2/5: Parsons leads resilient, battle-tested team

No. 23 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 after Saturday’s hard-fought 70-68 win against the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (16-6, 4-4 SEC), Florida’s second win against a top 25 opponent in one week.

WELCOME TO THE CHANDLER PARSONS SHOW II

Florida played quite well as a team Saturday, but if you had to pick a most valuable player down the stretch it would be no one else than senior forward Chandler Parsons. Notching his fifth double-double of the year while leading his team in points (17), rebounds (12) and assists (five), Parsons also hit a clutch free throw at the end of the game (though he did miss another). He won the SEC Player of the Week award on Monday after scoring 35 points and grabbing 23 boards while posting back-to-back double-doubles this week.

“The one guy I thought offensively was really, really good was Chandler Parsons. He had an incredible game. Kenny Boynton gave us great points in production early in the game in the first half, but Chandler was really a complete game,” Donovan said. “I don’t know since I’ve been here if I’ve ever played a guy 20 minutes in the second half. That may be the first time I’ve done that. I wanted to rest him, I wanted to try to get him out of the game, but he was doing too many things. Defensive rebounding, starting the break… I felt like I needed him to facilitate offense against their zone. He was offensive rebounding. He really had a complete game all the way through.”

Donovan continued heaping the praise on Parsons.

“Visually, the greatest growth I’ve ever seen from a player that I’ve coached here at Florida since Joakim Noah,” he said. “[Noah went] from a total enigma – ‘Who is this guy? He plays eight minutes a game.’ – to potentially being the first player taken in the NBA Draft, winning a National Championship and being the finals MVP. Visually, you can see that. Chandler has made the same kind of jumps and steps in terms of understanding what this all is about.

“He came in with a very poor understanding of competition, work ethic, all that goes into this. Where he was from the first day he arrived on campus to where he is now is as great of a jump I’ve seen from a guy in terms of just changing in every possible way. I’m really, really proud of him because he had some stretches there earlier in the year where he really wasn’t shooting the ball well. He knocked down two free throws against Vanderbilt at a crucial time; he made one out of two tonight – I know he was 3-for-6. There’s a presence there with him where he, as a player, is giving me, as a coach, a confidence of him being very reliable.”

WILBEKIN, TYUS SPLIT THE HALVES (After the break…)
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Florida holds on to top Kentucky 70-68 in thriller

With ESPN College GameDay in town and an opportunity to set themselves apart from the pack in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern division, the No. 23 Florida Gators (18-5, 7-2 SEC) fought off a late surge by the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (16-6, 4-4 SEC) to prevail 70-68 over their divisional rival on Saturday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Up a game-high 13 points with 11:50 remaining in the contest, Florida allowed Kentucky fight back and re-take the lead with a 17-3 run over the course of six minutes. However, the Gators would hang in there and out-score the Wildcats 5-2 over the final two minutes of the game to come away with the win.

Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons registered team-highs in points (17), rebounds (12) and assists (five) for his fifth double-double of the season and the 12th of his career. He has now grabbed 10 or more boards in five-straight games and posed a double-double in back-to-back contests as well as three of the last five.

Kentucky scored the first six points of the game before redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin posted five straight to cut Florida’s deficit to one. The Gators took the lead three times in the first half, going into the locker rooms up 34-32 even though Wildcats guard Jon Hood hit a buzzer-beating jumper to end the opening period.

UF started the second half with a 7-0 run to go up nine and an 8-0 run to take their game-high 13-point lead, 55-42. UK answered in kind with their explosive 17-3 run to jump ahead 59-58 with 5:43 remaining in the contest.

The teams traded leads from that point forward with two free throws by Kentucky G Brandon Knight giving his team a 66-65 advantage with 2:05 left. After two free throws by Florida junior point guard Erving Walker, senior F Alex Tyus took over.

Tyus played great defense on Wildcats F Terrence Jones to force a missed jumper, grabbed the rebound and hit a nice jump hook from the baseline on the alternating possession to put the Gators ahead 69-66 with 1:13 to go. Jones responded with a power drive and dunk to make it a one-point game with 43 seconds remaining.

With Macklin on the bench and freshman C Patric Young in for free throw purposes, Parsons was the worst shooter on the court from the charity stripe. Walker worked the clock down before eventually passing to Parsons, who was purposely fouled with 12.7 seconds remaining. He missed the first shot but hit his second attempt from the line, putting Florida ahead two.

Kentucky immediately drove the court, but Knight missed an open three to end the game.

With a school-record 12,663 fans looking on in the O’Dome, the Gators defeated the Wildcats for the ninth time in their last 13 meetings. Florida improved to 15-1 when holding an opponent under 70 points this season and has now won 13 of its last 16 games with 10 victories against RPI top 100 teams.

Struggling from the line this year, UF shot 81.8 percent from the charity stripe. Macklin, the Gators’ worst free throw shooter, was a perfect 3-for-3 from the line and finished with 11 points. After being shut out in the first half, Tyus scored all eight of his points in the second and added four rebounds and two blocks.

Florida’s backcourt of Walker and Boynton both struggled from the field. Walker was 1-for-9 from the floor but 6-for-6 from the line, and Boynton was 4-for-12 from the field and 3-for-3 from the charity stripe; each was 1-for-6 from downtown.

Knight posted a game-high 24 points for Kentucky and hit all four of his three-pointers before missing the potential game-winner. Jones added 18 points and seven rebounds.

The Gators out-rebounded the Wildcats 28-27, dished one more dime, coughed up two fewer turnovers and committed eight less fouls. It is the sixth-straight game Florida has hit the boards harder than their opponent.

Now having defeated their second-straight top 25 team inside a week, UF has three days off before traveling to Columbia, SC to face South Carolina on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The game will air live on SEC Network; check your local listings for availability.

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

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No. 23 Florida vs. No. 11 Kentucky Gameday

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 12,000]
Time: 9:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN/ESPNHD
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Online Audio: Yahoo!
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

No. 23 FLORIDA GATORS No. 11 KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 17-5 (6-2) Record: 16-5 (4-3)
Division: SEC East Division: SEC East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Kentucky -1; O/U 134

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Kentucky leads the all-time series against Florida 88-32; the Wildcats swept the Gators last season. However, Florida is 8-4 in their last 12 games against Kentucky and is 8-6 when facing them at home under Donovan.
» Calipari is 2-0 against Donovan as UK’s head coach.
» The Gators have won 12 of its last 15 games with nine victories against RPI top 100 teams. Florida is 10-3 at home this season (3-1 against the SEC).
» UF is 3-1 in overtime this season, 3-0 in SEC games that go to overtime and 7-3 this year in games decided by six points or less (4-0 against SEC opponents). Their four overtime games tie a single-season school record (1978-79).
» Florida improved to 14-1 when holding opponents under 70 points this season after holding No. 24 Vanderbilt to 61 points on Tuesday.
» The Gators have out-rebounded their last five opponents by +8.0 rebounds per game and have averaged 15.4 offensive rebounds per game in that same time frame.
» The Wildcats are winning their games by a SEC-high 15.1 points per contest. Kentucky is also the best-shooting team in the conference from beyond the arc, connecting on almost 40 percent of their attempts.
» Kentucky bests Florida in three of four major statistical categories including points per game 77.5-71.1 (29th-123rd), rebounds per game 39.5-39.2 (23rd-26th) and field goal percentage .459-.454 (77th-104th). However, The Gators dish one more assist per contest 14-13 (107th-175th) than the Wildcats and hold their opponents to fewer points per game 61.6-62.4. UK ranks 10th in RPI (.6488) and 13th in strength of schedule nationally compared to UF being 17th (.6316) and seventh, respectively.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Junior point guard Erving Walker…who is leading his team in scoring with 14.5 points per game and leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.425) and three-point percentage (.383). Walker also leads the Gators in turnovers (57) and became the 47th player in school history to score 1,000 points earlier this season.
» Senior forward Chandler Parsons…who is back to averaging double-digit points (10.7) while leading the Gators with 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Parsons ranks No. 1 among active SEC players in rebounds (741), No. 3 in points (1,280) and No. 4 in assists (279) and steals (117).
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-best 57.8 percent as a starter this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.1 points and 6.3 rebounds a game while being a major presence for Florida.
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably UF’s most talented player but is struggling with consistency in his field goal percentage. Boynton is only shooting 35.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second on the team in scoring with 13.0 points per game and hits 82.5 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 Tuesday against Vanderbilt.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are the Gators primary reserves each averaging 17.1. Wilbekin, in relief of Walker, leads Florida in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5:1), while Young averages 3.4 points and 3.4 boards off the bench.
» Kentucky G Brandon Knight…who plays a team-high 35.0 minutes as a freshman, averages 17.2 points per game and picks up nearly four rebounds and assists per contest, too. Knight and Boynton are friends who grew up and played both against each other and together in South Florida.
» Wildcats F Jeffrey Taylor …who leads his team in scoring and rebounding with 17.9 points and 9.0 boards per game.

ESPN COLLEGE GAMEDAY

Visiting Gainesville for the first time since 2008 and third time overall, ESPN College GameDay emanated from the O’Connell Center Saturday at 10 a.m. and will once again with a pregame show an hour before the game begins. Donovan and Calipari were both interviewed in the morning; you can view the video below to see what they had to say.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Dunlap, Jenkins, Horford

1 » Just because Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow earned the starting nod for the team’s final three games last season does not mean he is guaranteed to retain that job next year, new team president John Elway said this past week. “Kyle [Orton] is definitely in the equation,” he said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that we’re going to trade Kyle Orton. At all. We still have to evaluate that. A lot of people think it’s an automatic, but it’s not.” With player trades not able to be completed until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed, Orton would not be traded any time soon no matter what Elway and new head coach John Fox decide is best for the team.

2 » ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Saturday that Cincinnati Bengals rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who concluded the 2010 season with an impressive 9.5 sacks (a franchise rookie record), has left agent Todd France and signed with Drew Rosenhaus. He currently has three years remaining on a four-year, $3.01 million contract with Cincinnati that included a $1.22 million signing bonus, $1.779 million in guaranteed cash and an additional $649,000 available through incentives.

3 » Receiving a commitment from four-star QB Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) on Friday, the Florida Gators were only awaiting word from one more potential signee. That wait is now over as four-star junior college defensive tackle John Jenkins (Perkinston, MS) officially committed to the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. Florida has now finished the 2011 recruiting cycle with 19 commitments . Their class (not yet updated to include Brissett) is ranked No. 14 by Rivals, No. 18 by Scout and No. 12 by ESPNU.

4 » Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford was provided an opportunity to live up to his NBA All-Star billing as he was tested with the game on the line Friday. With nearly no time remaining and his team down one, Horford drove the lane and was met by Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, who impeded his track to the rim with a flagrant foul. Landing on and injuring his back, Horford was slow to get up but eventually reached the line and hit both free throws to propel Atlanta to a 101-100 victory.

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SIX BITS: Pounceys, Jenkins, Meyer, Martin

1 » Contrary to his insistence that he would end up suiting up for Super Bowl XLV, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey will not be participating in the NFL‘s championship game on Sunday. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin told ESPN‘s Adam Schefter on Friday that Pouncey has yet to practice this week and, therefore, would not be ready to play. The former Florida Gators star suffered a high ankle sprain (and possibly a broken bone, too) during the AFC Championship against the New York Jets, left the game early and has yet to step on the field since. He is one of two former Gators (left tackle Max Starks) who are on the Steelers; neither will play in the Super Bowl as Starks has missed the majority of the season with an injured neck.

2 » While Maurkice watches the Super Bowl from the sideline, his brother Mike Pouncey is preparing for the 2011 NFL Draft. AOL Fanhouse interviewed the brothers this week and notes that Mike is doing whatever he can to get drafted early (perhaps higher) than his twin brother. The most interesting piece from the article, however, is Mike saying he prefers to play tackle instead of center or guard in the NFL. “You never know where you are going to play until you get to camp, but I honestly hope I get the chance to play tackle at the next level because I feel I am athletic enough,” Mike said. “When Maurkice went in [at Pittsburgh], he started at right guard before they moved him to center. I am just looking forward to the opportunity.”

3 » Four-star junior college defensive tackle John Jenkins (Perkinston, MS) is set to announce his commitment on Saturday but has already decided where he wants to go, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “At this point I feel like I have decided; I’ve picked my school,” Jenkins told the paper Friday. “But I’m just gonna get in one last prayer tonight before I go to sleep before tomorrow. I’ll just pray that I’m making the right decision, which I believe I am, and just go with it after that.” Deciding between Florida, Georgia, Auburn and Miami, Jenkins is believed to have UF and UGA as his final two schools. The No. 6 JUCO recruit in the country according to Rivals, he took his last official visit to Gainesville, FL but was favoring Georgia before taking the trip.

4 » Former Gators head coach Urban Meyer is headed back to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish…for a few hours. A former Notre Dame wide receivers coach, Meyer will be the featured presenter for the 2011 Notre Dame Football Coaches Clinic, an annual event by the university.

5 » Former Florida quarterback/punter/wide receiver Ingle Martin, who had a four-year career as a back-up in the NFL after transferring to Furman, was named the head football coach for Christ Presbyterian Academy high school in Tennessee on Friday.

6 » On Feb. 1, OGGOA first reported that seven former Gators would be participating in the 2011 NFL Combine. The University of Florida made an official announcement today, so we are referring you back to our original post.

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2/3: Donovan on struggling starters, experience

No. 23 Florida Gators (17-5, 6-2 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 from his media availability on Thursday.

STRUGGLING STARTERS

Though redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, senior forward Chandler Parsons and junior point guard Erving Walker have by all accounts had solid seasons up to this point, Florida’s other two starters have yet to find a consistent groove. Donovan is not overly concerned with that fact, pointing out a few nuances to each player’s game.

“He really made a great jump in my opinion coming out of the Mississippi State game,” he said of sophomore guard Kenny Boynton. “In the Mississippi State game, he had some really, really good looks – open looks – and the ball didn’t go in the basket for him. And I really thought that affected him on the defensive end and his energy. He did a phenomenal job on [John] Jenkins. I know he scored 22 points, but it wasn’t from the three-point line, it wasn’t wide-open looks. I think we made him work for it. He got to the free throw line. He had some drives. Even though he was not having a prolific scoring night, he really was locked in defensively to try to do the best job he could on Jenkins.”

For his part, Boynton is getting the message Donovan is sending. “I just try to put the last play behind me,” Boynton said of his attitude when he’s struggling to knock down shots. “Coach Donovan, he doesn’t want anybody out there frustrated or thinking about the last play, he just wants us to play whether or not our shots are falling. Last year was pretty hard for me to do because I wasn’t used to it. This year is easier; [I] just go back and play defense the next possession.”

With senior F Alex Tyus, Donovan thinks the guys he has had to go one-on-one with have caused the biggest problem. “The one thing that’s been hard for Alex is he’s had a lot of very, very difficult match-ups at the power forward spot,” he said. “He’s had some really, really difficult match-ups. Alex has really been trying to focus on defending. Because when you’re going against those kind of guys, and we’re trying to provide some help for him, you probably have a tendency to focus a little bit less on your offense. […] You look at the match-ups he’s had to go against, there’s going to be a dip in offensive production because he’s had to focus so much on playing defense.”

EXPERIENCE DOESN’T WIN GAMES

Asked how the team’s veteran leadership and experience of playing four overtime games (and winning three) this season will help in the future, Donovan simply said it will not by noting that age and “being there” before don’t matter nearly as much as performing to the best of your abilities.

“I don’t think so,” he said of the notion. “Last year’s Kentucky team with all those young guys did pull out close games. There was a thought when I had [Joakim] Noah, [Al] Horford and [Corey] Brewer and they were all sophomores that there was no NCAA Tournament experience … and you have to have an experienced team to go deep into the tournament … and they proved that wrong.

“Just because we’ve won some close games does not ensure the fact that we’re going to win all of them going forward. Anything that’s happened in the past has no bearing on the next time you’re in that situation other than the fact that there’s a level of familiarity. You still have to make the plays that are necessary [to win the game]. You still have to execute, perform and do those things in those situations. Just because you did it last time doesn’t mean you’re going to do it [another] time. You got to execute, focus and do the right things at that time to the best of your ability.”

Parsons neither agreed nor disagreed with Donovan but did point out that the team’s three overtime victories have given the Gators more confidence as a unit. “Having four overtime games and winning three of them really shows something about our team and how we keep playing,” he said. “It’s all about effort, executing our offense, playing defense and getting those big stops when we need them. And then obviously our guys coming up with some big shots.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
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Horford earns second-straight NBA All-Star nod

Former Florida Gators forward/center Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks has been named a reserve for the Eastern Conference in the 2011 NBA All-Star Game.

His second-straight All-Star selection, Horford also played in the 2010 game along with then-New York Knicks F/C David Lee. He scored eight points on 4-for-5 shooting and accounted for four rebounds in 12 minutes of action in the game.

“It’s a real honor to be nominated to that game,” he told OGGOA in an exclusive interview last year. “The coaches really have a lot of weight into that decision, and I felt really special that they picked me over a lot of other guys.”

Horford continues to improve each year and is currently riding career-highs in points (16.1), rebounds (9.9), assists (3.6) field goal percentage (56.7) and free throw percentage (81.3). He has 24 double-doubles on the season and is fifth in his conference in field goal percentage.

The No. 3 overall selection in the 2007 NBA Draft, he was named a team captain this season and signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension in November 2010.

Al Horford for ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive

Photo Credit: Unknown

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TWO BITS: McGriff walks on, Williams signs deal

1 » Gainesville High School quarterback Ryan McGriff has accepted a preferred walk-on offer from Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and will enroll in the University of Florida this summer, according to The Gainesville Sun. The son of former Florida tight end Mark McGriff and grandson of Gator Great and All-American wide receiver (and outfielder) Perry McGriff, Jr., McGriff will be the third person in his family to wear the orange and blue. He told the Sun that Muschamp contacted in just after being hired in December and that former head coach Urban Meyer had not previously offered him the opportunity.

“It’s not a scholarship, but it’s the next best thing for me at my dream school,” he told the paper. “I’ve lived in Gainesville my whole life, so it’s pretty much a dream come true, actually. I’m moving a mile and half from my house. It can’t get any better than that. […] I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not a big-name recruit. As a local kid, I know what it takes to work hard and earn what you get. I have no problem being the scout team quarterback, helping the defense, helping the offense, learning whatever signals, holding. Whatever I can do to help them be a better football team.”

2 » Waived by the Orlando Magic last week, former Florida point guard Jason Williams has signed a one-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies Williams, who was upset at his lack of playing time this season, will compete to be the back-up PG in Memphis. This is the second time Williams will play for the Grizzlies; he was acquired by them in a trade in 2001 and played there through the 2004-05 season.

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