2/10: Gators avoid a letdown, praise Parsons

No. 17/19 Florida Gators (19-5, 8-2 SEC) head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes following his press availability Thursday.

AVOIDING A LETDOWN AT SOUTH CAROLINA

On Monday, OGGOA noted that all but one of the Gators’ losses this season have come after a hard-fought and/or impressive victory. Florida fell to Central Florida after beating Florida State 55-51 on the road, lost to Jacksonville in overtime after defeating then-No. 6 Kansas State in South Florida, dropped a tough one to the South Carolina Gamecocks following a 81-75 overtime win at Tennessee, and lost to Mississippi State after taking down Georgia 104-91 in two overtimes. Coming off two difficult home games against top 25 opponents, UF was successful in not repeating that trend Wednesday.

“They really came into our place and outplayed us [on Jan. 15],” Donovan said. “Besides having a week of playing against Vanderbilt and also playing against Kentucky, we were also going to play against a team that beat us. Our guys had a respect level going into Columbia knowing that this team beat us on our home court, knowing it was going to be a battle and a challenge at their place.”

PARSONS TURNING THINGS AROUND

What senior forward Chandler Parsons has accomplished on the court over the last few weeks is undeniable. Marred in a shooting slump and seemingly lacking confidence early in the season, Parsons has begun to ignore outside influences and is instead concentrating on doing one thing – winning basketball games.

“The biggest thing with him is playing without intention. When you go into a game with intentions to do anything, or you have intentions of how the game is going to go or what you’re trying to do in the game, that’s generally going to lead to a lot of bad things,” Donovan said. “Chandler’s in a place right now mentally that he’s playing, he’s making good decisions, he’s making good passes, he’s rebounding the basketball, he’s shooting at the right time, he’s passing at the right time and he’s really playing with no intention. The only intention he’s playing with is to make the next best play. He’s grown in that area.

“It’s not necessarily the scoring, it’s not necessarily the rebounding or the assists, it’s just him playing the right way. When you’re a good player in today’s day and age, there’s a maturity you have to have to deal with the expectations – both internal expectations, outside expectations, expectations to get to the next level. If you’re not mature enough mentally, and you let that stuff creep in, it can really have an ill effect on how you play.”

Teammates redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin and junior point guard Erving Walker are notably impressed with how Parsons has been playing. “He realizes how much he can do for this team,” Macklin said. “He’s one of the more versatile players I’ve ever played with in my life. He’s just taking his time, playing, and helping us out a lot.” Walker agrees. “That’s what we’ve expected from him the whole time. Being 6’10” and so versatile, he can shoot, pass and rebound,” he said. “He’s been playing with a lot of confidence, and we just want him to keep it up.”

For his part, Parsons realizes he was forcing things earlier in the season. “[I was] trying to get involved and stuff like that. I’ve realized – just let the game come to me,” he said. “I’m going to take what the defense gives me but at the same time be very aggressive, not just try and score [but also] try to get my teammates open shots, try to get our big guys the ball down low and try to rebound, defend.” Now he’s doing his best to handle the success he’s found. “I don’t really feel pressure. When you’re playing, you can’t put expectations on yourself or your team, you just got to keep playing and keep trying to get better,” he said. “It really is irrelevant what other people say; you just have to keep playing your game.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 2/10: Gators avoid a letdown, praise Parsons

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FOUR BITS: Donovan, Tebow, Brissett, Drayton

1 » Head basketball coach Billy Donovan, who has won two NCAA National Championships (in three title game appearances), captured multiple Southeastern Conference Championships and led the Florida Gators to unprecedented heights since he took over the program in 1996, may be on the verge of earning his first SEC Coach of the Year award if the Gators continue their winning ways over the final handful of regular season games. FOX Sports Florida’s Bill Koss examines how Donovan has missed out on the honor previously, even though he’s on the verge of leading Florida to its 13th consecutive 20-win season. Donovan has been overlooked for the award on at least three occasions; this year his former assistant Anthony Grant, now head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, may stand in his way. Though Alabama is 15-7 on the season, they are 7-1 in the SEC and have won 10 of their last 11 games.

2 » Publishing house HarperCollins announced in November that it will be releasing Through My Eyes, described as “an inspirational memoir by one of the greatest college football quarterbacks of all time: the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, two-time national champion at the University of Florida and current Denver Broncos first round draft pick, Tim Tebow” in April 2011. Companies like Amazon.com have begun taking pre-orders as the book’s release date has been pushed back to May 24. HarperCollins will initially print 200,000 copies of the book, which Tebow will promote via appearances/signings in Denver, CO, New York, NY, and various cities in the state of Florida. An audio book will also be available, and Through My Eyes will be released for the Amazon Kindle as well. You can pre-order it by Clicking Here.

3 » Four-star quarterback Jacoby Brissett indicated that the possibility of playing basketball as well as football was something he was considering when deciding which school he would commit to last week. Brissett chose the Gators which begs the question: How do the head coaches feel about his desire to play two sports? “As far as I’m concerned, in talking to Will [Muschamp], if he wants to be a part of our team, he’s more than welcome to do that,” Donovan said Thursday. “You talk about a guy missing workouts in September. October we start practice. November, December, January – he comes into (basketball) practice completely not knowing one thing. Now, as practice starts, he tries to go from football shape to basketball shape. Now, as we start to go toward the SEC Tournament, they start spring practice. I think what’s going to end up happening is he’s going to have to make a decision.” That being said, Donovan does think he is talented and capable enough to see the court. “There’s no doubt in my mind, watching him play, if he dedicated all his time to basketball he could definitely play here at Florida,” he said. “I think he’s a very, very good player.”

4 » Some Gators fans were confused when former running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton left Florida to take the wide receivers coach job with the Ohio State Buckeyes. However, listening to Drayton explain his decision, it makes perfect sense. “In 17 years of coaching, I’ve never had the opportunity to be around my family,” Drayton told BuckeyeSports.com. “My kids are born and raised in Florida, so they’ve never had an opportunity to be around their grandparents. […] I’m a Buckeye by heart. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I used to go to coach [Jim] Tressel’s camps as a high school football player at Youngstown State. I had always admired his career, always tried to model myself on some of the principles that he holds his program to. I followed his career and always had a dream of coming back to Ohio State, I just didn’t know when.”

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FOUR BITS: Honor roll, Claye, Loeffler, Mitchell

1 » Forty-six student-athletes attending the University of Florida were named to the 2010 Southeastern Conference Fall Academic Honor Roll on Wednesday in a release by commissioner Mike Slive. The football and soccer teams led the way with 19 players apiece receiving the honors; volleyball added the other eight. Notable players on the list include senior punter Chas Henry, senior defensive end Duke Lemmens, senior DE Justin Trattou, redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis, freshman quarterback Trey Burton, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. and redshirt freshman linebacker Jelani Jenkins. Florida’s total of 46 was tied (Vanderbilt) for third-best in the SEC, following South Carolina (79) and Georgia (47).

2 » Florida Gators junior jumper Will Claye has joined sophomore sprinter Jeff Demps and junior jumper Christian Taylor on The Bowerman’s 2011 watch list. Awarded by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), The Bowerman honors the sport’s best overall athlete each year.

3 » Left without a job when new Gators head coach Will Muschamp decided not to retain him as quarterbacks coach, Scot Loeffler has found a new position as offensive coordinator and QB coach of the Temple Owls under former Florida offensive coordinator now Temple head coach Steve Addazio. Loeffler is the sixth assistant coach with a Gators connection to be hired by Addazio for his first staff. He joins Owls defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, wide receivers/special teams coach Zach Smith, offensive line coach Justin Frye, defensive line coach Sean Cronin and strength and conditioning coach Frank Piraino. OwlScoop.com first reported the signing via Twitter.

4 » While Florida waits for redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario to complete his transfer season, Rosario’s former team, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, is benefiting from a UF transfer. Former Gators forward Jonathan Mitchell, now a senior, had a game-winning four-point play for the Scarlet Knights in their 77-76 upset victory over No. 10/9 Villanova on Wednesday. Check out the video by clicking here.

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Gators get revenge with 79-60 win at Gamecocks

Looking to avenge their only Southeastern Conference East division loss of the season, the No. 17/19 Florida Gators (19-5, 8-2 SEC) traveled to Columbia, SC on a mission and took down the South Carolina Gamecocks (13-9, 4-5 SEC) 79-60 Wednesday evening at the Colonial Life Arena.

Junior point guard Erving Walker led the Gators with a season- and game-high 25 points, and senior forward Chandler Parsons added 14 points and 12 rebounds for his third-straight double-double and fourth in the last six games.

Florida started the game on a 9-0 run as South Carolina missed their first eight shots from the field. The Gamecocks answered back by scoring seven-straight points but failed to even-up with the Gators. UF closed the first half with an 8-0 run to take a 14-point lead and entered the locker rooms up 38-27 after USC hit a three toward the end of the half.

Though Florida outplayed South Carolina early on, both teams coughed up 10 turnovers; the Gators shot 60.7 percent from the floor while the Gamecocks only hit 39.3 percent of their attempts to start the game.

Florida kept their collective foot on the pedal in the second half, using a 9-2 run to jump ahead 53-35 with 13:58 left. The Gators would eventually take a game-high 19-point lead, 57-38, with 11:32 remaining and ended up tying that mark on a three-pointer by sophomore guard Kenny Boynton with the clock running down at the end of the game.

Walker scored his 25 points on 7-for-9 shooting and hit 4-of-5 attempts from downtown, while Parsons nearly had the team’s first triple-double since 2009 by also registering eight assists. Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, who made all six of his first-half shots for 14 points, finished with 16 to go along with six boards.

South Carolina G Bruce Ellington, who scored 23 points against Florida on Jan. 15, was held to a team-high 14 points on 6-of-19 shooting. F Sam Muldrow added 10 points and led the Gamecocks with six rebounds.

With their first win in Columbia since 2008, Florida has now defeated South Carolina in 21 of their last 27 meetings. Head coach Billy Donovan won his 350th career game in orange and blue Wednesday as he watched his team improve to 16-1 when holding opponents under 70 points this season. The victory over the Gamecocks also marks the first time the Gators have won six road games since the 2005-06 season.

Having now won 11 of their last 13 games, Florida returns home to face Tennessee on Saturday at 6 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN.

Photo Credit: Mary Ann Chastain/Associated Press

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No. 17 Florida at South Carolina Gameday Preview

Location: Colonial Life Arena – Columbia, SC [Capacity: 18,000]
Time: 8:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: SEC Network
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Online Audio: Yahoo!
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

No. 17 FLORIDA GATORS USC GAMECOCKS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Darrin Horn
Record: 18-5 (7-2) Record: 13-8 (4-4)
Division: SEC East Division: SEC East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -4.5

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida leads the all-time series against South Carolina 36-22 and has won 20 of the last 26 meetings in the series. However, the Gators have lost back-to-back contests against the Gamecocks including a 72-69 defeat in January. UF is also 20-11 against USC under Donovan, which includes a 5-3 record in Columbia.
» Eleven of the last 13 games (including January’s contest) between Florida and South Carolina have been decided by six points or less.
» The Gators have won 13 of their last 16 games with 10 victories against RPI top 100 teams. Florida is 5-1 in true road games this season and can reach six victories on the road for the first time since 2005-06.
» UF is 4-1 against the SEC East this season after finishing 3-7 in the division last year.
» The Gators earned back-to-back victories against ranked opponents for the first time since 2007 after defeating then-No. 24 Vanderbilt and then-No. 11 Kentucky last week.
» Florida improved to 15-1 when holding opponents under 70 points this season after limiting Kentucky to 68 points on Saturday.
» Donovan is one victory shy of notching 350 wins with the Gators.
» Florida bests South Carolina in three of four major statistical categories including points per game 71-70.3 (117th-152nd), assists per game 14-11.6 (100th-278th) and field goal percentage .453-.415 (102nd-278th). However, the Gamecocks and Gators are relatively even in rebounding with USC holding a slight advantage 39.0-38.9 (27th-29th). UF ranks 14th in RPI (.6352) and sixth in strength of schedule nationally compared to their opponent being 95th (.5444) and 117th, respectively.

LAST TIME OUT…

Florida and South Carolina will square off for the second time this season; the Gamecocks defeated the Gators 72-69 in Gainesville, FL on Jan. 15. In the contest, Florida rallied back from a double-digit deficit but finished 12-for-22 from the charity stripe and missed their final five throw attempts, points which could have won the game.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Senior forward Chandler Parsons…who is back to averaging double-digit points (11.0) while leading the Gators with 7.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Parsons ranks No. 1 among active SEC players in rebounds (753), No. 3 in points (1,297) and No. 4 in assists (284) and steals (117). He has notched consecutive double-doubles and now has five this season alone.
» Junior point guard Erving Walker…who is leading his team in scoring with 14.2 points per game and leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.413) and three-point percentage (.373). Walker also leads Florida in turnovers (59) and became the 47th player in school history to score 1,000 points earlier this season.
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-best 57.5 percent as a starter this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.1 points and 6.1 rebounds a game while being a major presence for UF.
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably the Gators’ most talented player but is struggling with consistency in his field goal percentage. Boynton is only shooting 35.6 percent from the field and 29.7 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second on the team in scoring with 13.0 points per game and hits 83.3 percent of his free throws.
» Senior F Alex Tyus…who is averaging career-lows in points, rebounds and field goal percentage as a starter. Tyus became just the fifth player under Donovan to reach 500 career field goals, accomplishing the feat last Tuesday against Vanderbilt.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are Florida’s primary reserves each averaging just over 17 minutes per game. Wilbekin, in relief of Walker, leads UF in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5:1), while Young averages 3.3 points and 3.4 boards off the bench.
» South Carolina G Bruce Ellington…who leads his team in scoring with 14.4 points per game and dishes out 3.4 dimes per contest. Ellington posted 23 points against Florida on Jan. 15, his second-highest total of the season.
» Gamecocks F Sam Muldrow and G Ramon Galloway…who each average 10.8 points per game as the team’s other two scoring threats. Muldrow adds 7.2 boards and 3.5 blocks in 28.6 minutes per contest.

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FOUR BITS: Parsons, Gillespie, basketball praise

1 » Just a day after being named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week, Florida Gators senior forward Chandler Parsons was honored with the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week award by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. Parsons averaged 17.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals in back-to-back wins last week against No. 24 Vanderbilt and No. 11 Kentucky, Florida’s first consecutive wins against ranked opponents since 2007. He is the first Gators player to ever pick up the honor, which was instituted last season, and earns an automatic nomination to the Oscar Robertson Trophy watch list.

2 » If you think Florida head coach Will Muschamp’s first choice to replace former running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton was to simply change tight ends coach Brian White’s responsibilities and hire someone in his place, that would be an incorrect assumption. In fact, the Gators initially reached out to former Florida running back Robert Gillespie, who accepted the same position with the West Virginia Mountaineers one month earlier. For Gillespie, not returning to his alma mater was possibly the toughest choice he has had to face as a coach. “I’m a man of my word,” Gillespie told The Daily Athenaeum. “I left a good job at Oklahoma State to come [to West Virginia], and I gave [offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen] my word that I would help him build this program. [Florida's] a place that holds a special place in my heart, but I didn’t make a decision based off of emotions.”

3 » Looking at No. 17/19 Gators basketball’s status for the 2011 NCAA Tournament, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan considers them an absolute lock to make a second-straight appearance in March Madness…this year with a much better seed.

How impressive is Florida’s NCAA tourney profile at this point in the season? Let’s count the ways: The Gators have the benefit of high RPI and strength of schedule numbers, as well as a 6-1 record against the RPI top 50 and an 11-2 record against the top 100. They’re also 7-2 in conference play, which puts them alone atop the jumbled SEC East standings. They added notches to all three of the aforementioned belts Saturday night with their huge home win over Kentucky. After that win, few teams in the nation can boast a more impressive résumé against top competition than the Gators. Welcome to lock territory, Florida fans. It’s all smooth sailing from here.

4 » Similarly complimentary is Sports Illustrated, which pegs Florida as an elite program who suffered a downturn but is quickly gaining steam once again.

Florida took a step back to respectability last season by winning 21 games and reaching the NCAA tournament, and had expectations ratcheted up this season with all five starters back to go with a talented freshman class. The Gators opened the season at No. 9 and moved to No. 17 this week after dropping out of the polls. Florida (18-5) bumped off No. 10 Kentucky over the weekend and No. 23 Vanderbilt before that to take control of the SEC East at 7-2 – and another step back toward notability.

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2/7: Donovan hopes to ride momentum wave

No. 17/19 Florida Gators (18-5, 7-2 SEC) head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes following his press availability Monday.

AVOIDING A LETDOWN AFTER A BIG WEEK

All but one of the Gators’ losses this season have come after a hard-fought and/or impressive victory. Florida fell to Central Florida after beating Florida State 55-51 on the road, lost to Jacksonville in overtime after defeating then-No. 6 Kansas State in South Florida, dropped a tough one to South Carolina following a 81-75 overtime win at Tennessee, and lost to Mississippi State after taking down Georgia 104-91 in two overtimes. Coming off two difficult home games against top 25 opponents, UF looks not to repeat a trend Wednesday at USC.

“We are at an interesting time right now in our league, because we will start to play people in the East for the second time,” Donovan said of his team’s second game against South Carolina. “[We’re] going to Columbia against a team that I thought played very, very well here in Gainesville, they really out-played us all the way through. Their front court did a great job blocking shots. I thought when the game was close [Bruce] Ellington, really made some key free throws and some key plays coming down the stretch. It was a hard-fought game; a game that they really out-performed us, and out-played us, and we now have the challenge of going there to play.”

He also realizes the Gators must mentally adjust to being successful and adapt accordingly. “There’s got to be a level of awareness and a step that we can make to understand what we got to do. We do have a very, very clear visual understanding that the team we are playing against beat us already – and beat us on our home court. We’ve got to understand why we got to do to get better,” Donovan said.

“They’ve got to understand very, very clearly what we have got to try to do against South Carolina. They are a great offensive rebounding team. They are a great shot-blocking team, and they are a team that takes a lot of three-point shots. Those things really, really hurt us. Our energy and our effort; emotionally, can we get to a level that we need to get to on Wednesday night to try and play at the very best of our ability?”

PARSONS’s RESURGENCE

Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons has improved his offense substantially over the past few games, but what he has done rebounding the ball has been equally impressive. Donovan notes that his growth in that area is simply due to putting himself in the right place at the right time and being aggressive.

“The biggest thing is, for any rebounder, he’s active. He makes the effort to go to the glass. When you are a small forward like he is, there is an advantage there for his size because he is on the perimeter a lot,” he said of Parsons. “It is a lot more difficult, believe it or not, for Vernon Macklin or [Alex] Tyus to rebound the ball when you are in a smaller space. For a guy like Chandler, who is playing on the perimeter, it’s a lot easier to see flights of balls and run in. The tendency when someone’s on the perimeter a lot of times is not to block them out, to lose sight, to be caught in a rotation. That gives him a lot of times the free run to go in there. It helps us when he defensive rebounds, because of his size he can start to break and run quickly without having to outlet the ball. He provides effort when he goes to the back board.”

GOOD DEFENSE MAKES UP FOR POOR SHOOTING

Junior point guard Erving Walker, perhaps the team’s best pure shooter at this point, continues to struggle at points either for portions of games or for full contests. Saturday was one of those nights as he went only 1-for-9 from the field (1-of-6 from downtown) and scored six of his nine points from the charity stripe. Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton has also had issues scoring this season, mostly stemming from his reliance on the three-pointer. Donovan believes that even though the duo may not be shooting as well as he’d like, what they’ve done on the other end of the floor has been huge.

“I thought [Walker] was really pretty good [Saturday],” he said. “I did not think that he forced very many shots; he took nine shots. He really tried on defense. He had a huge steal that he got fouled on when we were down. He ran our team. I did not think he got to a point where he was over-penetrating and trying to be too aggressive and make too many plays. He and Boynton, when the ball goes in or out, it is going to be kind of part of it with them. I do think both guys try at the other end of the floor. Boynton has been on some tough matchups these last couple of games. He gives it to me at the end of the floor; both those guys try to do that.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 2/7: Donovan hopes to ride momentum wave

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TWO BITS: Brissett signs LOI, Murphy to Duke

1 » Four-star Florida Gators quarterback commitment Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) officially sent his National Letter of Intent to the University of Florida Monday morning, head coach Will Muschamp confirmed early in the afternoon. “Jacoby will be a good fit in our program,” Muschamp said in a UF release. “He is an outstanding quarterback and we are excited to have him join the Gator family.” Check out Brissett’s whirlwind commitment process and what he brings to the table.

2 » Five-star 2012 forward recruit Alex Murphy (Southborough, MA), the brother of Florida sophomore F Erik Murphy, committed to the Duke Blue Devils over the weekend after strongly considering UF and several others programs. Alex told FOX Sports‘ Jeff Goodman that telling Gators head coach Billy Donovan he would not be heading to Gainesville, FL like his brother was the most difficult part of the process. “They started recruiting me before anyone else,” Murphy told Goodman. “I had such a good relationship with Coach Donovan, obviously my brother, and a lot of their players. That was hard for me. It basically came down to them and Duke.”

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