3/29: Brown hurt, Brantley leads, Demps around

Eight days into spring football practice, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp is starting to get a feel for his team. On Tuesday, he provided some injury updates, talked about the quarterback situation, updated the status of a missing player and provided a bunch of information about the team in general.

INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt freshman running back Mack Brown (broken fibula): “Mack Brown sustained an injury Friday in practice. Broke a fibula, which is a non-weight bearing bone. It is a three-month procedure, and he will be in fine.” Brown will have surgery on Wednesday and should be active in July.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose (sprained ankle): Muschamp called his injury “nothing serious,” indicating that he will be back at full speed sooner than later.

Brown and Debose join junior RB Mike Gillislee (stress fracture in foot – limited for spring), redshirt sophomore defensive end Kendric Johnson (sprained knee – out for spring) and defensive tackles redshirt senior Jaye Howard (ankle scope) and redshirt junior Earl Okine (wrist) on Florida’s injured list.

BRANTLEY STEPPING GAME, LEADERSHIP UP

Coming off a rough first season as the starter, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley is doing well in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis‘s system. While Brantley is proving to be ahead of his primary competition – redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy and freshman Jeff Driskel – he still has a way to go in order to be 100 percent comfortable.

“John, in the sense of learning a new offense, is a freshman again as far as the different ball handling and different things Charlie has him doing,” Muschamp said. “I’ve been very pleased with how he’s managed our football team and made plays down the field vertically.” Asked if he was already anointed the team’s starter, Muschamp deflected the question. “John’s had a good spring. He’s playing well right now. He’s doing a nice job managing our offense. We’re in practice eight, and we’ve got a lot of time to go,” he said.

DEMPS WITH TEAM – JUST NOT PRACTICING

Though senior RB Jeff Demps is spending the vast majority of his time practicing with the men’s track and field team for their outdoor season, Muschamp explained that he has been around the football practice facility often, is doing what he can to get engrained with the new program and will get to work with football as soon as track ends.

“He’ll work through the whole summer. He’s been a part of all of our meetings and all of our walkthroughs, so he’s been our building. He’s been working on football,” he said. “He’s been a part of what we’re trying to do. Mentally he has an idea of what we’re going to ask him to do in the fall. This summer, after the outdoor season is over, our players will conduct seven-on-seven and team drills throughout the summer on their own without coaches. He’ll be involved with that. When we start camp in August, he’ll still be competing for the starting job.”

Muschamp also discussed his philosophy about dual-sport athletes like Demps and incoming freshman QB Jacoby Brissett. Specifically of Demps, he said, “If a young man wants to play two sports here, as long as he handles what he’s supposed to off the field and academically, I’m 100 percent for it as long as it helps the University of Florida.”

TEAM NOTES & QUOTES

» Redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey continues to separate himself from the pack, impressing his coaches as well as his teammates. “[He] has really had a good spring. He’s a guy that makes an awful lot of plays. Getting the ball deeper to him in the backfield helps him. He’s got great vision, cut-back ability and bounce ability. You got to be really gap-sound on him and the run game.”

» Muschamp said the offensive line has “progressed well” overall.

» A number of players were listed as having standout performances on both sides of the ball. “[Tight end] Jordan Reed did some really nice things last Friday as far as catching the ball vertically down the field. [WR] Quinton Dunbar made some plays Saturday in the scrimmage.” Muschamp also pointed out sophomore defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley as well as junior linebacker Jon Bostic, redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins, redshirt junior defensive end Lerentee McCray, sophomore safety Matt Elam and redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown as players who have impressed him.

» Muschamp said senior kicker Caleb Sturgis played well on Saturday and that he is “very pleased with his progress.” He also noted that freshman punter Kyle Christy was strong over the weekend.

» On how quickly the team is picking up the new systems: “We feel comfortable with where we are. It’s all relative. I’ve been pleased so far with retention on both sides of the ball and in special teams.”

» On Murphy and Driskel: “Both of them have made some plays. As far as the ability, the athleticism, the arm talent, the mental capacity to learn and to do things the right way – are all there [for Driskel]. He’s in his eighth college practice, and he’s in an offense where there’s a lot on the quarterback. […] There’s been some bright spots in both of those guys and a bright future in both of those guys.”

» On position flexibility: “We’re going to play the best players. Play the best players that give us the opportunity to be successful and win football games. […] You’ve got to be able to move guys around to find out if they can to do it because you don’t even know until you try a guy at a different spot. […] We’re just trying to experiment to build depth on our football team to get the best 11 on the field instead of just plugging a guy in because he’s a backup.”

» In addition to Dunbar, Muschamp said four other receivers have stood out: Debose, redshirt senior Deonte Thompson, redshirt junior Omarius Hines and redshirt junior Frankie Hammond, Jr.. He believes the team is in need of consistency past those five.

» On if he has any concerns about the size of sophomore CB Cody Riggs: “Cody’s a good football player. He’s got a tremendous heart [and] all the ability as far as playing hard and playing fast and doing the things you got to do to be a good football player. […] It’s not about how tall you are. It’s about if you make plays or not.”

» On the health of sophomore LB Neiron Ball: “He had a procedure done today and he’s going to be fine. We’re just working through that with him right now and his family. It’s an unfortunate situation but he’s a fine young man. Things happen in life sometimes that you don’t understand, but he’s handled this as well as you can handle it. We’re all praying for him and his family right now. He’s going to be fine; the prognosis is very positive and we feel very comfortable about where he is right now. […] I’m not worried about his football future. I’m worried about his overall health right now. The least part of my mind right now is worried about his football future.”

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FOUR BITS: Harvin, Taylor, Bullock, Macklin

1 » Due to his migraines and a coaching change mid-season, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin did not end up performing up to where he did when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie one year earlier. When If the 2011 season begins, Harvin will be more involved in the offense, according to head coach Leslie Frazier. “I still think there are more things that can be done with Percy [Harvin],” he told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “We did some things toward the end of the year where we definitely tried to isolate him, and that’s one of the reasons I pulled him off kickoff at times. I wanted to feature him more than we were. I wanted him to be a featured part of our offense. There’s different things we can do with him, and hopefully, Sidney [Rice is] in the fold and he’s healthy and there’s some things that we can do with him. Because of Adrian [Peterson], there are opportunities that we can do on the perimeter that a lot of teams can’t. But you still have to account for him on every single play. So, we have to be able to exploit in that sense and I think what we’re trying to do is build to be able to do that. Adrian creates a lot of good situations for our perimeter people.”

2 » Two months ago, veteran running back Fred Taylor sounded like he was going to call it quits after a 13-year NFL career including 10 as a featured rusher. Having amassed 11,695 yards and 66 touchdowns (as well as 290 receptions for 2,384 yards and eight more scorers) over his career, Taylor has noted that being healthy enough to spend quality time with his family is important going forward. On Monday, Taylor told Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union that being injured in 2010 may have “bought him some extra years.” At 35-years-old, it remains to be seen if he will decide to continue and what time, if any, would sign him.

3 » Former Florida right-handed pitcher Billy Bullock was traded from the Minnesota Twins – who drafted him in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft – to the Atlanta Braves on Monday in order to complete an long-standing deal. Bullock has spent his time as a professional in the minor leagues and pitched for AA squad New Britain last season, striking out 60 batters in 36 2/3 innings.

4 » Wrapping up Gators basketball for the 2011 season is this story from The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway on a tattoo redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin has on his forearm. Though he has 40+ tattoos, Macklin has one that means a lot more to him the rest – a memorial to his deceased grandmother. Read more about Macklin’s tattoo here.

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TWO BITS: James signed, Noah disappointed

1 » Former Florida Gators kick returer/wide receiver Brandon James, signed as an undrafted free agent by the Indianapolis Colts in 2010 but cut during the season, was picked up by the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL on Friday. Edmonton had traded their kick-return specialist and wanted to sign a dynamic player to fill his shoes. “With his speed and elusiveness, we believe Brandon has a chance to be an explosive talent,” Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman said in a news release picked up by the Edmonton Journal. “He was dominant in an elite conference as his record-breaking career reflects and on our bigger field, where returning punts, kickoffs and missed field goals are all a major part of winning in the Canadian Football League. We’re hoping Brandon will generate an abundance of excitement and big plays.”

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, who won a pair of national titles with Florida, was more concerned about the Gators game on Saturday than he was about his upcoming matchup with the Boston Celtics. According to ESPN Chicago, Noah was “huddled around a television while the rest of his teammates got dressed in the locker room” and was pacing back and forth watching the team in overtime. “You got the sense that if Noah could pull the fuzzy orange hat which sat atop his head all the way over his face, he might have done it,” the site’s Nick Friedell reported.

Noah also spoke to him on Friday about how close his team came to not winning back-to-back championships. “People have this feeling that we dominated for two years,” Noah said. “I’ll always remember playing in the Sweet 16 [in 2006] and Corey Brewer hitting a shot he’s never hit before with 10 seconds left to get us up one against Georgetown. If he doesn’t hit that shot, we probably don’t make it and win back-to-back titles. It just shows how funny this game is. You’ve got to stay on edge and stay focused and understand that you can’t take anything for granted.”

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Gators continue to roll through spring practice

With the men’s basketball team’s deep run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament dominating the front page over the last week, Florida Gators football took a backseat for once in people’s minds. Even so, football continued to make strides during spring practice and plenty occurred with the team throughout the last seven days.

CONGRATULATING THE BASKETBALL TEAM

Florida head coach Will Muschamp took a moment before he began talking about the football team on Friday to praise head basketball coach Billy Donovan and the efforts of his team. “I want to congratulate Billy Donovan and our basketball program with a great game [against BYU],” he said. “It’s a great example of competing and playing defense and coming together for a common purpose. That was exciting to watch.”

RAINEY CONTINUES TO STAND OUT

After a few days of spring practice, Muschamp pointed to redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey as one of the team’s most impressive players. He did the exact same thing on Friday. “I think Chris has had a phenomenal spring. Here’s a guy who’s a senior [and] has played a lot of football – some really good football – for the Gators, and he’s really worked his tail off as far as day-to-day going in and doing things you’ve got to do to be successful,” he said. “He’s enjoying getting the ball deeper I the backfield to have a chance for his vision and great cutback ability [to pay dividends]. You have to be very gap-sound defensively when he carries the football. He can take the ball all the way. I’m pleased with his progress.”

Muschamp also spoke about how offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will use Rainey’s talents to maximize what the team can do offensively. “Charlie Weis’ philosophy is [to] get the ball in the playmakers’ hands and create matchups,” he said. “Chris will be spread all throughout the field. The slot, outside, depending on how people want to play us defensively, he presents issues. You match a linebacker with him, you’ve got a matchup problem. If you put a secondary guy on him, generally, we we’re going to gain a matchup [advantage] somewhere else. He makes you show your hand defensively a little bit.”

INJURY UPDATES

Junior RB Mike Gillislee (foot): Stress fracture; will be limited remainder of the spring

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Kendric Johnson (knee): Sprained; will not participate for the remainder of the spring

Gillislee and Johnson join defensive tackles redshirt senior Jaye Howard (ankle) and redshirt junior Earl Okine (wrist) on UF’s spring injured list.

QUOTES

Muschamp on four-star quarterback commit Jacoby Brissett possibly playing basketball: “Billy has been a little busy. We haven’t had a whole lot of conversation, but in the recruiting process, that door is open for Jacoby. We’re going to let him make that decision. Once we get done with spring and Billy gets done winning the whole thing there, we’ll sit down and talk about it. […] We’ve been very honest and forthright with that situation. It’s hard, especially at that position, but we’ve told him from the beginning that if that’s something he wants to do, we’ll certainly make that accommodation to make sure it happens.” This quote above comes courtesy of The Gainesville Sun

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Florida ends 2011 season with tough OT loss

Putting together a fantastic run to end the season, the No. 2-seed Florida Gators fell just short in the Southeast Regional Final of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, dropping a heartbreaker 74-71 in overtime to the No. 8-seed Butler Bulldogs. It was the first time in school history that the Gators fell in the Elite Eight and did not advance to the Final Four. The teams’ coaches and players spoke with the media following the contest, and OGGOA has compiled the most important news, notes and quotes for you to peruse below.

SENIORS GO HOME DISAPPOINTED

Saturday’s loss was devastating for the entire Florida program but perhaps no one more so than the team’s trio of seniors – forwards Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus and redshirt center Vernon Macklin.

“Right now it’s tough to end a season like that, especially for me with Chandler, Alex and Vernon,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “They’ve provided so much for our program, and I’m proud of them. The thing I mentioned to them in the locker room after the game was that, when a group of guys decide to come together and try to become a team – a real team – a lot of great things can be accomplished. When you go after trying to accomplish something, there is the other side that the losing is even more painful because you have so much invested in each other. When you have that kind of investment in each other, losing at this time becomes much more difficult. These guys came together as a team, and the losing part hurts, and you want it to hurt because you want to get the opportunity to play for what we played for [Saturday].”

Macklin was the most despondent of the three in the post-game press conference, sitting with his head in his hands looking down at the table. Unlike Tyus, who talked about just moving on, he and Parsons were able to articulate their thoughts. “It’s been a great run. I love my teammates. I love my coaching staff. I’m sad to see it all end right now, but it’s been a great time at Florida,” Macklin said. “I’m glad I came here and got a chance to play with these guys, play under Coach Donovan and with this coaching staff.”

Parsons added that he will likely feel this pain for a while. “It hurts right now. It’s what it was made out to me. It is everything I thought it was,” he said of playing in the Elite Eight. “I had a great career here. I loved every day coming to practice, playing with my teammates. I loved the opportunity that we had tonight. Right now it’s just disappointing because we fell short. We wanted to be out there right now celebrating. It just hurts to end this way. […] I haven’t been in this situation. It hurts right now, so right now I have a terrible feeling. I almost feel sick to my stomach. My career is not over. I plan on playing basketball for a long time, so I can’t dwell on it my whole life. But it’s definitely a disappointing time, a sad time for me, because I wanted to keep playing with these guys.”

DONOVAN OUTCOACHED STEVENS, NOT OTHER WAY AROUND?

Sentiment from Gator Nation following UF’s loss Saturday was that Donovan had been outcoached by Butler’s Brad Stevens because Florida took threes at the end of regulation and overtime. However, according to Stevens himself, Donovan did a number on him the entire game. “[The Bulldogs] carried their coach today in a big way. I got outcoached big-time,” he said. “The last thing that I’m going to do is question [the Gators], because I got outcoached pretty thoroughly today. We’re just lucky that our guys are good players.”

VIDEO: See handshake, final one-fourth of the clip.

What is lost in the rush-to-judgment opinions and extreme calamity about Florida’s final shots are two facts: (1) A team was on the floor defending them so the Gators could not do whatever they wanted, and (2) The execution of each play was not necessarily how Donovan drew it up. To conclude regulation, junior point guard Erving Walker was supposed to try to penetrate and either draw a foul or kick the ball open to someone for a potentially shorter jump shot. At the end of overtime, sophomore guard Kenny Boynton should have taken it to the hoop rather than launched a deep three.

“I don’t try to coach anybody else’s team. [Donovan]’s going to be a Hall of Famer whenever he decides to retire,” Stevens said. “I understand what they were doing at the end of regulation. You don’t want to give us the ball at all. The reason [Walker] didn’t get any penetration is because we trapped the ball screen and stayed up with him. He got a pretty good look for a pretty good player. I know this: I was scared when the shot went up. I wasn’t scared when Boynton’s last shot – that heave from about 80 feet – went up.”

Donovan shared similar sentiments. “You want to put the ball in a guy’s hands that you feel like can make that kind of shot,” he said. “In regulation, we got Erving Walker a great look; he told me he had a great look and was really wide open. He was disappointed he missed that one. […] I probably would have liked to seen Kenny drive the ball when we were down by one, I would have preferred that. But he’s another guy that has made some big shots for us. I would have liked to have seen him drive the ball to try to create some contact. You know what? He’s made some shots in some really big situations for us to even be at this position. It’s hard for me to say it’s a bad shot. I would have liked to have seen him drive the ball. He’s made some huge threes in second halves of games and overtimes for us all year long. If it goes in, we’re talking about how Boynton’s clutch shooting continues. But it didn’t go in, and that’s what happens.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO MACKLIN?

By all accounts, Macklin had a dominant game for the Gators in the post. However, three early fouls and a fourth tacked on exactly two seconds after he returned with 9:02 to play in the second half made him ineffective. His free throw shooting down the stretch also made him a liability that Florida could not gamble on in the clutch.

“I felt like Vernon was going to have the opportunity to play on-on-one from the post. He had a great game, gave us a big-time scoring presence inside,” Donovan said. “We went to Vernon to start overtime, and he was 1-for-2 from the free throw line. Certainly we were trying to go inside, but when Vernon comes off the floor, I don’t know necessarily if we have a low-post offensive presence. I knew at that point in time, they were just not going to allow him to do what he did in the first half. If he was going to get an angle, they were going to foul him. I made a decision to at least pull him out and go with Patric [Young]. Patric probably, as a freshman, is not as seasoned and polished as Vernon is as a senior, so he’s a hard guy to go to. And Alex is not that kind of physical presence.”

Even Macklin agreed that he should have been off the court. “[Being in foul trouble was] frustrating. I wanted to be on the floor,” he said. “[I was pulled for] two different reasons. I’m not that great of a free throw shooter, so I didn’t want to jeopardize my teammates. I think Coach Donvoan made a great decision. I picked up some early fouls and some dumb fouls I shouldn’t have got. That’s on me; I should have been in the right position.”

DIFFERENCE IN THE GAME: GRABBING LOOSE BALLS

Things unraveled for the Gators at about the same time Macklin picked up his fourth foul. The Bulldogs went on a quick run to reduce UF’s 11-point lead, partially because Florida was unable to grab a number of loose balls and defensive rebounds which gave Butler a extra possessions. “The difference in the game was right around the 9:00 mark; there was an enormous amount of loose balls that we did not come down with that they came down with,” Donovan explained. “We had two three-point shots that were blocked; they came down with and scored. We had a couple free throws where they missed – one we actually tipped the ball in – that hurt. The game was won by them on loose balls.”

QUOTES

Donovan on his team’s effort: “They became a team. They gave themselves an opportunity to go to the Final Four, and they fell short of that, but they did everything in their power physically, mentally and emotionally to try to win.”

Donovan on if the players will realize what they did accomplish: “They’ll all get over it. It will take some time. Right now we lost, but there will be a time when they look back on where they were in December and they’ll see a better picture of how far they came. You never want it to end. You want it to keep on going.”

Donovan on a frustration about not getting the ball in the post more at the end: “I was pleased with our balance offensively. I thought we had really good inside-outside action. I would have liked to have utilized Vernon a lot more in the second half, but it was hard because he was in foul trouble. Once we got into overtime and the end of regulation, because of his free throw situation, we had to play Patric.”

Donovan on if Parsons and Walker were not in a groove: “The one thing you have to do in order to be a really good team is you have to have balance. In the BYU game, they sold out on Vernon Macklin on every post catch. They sold out on him. So he had to be a post passer. This was a game where they decided to take our perimeter away. You got to throw the ball to Vernon and you got to let him score. He did a heck of a job tonight when we needed to throw the ball to him.”

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Mack outdoes Macklin as (8) Bulldogs eliminate (2) Gators in overtime, 74-71

Blowing an 11-point second-half lead and missing two three-pointers with the time ticking away in overtime, the (2) Florida Gators (29-8) were eliminated from the 2011 NCAA Tournament on Saturday, falling to the (8) Butler Bulldogs (27-9) 74-71 in the Elite Eight at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, LA.

Despite redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin posting a career-high 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting, his four fouls proved to be a liability down the stretch. Butler guard Shelvin Mack was quick and elusive all game, scoring a game-high 27 points including his team’s final five in extra time.

Starting the game with gusto, Mack was responsible his team’s first eight points as Macklin countered by contributing 13 of his team’s first 25.

The Gators used a 7-0 run to jump out to a 10-point lead with 7:01 remaining, but the Bulldogs finished the half on a 17-8 run to cut UF’s advantage to just one point.

The Gators frontcourt scored their first 18 points of the game and was responsible for 11-of-12 baskets in the opening half; a fastbreak dunk from sophomore guard Kenny Boynton was the backcourt’s only field goal.

Butler forward Matt Howard began the second half with a bang, hitting a three-pointer out of the gate to give the Bulldogs their first lead since 14:12 remained in the first half.

Leading 37-35, Butler missed 13 of their next 14 field goals as Florida took off on a 14-3 run – including eight points by senior F Alex Tyus and a pair of layups by Boynton – to jump ahead a game-high 11 points, 51-40. Macklin, who sat on the bench for four minutes with three fouls, picked up his fourth two seconds after he returned and immediately left the court with 9:00 to go.

The Bulldogs did not wait long to get back in the game, using a miscue by Tyus and a quick pace to create a 9-2 run that cut the Gators’ lead to four points with 6:35 to play.

After sitting out 7:48 due to his four fouls, Macklin returned to the court for Florida. However, Butler continued to chip away at their deficit, using a 5-0 run to tie the game at 57 apiece with 3:02 remaining in the contest.

With the Gators leading 60-59 and 33.7 seconds left, the Bulldogs inbounded the ball to Howard, who missed a jumper but was fouled with 30.7 seconds still on the clock. He proceeded to hit only one of two free throws, but Walker missed a trey at the buzzer to send the game into overtime tied at 60.

Tied at 62, Butler F Khyle Marshall turned an offensive rebound into a three-point play, putting his team ahead with 3:33 to play. With the Bulldogs back up three, Boynton found himself open at the top of the key and hit a huge three to tie the game at 67 with 2:21 left.

Two free throws by BU later, Walker put the Gators back ahead with his first field goal of the game, a three-pointer from the left elbow. Mack responded in kind, hitting a dagger trey to give Butler a 72-70 lead. On the line for two shots, Walker only hit one and the Bulldogs got the ball back with 52.1 seconds left and a one-point advantage.

Mack missed an open three-pointer on Butler’s next possession, giving the ball back to Florida down one with 29.2 seconds remaining. Quick out of the timeout, Boynton clanked a long but open three-pointer and Howard stole the rebound from Tyus, who fouled Mack on the next inbounds play. Mack hit both free throws, allowing the Gators one last chance to hit a three with 10.6 seconds to go.

Receiving the ball from Boynton, Walker threw up a three-pointer with eight seconds left but hit the front of the rim as the Bulldogs ran on the court to celebrate their second-straight appearance in the Final Four.

Butler hit nine more treys than Florida, a major difference in the game considering how cold UF was from beyond the arc. Howard was the Bulldogs’ only other double-digit scorer, posting 14 points and five rebounds.

Tyus achieved his second-straight double-double for the Gators with 14 points and 10 boards, while Boynton contributed 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Walker, who was a sloppy 1-for-10 from the field and 1-for-7 from three, added eight points (five on free throws).

Florida’s loss was their first in the Elite Eight in school history; previously the Gators were 4-0 in the NCAA Regional Finals, advancing to the Final Four each time and the national title game on three occasions. Butler won its first overtime game of the season on Saturday; they were 0-3 before the victory.

THREE NAMED TO ALL-REGION TEAM

Tyus, Macklin and Boynton were all honored with nominations to the 2011 NCAA All-Southeast Region Team. They were joined by Howard and Mack of Butler, the latter of whom also won the region’s Most Valuable Player award.

Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

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2011 NCAA Tournament: (2) Florida vs. (8) Butler

Event: 2011 NCAA Tournament – Elite Eight
Location: New Orleans Arena – New Orleans, LA [Capacity: 18,500]
Time: 4:30 p.m. (EST)

TV: CBS / CBSHD
Online Video: —->
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(2) FLORIDA GATORS (8) BUTLER BULLDOGS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Brad Stevens
Record: 29-7 Record: 26-9
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Horizon League
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -4; O/U 132

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is making its second-straight and 16th overall NCAA Tournament appearance. The Gators are 32-13 all-time in the event with two national titles, three championship game appearances and four Final Four appearances.
» UF is playing in the NCAA Regional Final (Elite Eight) for the fifth time in school history; they are 4-0 and have advanced to the Final Four on every such occasion. The No. 2 seed is their second-highest opening position in school history, and their .711 all-time NCAA Tournament winning percentage is the highest in SEC history.
» Butler is making its second consecutive NCAA Regional Final appearance and fourth in the last nine years. The Bulldogs are 16-10 all-time in the event and have earned a postseason berth in 13 of the last 15 seasons.
» The Gators are 3-0 all-time in New Orleans Arena.
» Florida and Butler are meeting for the third time in the history of the two programs. The Gators are 2-0 all-time against the Bulldogs with both games played at neutral sites.
» The two teams share a pair of common opponents this season – Florida State and Xavier. UF defeated FSU 55-51 on Nov. 28 and beat XU 71-67 on Dec. 31, while Butler took down the former 67-64 on Dec. 23 and fell to the later 51-49 on Dec. 9.
» Donovan is 25-8 all-time in the tournament including two national championships and three Final Four appearances. His .758 winning percentage at the Big Dance is fourth among active coaches and second all-time among SEC coaches. He is also the youngest active coach to win a national title (age 40 in 2006).
» The Gators are 16-3 against the 2011 NCAA field and finished the regular season with the third outright SEC championship in school history (1989, 2007). Florida has captured five overall SEC titles including four under Donovan (2000, 2001, 2007, 2011).
» UF averages a +13.8-point margin of victory in 25 NCAA wins under Donovan.
» The Gators are 23-2 when holding an opponent under 70 points this year.
» Florida has won 21 of their last 25 games (and 13 of their last 15 – only losses coming to Kentucky) including 18 against RPI top 100 teams.
» The Gators are the only NCAA Division I team not to have a player foul out of a game this season. They lead the nation in fewest fouls committed per game (14.5).
» UF is 11-3 when senior forward Chandler Parsons takes 10+ shots from the field. He has moved into the top 20 in school history in scoring (1,435 points) and is the only active Division I player with over 1,300 points, 800 rebounds, 300 assists and 125 steals. He also became the sixth player in school history with 500+ career field goals.
» Florida bests Butler in three of four major national statistical categories. The Gators lead the Bulldogs in rebounding 37.5-34.9 (49th-177th), assists 13.7-12.5 (106th-190th) and field goal percentage .462-.446 (51st-122nd); however, Butler scores more points than Florida 72.8-71.5 (71st-98th). The Gators also lead the Bulldogs in scoring defense with 63.0-65.6 points per game, opponent field goal percentage .421-.430, rebound margin +5.6 to +3.9 and shot blocking 3.6-1.6. UF ranks 10th in RPI (.6353) and sixth in strength of schedule nationally compared to BU being 38th (.5853) and 77th, respectively.

LAST TIME OUT…

Florida and Butler first met in the opening round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament, when the Gators used a buzzer-beating runner (video) from guard Mike Miller in overtime to defeat the Bulldogs 69-68. Trying to defend the school’s first national championship, UF also went head-to-head with BU in the Sweet 16 of the 2007 NCAA Tournament, taking them down 65-57 on their way to a second-straight NCAA title.

KNOW THE OPPONENT

No. 8-seed Butler is the regular season and tournament champions out of the Horizon League. After putting together their sixth-straight 20-win season. The Bulldogs are 16-3 in the month of March in the last four years under Stevens and are currently on a 12-game winning streak. BU won its first two games of the tournament – against Old Dominion and Pittsburgh – in exciting fashion with game-winning shots to end the respective contests. Butler then beat up on Wisconsin 61-54 in the Sweet 16 to earn a match-up against Florida. The Bulldogs are 3-3 against teams ranked in the RPI top 25 with all three victories coming during the tournament.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Parsons…the 2011 SEC Player of the Year and a unanimous All-SEC First Team selection…who is averaging double-digit points (11.5) while leading the Gators with 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He is sporting a 22:8 assist-to-turnover ratio in the NCAA Tournament, which is much improved compared to his season average.
» Junior point guard Erving Walker…who was marred in a shooting slump but has rebounded and is still leading his team in scoring with 14.8 points per game while also leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.420) and three-point percentage (.394). Walker also leads Florida in both turnovers (85) and steals (40). He is shooting 51.7 percent (15-of-29) from the field and 55.5 percent (10-of-18) from downtown in the NCAA Tournament. Walker is averaging a team-best 18.3 points in those games while also hitting 71.4 percent (15-of-21) of his attempts from the line.
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably the Gators’ most talented player but struggles with consistency. Boynton is shooting 38.1 percent from the field and 33.1 percent from beyond the arc; he is second in scoring with 14.1 points per game and makes a team-high 82.1 percent of his free throws. He has scored in double figures in 15-straight games and has made at least one three-pointer in each of those contests.
» Senior F Alex Tyus…who is averaging career-lows in points, rebounds and field goal percentage and is the only starter who does not score in double digits. He is averaging 8.9 points and 6.1 boards for the season but has stepped his game up in the tournament with averages of 11.7 points and 12 rebounds.
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-best 58.4 percent from the floor as a starter this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game while being a major presence for UF.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are Florida’s primary reserves each averaging approximately 17.5 minutes per game. Wilbekin leads UF in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.33:1), while Young averages 3.4 points and 3.8 boards.
» Butler F Matt Howard…who averages team-highs in points (16.8) and rebounds (7.8) while playing 30.6 minutes each game. Howard also hits 44.0 percent of his threes and shoots at a 49.2 percent clip from the floor while connecting on 78.9 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
» Bulldogs G Shelvin Mack…who plays a team-most 31.7 minutes per game, averages 14.6 points each contest and dishes a team-high 3.6 assists per game.

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Florida ready for Elite Eight game vs. Butler

With the 2011 NCAA Tournament Southeast Regional Final between the No. 2-seed Florida Gators (29-7) and No. 8-seed Butler Bulldogs (26-9) just hours away from getting underway, there are a number of storylines being discussed going into the contest. OGGOA has compiled some of the latest news and notes surrounding the Florida-Butler game airing live on CBS Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.

DEFENSIVE EFFORT DIDN’T HURT BOYNTON

Coming into the game with questions about a now week-old sprained ankle, sophomore guard Kenny Boynton silenced any worry right away, explaining that he feels healthy and is ready to go again on Saturday. “It feels great. I did some icing last night to help it out a little more, and when we get back to the hotel, I’m going to ice it some more,” he said. “My playing level is good. I got tired a little bit last night because I hadn’t practiced a lot this week. But I think it’s going to come back to me with more running.”

BUTLER IS NO “CINDERELLA”

Carrying a No. 8-seed with nine losses coming out of the Horizon League, Butler has been dealing with the “Cinderella” tag for quite some time. However, as Florida head coach Billy Donovan points out, that tag no longer fits the 2010 NCAA Tournament finalists. “Last year you had Butler making it to the national championship game. I think Butler has proven that they’re as good as any program in the country,” he said. “And you don’t get to a national championship game or the amount of Sweet 16s that they’ve gotten to by just being a Cinderella story. That doesn’t happen year after year.”

BUYING IN TO DONOVAN’s SYSTEM

After a rough start to the season including some dumbfounding losses, the Gators made a concerted effort to buy into what Donovan and his coaching staff were preaching as 2010 came to an end and 2011 began. The players understand now, more than ever, that playing together as a team yields better results than looking for individual glory.

“We relied on [the coaches] a lot. We’ve got all the trust in the world in [Donovan] and he’s done a great job,” junior point guard Erving Walker said. “Out of all of us, he’s the only one who’s been in these situations and moving forward, and we just trust him and the whole coaching staff.” Senior forward Chandler Parsons shared similar sentiments. “Our whole team has totally bought into what they’re saying and what they’re preaching to us,” he added. “We’re just trying to do exactly what they say because they’ve obviously had success and they obviously know what they’re talking about.

Part of accepting Donovan’s plan for the team was relinquishing the potential for high-scoring individual efforts. “We all understand that we’re willing to do whatever it takes for us to win. Any given night, anybody can score,” Parsons said. “I don’t think there’s any selfishness and we just love playing with each other and our chemistry on and off the court is great. We play very unselfish and it doesn’t matter who’s scoring, just whoever is open gets the ball, and we’re not worried about that stuff, we’re just worried about winning.”

PREVAILING IN CLOSE GAMES

One of the main ways Florida has improved in 2011 compared to 2010 is in their ability to pull out tough victories and come through in the clutch. Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin explained in detail how the team has changed their mentality in those situations. “For the most part, we come together and we grind it out in the huddles. Chandler does a lot of talking,” he said. “After Coach Donovan and the coaching staff speak, we just get in the huddle again and talk amongst each other. We want to go out there and play as hard as we can and fight until the horn go off.”

Parsons detailed what he talks about at that time. “Just maintaining a level of focus throughout the whole game and understanding that anything can happen on any given play,” he said. “You can’t take anything for granted and play until the buzzer stops.” He also discussed the difference in the team’s mentality. “We were confident last year, but I think this year we’re doing a better job of staying focused and keeping our composure and understanding what’s there on offense and not forcing anything,” Parsons said. “And we understand that when we need to get a stop, we have to step up and get a stop together. We’re just very confident at the end of games and very comfortable in those situations.”

QUOTES

Donovan’s opening statement: “Well, we’re playing against a team that is extremely physical, don’t think there’s any question about that, a team that has got a lot of players that know about success in this tournament from last year. […] They’re a hard team to guard offensively, and I think our guys understand that we’re playing against a terrific team that is very talented, physical and gifted and playing terrific basketball right now.”

Donovan on Mike Miller’s buzzer-beater vs. Butler in 2000: “In order to experience something like that, you’ve got to be in the NCAA Tournament. And that group before that experienced a very devastating loss to Gonzaga at the buzzer to go to the Elite Eight. If you look at the best programs in the country and you look at the amount of years and how many times they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament, that’s where you have a chance to do something really special. You’ve got to get there often enough to make a run at it, and certainly Mike’s shot and play gave us the opportunity to play another game. And that was the first-round game, but it gave us an opportunity to continue on and move on and advance. When you get a chance to advance and move on in this tournament, it’s always very exciting for your program and for your players.”

Parsons on defending Bulldogs star F Matt Howard: “He’s very difficult to guard. He’s one of the most physical players in the country and he plays smart and just relentless and he doesn’t stop and he’s got a really good motor. So a guy like him, he just battles for 40 minutes and you’re not going to get anything easy with him just because his effort is off the charts.“

Boynton on Donovan recruiting him in high school: “When he was recruiting me in high school, he showed a lot of, I’m going to say — he kept coming at me. He came to all my games in the summer, and I heard that he played at Providence. I watched some tapes on him, and I knew he was a guard, and he let his guards play. I watched Erving Walker his freshman year playing. He just lets his guards play freely and he had great success with the 2006 and 2007 national championship.”

Tyus on if he thinks about pulling his name from the 2010 NBA Draft: “No, I really don’t think about it too much. You know, I just try to stay in the moment, concentrate on what I have to do at that time. I’m really happy about where we’re at right now, and I just want everything to just keep going on.”

Donovan on recruiting Walker: “I kind of followed him because I knew Erving had a strong interest, and then all of a sudden I started to watch the guy and he’s playing against Rice, Kemba Walker, playing against a lot of really good players in New York City and saw him on the AAU circuit and there was something about him that he learned to overcome his size, and then he obviously had a huge growth spurt and he went from about 5’4″ to about 5’8″. [Laughing] But he ended up — I think it’s the internal things that make up Erving Walker. It’s not the physical attributes, it’s the internal things, his mind, his understanding, his competitiveness. He’s had to overcome to be a good player.”

Donovan on Stevens taking “his” title of best young coach: “I’ve never looked at it that way as it relates to age. A lot of times it’s what you’re exposed to and what you have a chance to experience. And Brad has been around a lot of terrific people, a lot of terrific coaches, and he’s a terrific coach himself. And I think a lot of times people can label somebody based on their age, and I don’t think that that’s fair to Brad. Brad has been a terrific coach, you know, before he made it to the national championship game a year ago. And he was a terrific coach before last year started. I think the one thing I respect and admire about Brad in getting to know him is he’s got a great passion and enthusiasm for the game and for coaching, and I also think he has a tireless and relentless attitude to try to get better and improve. And he loves the game. But a lot of times people look at someone’s age and at what point are you past young? Are you calling me old now, because I don’t feel like I’m that old, you know? (Laughter).”

Donovan on Stevens consulting with him in the offseason: “Brad was just talking to me just about his team, and he just wanted to know maybe some experiences. I’ve known Brad for a long time and I would consider him a good friend. He comes down to our clinic every summer, he’s on our campus and we’ve spent a lot of time together. So it was one of those things where he was just reaching out looking to share ideas, and you know what, he shares ideas with me, too. We bounce different things off each other, and it’s great when you get a chance to be able to talk to someone like that.”

Donovan on scouting Butler: “What ends up happening is – and I’m sure this is no different for Butler. Coming to New Orleans on Wednesday or Tuesday night, our staff had basically divided up. We had obviously somebody that was scouting BYU, but our staff had started watching Butler and Wisconsin right after we played UCLA. So the first that these guys really heard anything in depth about Butler was really this morning because it was a late game by the time we got back from the arena and had those guys get some rest and get up this morning. So most of what they started to hear in depth and in detail really started this morning and then obviously continued on at practice today.”

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