short period of time. For Vernon it was three years. Chandler was four. Joakim, Al, Corey it was three. What you’re trying to do is try to, in a lot of ways, create an epiphany for them, where there’s things they see in life that maybe alters or changes the way they view things when you see their view of things is not going to help them down the road. I’m just happy that the guys that have been fortunate enough to play at that level, that those guys through the experience here have been prepared to take on the next step in their life. Not only winning games, I think that is also a large part of my job here as a coach, to try and help those guys in that area.”

» Walker on if he is thinking about how the end of his career is approaching: “It hit me. I understand that. Right now I’m just focusing on the season and trying to enjoy each game as it goes.”

» Walker on being in the top-10 all-time in scoring at UF: “That’s not really a big deal. Just being here for four years kind of helps you out in that category.”

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Allen’s Alley: Intensity must increase in SEC play

A four-year member of the Florida Gators basketball program under head coach Billy Donovan, former forward Adam Allen – a four-star recruit coming out of Milton High School – was forced to retire due to multiple knee surgeries. No longer with the team, he has joined OGGOA as a basketball columnist and will provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2011-12 season.

With the 15-game non-conference schedule out of the way and the Gators already two games into conference play, Florida has found out a ton about its identity and subsequently the players are becoming more accustomed to their roles.

Once the Southeastern Conference schedule kicks into gear, everything gets a little more intense. The play is even more physical, the games are more competitive night-in and night-out, and the bench is counted on to lends a major hand in the outcome of games, especially once the team gets deeper into the schedule.

So far in this season, the Gators have struggled on the road. If they’re going to be a legitimate contender for the SEC title this season, Coach Donovan must figure out a way to pull out victories in tight road games and ensure the team is prepared from the get-go when on another team’s home court.

Florida has been playing good basketball besides the hiccups at Rutgers (where the Gators lost in double over) and at Tennessee (where the intensity and attitude of the team simply was not right). In most of the team’s wins, the Gators have looked very good on both the offense and defensive ends of the floor, shooting the ball at an incredible rate and playing defense with a sense of urgency.

However, Florida has looked out of sync offensively in the losses and simply has not shown enough intensity on defense. Against Tennessee, the guards and bigs didn’t set and come off screens crisply, which in effect causes the offense to be run further out from the three-point line. There also seemed to be a disinterest in guarding the ball as their opponent easily got into the paint whenever they pleased.

Read the rest of this edition of Allen’s Alley…after the break!
Continue Reading » Allen’s Alley: Intensity must increase in SEC play

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Hawks’ Horford to miss 3-4 months with torn pec

Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford is expected to miss three-to-four months of action with a torn left pectoral muscle, the team announced Thursday.

Horford, named to back-to-back NBA All-Star games as a reserve, was averaging 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game before being injured against Indiana in the first quarter on Wednesday.

A career 12.8-point, 9.5-rebound per game player, Horford was named a team captain for Atlanta last year after signing a five-year, $60 million extension in Nov. 2010. He is one of the Hawks’ two best and most popular players.

Atlanta noted that injuries of this sort typically require surgery, but Horford will be going for a second opinion before making a final decision about what road to take. The three-to-four-month window will likely keep him out at least through the regular season and makes him questionable to return for the playoffs should the Hawks make it that far.

“We are very disappointed for Al and our team and we wish him the best as he moves forward in the rehabilitation process,” said executive vice president and general manager Rick Sund. “He has contributed greatly to our success since his arrival in Atlanta, and that’s evident by his selection to the NBA’s All-League [third-]team last season.”

Photo Credit: Atlanta Hawks

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Gator Bites for Thursday, January 12th

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» In a poll conducted by ESPN and calculated monthly, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow topped the December list as the United States’ favorite athlete. Tebow is “just the sixth different athlete to finish No. 1 in the monthly rankings since 2007” and, in the 18 years of the poll, only 11 different athletes have ever held that distinction.

» In addition to the Top 10 list OGGOA posted Wednesday from CBS’s the Late Show with David Letterman, Tebow was also brought up on TBS’s Conan. Host Conan O’Brien, claiming he was absent the budget to air actual game footage, had his staff put together a recreation of his game-winning play from Sunday…with peanuts replacing the players.

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, January 12th

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1/10: Florida-Georgia post-game news and notes

The No. 19 Florida Gators opened their Southeastern Conference home schedule Tuesday with a rout of Georgia, providing head coach Billy Donovan with plenty of things to talk about when he met with the media following the game. Florida is next set to play South Carolina on the road Saturday at 7 p.m.

INTENSITY BETTER BUT NEEDS TO BE EVEN MORE CONSISTENT

Donovan admonished the Gators following their loss on the road last weekend for the team’s lack of intensity and aggression away from home. Though Florida showed a renewed effort in both of those areas Tuesday, UF’s game was at home and not nearly as difficult of a situation. The Gators held Georgia to a season-low 48 points, which undoubtedly pleased Donovan.

“We did a pretty good job defensively,” he said after the contest. “Our effort was really there for most of the game. This was probably the one game I was disappointed in our rebounding, especially in the second half. We gave up way too many offensive rebounds and loose basketballs. I was much more pleased with our effort on that end of the floor, our level of awareness, being sharp, focused. I thought we defended them very well and obviously we held them to 48 points. You hold any team to 48 points, and I think you’ve done a pretty good job defensively.”

However, Donovan was still upset with one aspect of the game – Florida not putting their foot on UGA’s collective throat when up by 25 points and instead allowing their opponent to reduce their deficit by nearly 50 percent.

“You’re up by 25 points, how do they get back in the game? Well, they get back in the game by making threes, they get back in the game by offensive rebounds, and they get back in the game by [your team] making really poor decisions and taking quick shots on offense,” he explained. “We did all three of those things in the second half. We took quick shots, we gave up offensive rebounds and we gave them threes, so the lead goes from 25 or 22 down to 13 or 14. We’ve just got to have a little bit better awareness of what is going on.”

Sophomore center Patric Young, who grabbed 10 boards and scored just eight points, thinks the Gators could have done even better. “I feel like we should’ve held them to under 30, I’m just saying, because if you take away the offensive rebounds and the open threes and the second-chance points, it’s a completely different game,” he said.

BEAL, ROSARIO GETTING BACK TO NORMAL

Freshman guard Bradley Beal, one of the top high school players in the country last year, has shown major flashes so far with Florida but has also been quite inconsistent, turning the ball over plenty and going on some rough stretches of not being able to find the bottom of the hoop. He broke out of that slump Tuesday, tying for a game-high with 17 points on 4-of-6 shooting from downtown with 10 rebounds.

“The last couple of [weeks] one of the things he has struggled with is a comfort level – what’s open and what’s available. I really felt like the last couple of days in practice he was starting to figure some things out offensively in terms of when he should be looking to shoot, when he should be looking to pass,” Donovan said about Beal’s improvement. “That’s been something that’s bogged him down a little bit because he’s so unselfish, but I think he had a much better feel and flow today offensively than he’s had in a few games.”

Also stepping up was redshirt junior G Mike Rosario, who Donovan said had two great days of practice on Sunday and Monday. Additionally, Rosario is feeling better after suffering through back and ankle injuries and even scored seven-straight points to launch the Gators on a 22-4 run in the first-half that put them ahead 20 points.

After the game, Rosario said it “felt great to go out there and just be able to compete again to my full ability” and knows that there is “a lot that I can bring to the table for the team.” He also praised Donovan for the impact he has had on him both as a player and a person.

“We embrace all of Coach D’s challenges. Every challenge he brings to the table, we embrace it because it’s a step to get better in life and also it’s a step to get more mature as a man,” he explained. “When you got to take on challenges and be responsible for your actions, it says a lot about you as a man. So that’s what Coach D really wants us to focus on – being responsible and being on edge.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on Florida playing better on the this Saturday: “Can we now flip that switch mentally and be able to take that [intensity and effort] to the road? That’s the challenge in trying to help those guys do that. It will be something we’ll focus on going into Columbia.”

» Young on the Gators needing to step it up on the road: “When you’re on the road you have to play twice as hard because any team at home doesn’t want to get beat on their own court. We didn’t come out with that same effort. We came out with that average attitude that we could just come out like it was any other game.”

» Donovan on redshirt freshman forward Cody Larson practicing better recently and getting more playing time: “I’ve been really happy with Cody. He’s really worked hard. His attitude has been great. He’s done a really nice job. He’s come every single day with a great attitude – just works and gets better. Even in the Tennessee game I put him in for a couple minutes to rest Patric. You know what? He’s getting better and I feel more comfortable with him.”

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FOUR Tebow BITS: Top 10, marketing, support TWO BITS: early enrollees, Shaw’s destination

1 » The Late Show with David Letterman, one of if not the most popular late-night talk show in the United States, has aired a famous Top 10 list every evening since its inception. On Tuesday night, that list was based on little-known facts about Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Thanks to Twitter follower Erica S. for the heads-up.

2 » Six Florida Gators 2012 commitments have already enrolled early and begun their college careers this spring. As of press time, three-star defensive back Willie Bailey (Hallandale, FL), four-star guard Jessamen Dunker (Boynton Beach, FL), five-star tackle D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, NC), four-star JUCO defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (Scooba, MS), four-star linebacker Antonio Morrison (Bolingbrook, IL) and four-star wide receiver Latroy Pittman have joined the team and will participate in spring practice. However, three-star defensive end Quinteze Williams (Tyrone, GA) – who was expected to enroll early with his teammates – has not yet had his transcript approved by the NCAA Clearninghouse, according to ESPN.com. Williams and the school hope to have the situation “resolved by the end of the week” but worst-case scenario he can just enroll with the rest of the signees in the summer.

3 » Speaking of Tebow, a new article in Advertising Age takes a look at his marketing potential following a eventful and successful season. Rich Thomaselli believes Tebow “could become a $10 million a year endorser if he keeps delivering like he did over the weekend,” sourcing sports-marketing experts like Bob Dorfman of Baker Street Advertising. “He’s become an icon; he’s bigger than football,” Dorfman said. “He has the kind of marketing potential that could put him in the Tom Brady or Peyton Manning category.” Another executive, Darin David of The Marketing Arm, believes Tebow has already hit that category. “I’m not so sure he didn’t get to the $10 million level already after Sunday,” he said. “To do that in the playoffs, to do that against a team like the [Pittsburgh] Steelers, the game that was the highest-rated [wild card] playoff game in 20-something years? As a marketer, you want somebody like that. He doesn’t have the same kind of negative backlash as other players. He is just so newsworthy right now that you would want to capitalize on that.”

4 » On a conference call with New England media Tuesday, Tebow spoke about a number of topics heading into his second playoff game on Saturday.

On what he did to celebrate Sunday’s victory: “Honestly just when we left the stadium, I just went home and hung out with my close family, a few friends, my brothers and sisters and brothers-in-law, just hung out at the house and played with my nieces and nephews and had a good time.”

On if Sunday’s win matched his big wins at Florida: “I definitely was very blessed to have some great memories at Florida and very blessed to have some great teammates and special relationships and special wins.”

On how he and his teammates deal with the attention he gets: “For the most part it’s not like it’s something that you ask for. It’s something that, when they know that you care about them and that’s what matters, and you care about going out there and trying to get better every day and trying to be a great teammate, I don’t think they see the rest. Hopefully they see you as a friend and a teammate, and the rest is something that we laugh at and sometimes they make fun of you for.”

On going head-to-head with linebacker Brandon Spikes: “Yeah, that’ll be a lot of fun. I’ve gone against him enough times in practice. All of those spring practices we had, we had some fun going against each other. You’d like him on your team, but it’ll still be fun going against him. He’s a great player, and I wish him nothing but the best, and I look forward to giving him a hug. […] I remember a few times in some spring practices when he might have hit me a little light when I had one of those red jerseys on. He wasn’t supposed to hit me but he kind of gave me a little nudge.”

5 » Former Gators defensive back Joshua Shaw, who decided to transfer from the program after the regular season and was expected to attend UCLA next year, will instead transfer to USC, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com. Shaw, who wanted to return to the west coast and play closer to home, will be able to do so at a “prestigious school right around the corner,” his high school coach Jeff Williams told the website. ESPNLosAngeles also reports that Shaw will apply for a hardship waiver due to health problems in his family which could allow him to play in 2012 rather than wait until 2013.

6 » Tebow has been receiving plenty of support from around the sports landscape, but Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry went out of his way to praise the Denver quarterback after his team’s game Sunday evening. Gentry spent his entire post-game press conference talking about Tebow, which you can watch below:

The Suns team also had some fun with Tebow on Sunday. According to ValleyoftheSuns.com, Hakim Warrick Tebowed during the pregame huddle and a number of players were watching the Broncos game in the locker room before their contest began. In fact, Phoenix players “may wear Tebow jerseys to shootaround on Tuesday in Los Angeles in part to have some fun with trainer Aaron Nelson” (a big Pittsburgh fan). Thanks to reader Steven for the heads-up.

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No. 19 Gators pound Bulldogs 70-48 at home

Looking to rebound from a double-digit upset loss to Tennesee on the road last Saturday, the No. 19 Florida Gators (13-4, 1-1 SEC) put their collective foot to the pedal at home against the Georgia Bulldogs (9-7, 0-2 SEC), routing their border rivals 70-48 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Tuesday.

Breaking out of a four-game funk, freshman guard Bradley Beal led the Gators with a double-double of 17 points on 4-of-7 shooting (4-of-6 from downtown) and 10 rebounds. Junior G Kenny Boynton matched him with 17 points of his own and was equally efficient, hitting 5-of-8 shots from the field and all five of his free throws.

If intensity and aggression were what Florida was missing over the weekend, the Gators found those characteristics early in the game, jumping out to a 7-0 lead capped by Beal’s first three-pointer of the game. Georgia started 1-for-10 from the floor, but the Bulldogs eventually found their touch, scoring six-straight to reduce UF’s advantage to two.

That is when Florida broke out. Redshirt junior G Mike Rosario scored seven-straight points for the Gators and Beal added a trio of treys as part of a 22-4 run that gave UF a 20-point lead. UGA, however, took an 8-2 scoring stretch into the break to reduce their deficit to 14 points heading into the locker rooms.

Though Beal was strong for Florida in the opening half – hitting 4-of-5 shots from beyond the arc – the rest of the team took a while to get going, starting 0-for-6 from downtown.

The Gators extended their lead to 25 points early in the second half until an 8-0 run by the Bulldogs cut Florida’s advantage back down to 13 points with 7:02 left in the game.

Georgia kept the pressure on for a bit, but UF quickly got back to form, draining threes and playing quality defense. The Gators held the Bulldogs to just 48 points on the evening, a season-low for Florida’s defense.

UF has now defeated UGA in 10-straight games played in the O’Dome.

Boynton, who hit a pair of treys in the contest, moved into a tie for second on Florida’s all-time list of consecutive games with a three-pointer (Brett Nelson, 33). Gators sophomore center Patric Young got plenty of looks but scored just eight points to go along with a game-high 10 boards, which Beal also achieved.

Florida junior forward Erik Murphy was an uncharacteristic 0-for-4 from beyond the arc but notched two blocks in the contest and now has 13 over the last five games.

UF was once again outrebounded 34-33 by UGA, which had 14 takes via the offensive glass. The Gators only had eight assists on 24 baskets but turned the ball over just six times on the evening. Florida also shot 50 percent from the field (24-of-48) and 83.3 percent from the line (15-of-18).

Coming off a game in which their bench scored just one point, the Gators’ reserves posted 16 on Tuesday. Florida also maintained a lead the entire contest.

The Gators will look to keep their positive momentum going as they head back on the road to face South Carolina on Saturday at 7 p.m.. Florida is 0-4 in true road games this season and will look to earn their first victory live on Comcast Sports South.

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