Takeaways: Pitching, freshmen keep Florida Gators baseball steady through SEC opener

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer

Over the last two weeks, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball (18-3, 2-1 SEC) split a home-and-home series, cleaned up at home against two non-conference opponents and won its first Southeastern Conference series of the season.

Florida came up short in its first major road test of the season, falling 4-3 to the No. 14 UCF Knights in Orlando on March 4, though the Gators regrouped and won the rematch 10-2 in Gainesville the following evening. Florida then went on to sweep the Maine Black Bears in its final non-conference weekend series (5-0, 6-1, 5-3) and avoided any midweek letdown with a pair of wins against the Fairfield Stags (8-7, 6-1).

The Tennessee Volunteers dominated Florida for eight innings in the Gators’ SEC home opener and eventually claimed a 6-3 win, but UF captured the series with a 8-3 victory on Saturday and 9-4 rubber-match win on Sunday.

Here are five takeaways from the last two weeks:

1. Lefty longmen provide a big boost: Much has been said of the Gators’ strong weekend rotation, but Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has made great use of the versatility offered by his southpaws including senior Bobby Poyner (0-1, 3.13) and junior Danny Young (1-0, 0.63). On Saturday against Tennessee, Poyner (4.0 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 K) relieved sophomore left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk (5.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, BB, 8 K) in the sixth and stayed on for the remaining four frames to collect his second save of the season. Young (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, ER, BB, 7 K) notched a career-high seven strikeouts in five dominant innings of long relief to earn the win in UF’s win over UT on Sunday. Poyner and Young’s ability to go the distance at any time in a game should help O’Sullivan keep his bullpen arms fresh this season.

Continue Reading » Takeaways: Pitching, freshmen keep Florida Gators baseball steady through SEC opener

With no postseason berth, Florida Gators basketball ends disappointing 2014-15 campaign

One year after earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, Florida Gators basketball (16-17) failed to qualify for the postseason as it did not receive a bid to the National Invitation Tournament and will not accept a bid to another event.

Florida (16-17, 8-10 SEC) posted its worst record since 1997-98, head coach Billy Donovan’s second season with the team. The Gators had qualified for the postseason in 17 consecutive years under Donovan, last failing to do so during his inaugural campaign at UF in 1996-97.

The No. 4-ranked strength of schedule and No. 70 RPI were simply not enough to help Florida. In a season filled with injuries and suspensions, ultimately the Gators only have themselves to blame for being in this position, due in large part to their inability to simply put the ball in the hoop.

The 63.7 points per game the Gators scored this season ranked No. 266 nationally and is the team’s lowest average since 1950-51 (62.7).

Florida’s .635 efficiency from the free-throw line (328th nationally) matched the program’s worst since 1992-93, while its .434 field-goal shooting (177th nationally) is the worst since 1995-96 (.426) and the second-lowest in program history.

UF finished 7-11 in games decided by single digits and 2-6 in contests that came down to two points or fewer. The Gators also ended a record of 16 consecutive seasons with 20+ victories, the longest such streak in the SEC and fifth-longest nationally.

Donovan stands as one of only eight coaches that have ever won 20+ games in 14+ consecutive seasons.

Four-star CB Chauncey Gardner II, three-star DE JaQuan Bailey commit to Florida Gators

Nine months after originally committing to the Florida Gators – and three months after decommitting from the program – four-star 2016 cornerback Chauncey Gardner II (Cocoa, FL) recommitted to the team on Saturday.

A one-time pledge to Miami, Gardner (6-foot, 194 pounds) is listed as the No. 114 player overall and No. 10 cornerback in the nation by 247Sports.

“Proud To Say That I Will Be Committing Back To THE University Of Florida,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

Gardner originally committed to the Gators moments after receiving a scholarship offer from the old staff last June, 20 months before 2016 National Signing Day. Now still 11 months away, there is plenty of time for him to change his mind yet again.

Tthe fifth player committed to Florida in the Class of 2016, Gardner joins three-star pledges including wide receiver Rick Wells (Jacksonville, FL), defensive end Eric Mitchell (Miami, FL), linebacker Vosean Joseph (Miami, FL) and DE JaQuan Bailey (Jacksonville, FL), who also committed to UF on Saturday.

Bailey (6-foot-2, 230 pounds), who is currently teammates with Wells at Raines High School, chose Florida primarily over offers from Cincinnati, Miami and North Carolina. His commitment was first reported by Blake Alderman of Rivals.

2015 SEC Tournament Fastbreak: No. 1 Kentucky pulls away from Florida 64-49

(8) Florida Gators basketball (16-17) dropped its third game to the (1) Kentucky Wildcats (32-0) this season, this time in the quarterfinals of the 2015 SEC Tournament on Friday afternoon at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.

With the loss, Florida finished below .500 entering the non-conference postseason for the first time since head coach Billy Donovan‘s second season with the program in 1997-98. The Gators also lost to their longtime-rival Wildcats thrice in a single season for the fifth time (1995-96, 2002, 2012).

OnlyGators.com breaks down Friday’s action with eight quick-hitters:

It was over when: A 7-0 run, including four free throws, pushed Kentucky ahead by 14 with under five minutes to play. Donovan got a bench warning for complaining about the uneven officiating, and Florida was unable to fight back from a devastating foul disparity built throughout the contest. UK ended the contest with a 14-2 stretch as UF went 5:09 without a field goal.

“I thought we had some moments. I thought we played very, very well. Certainly we got off to a good start, which was positive. … Statistically, if you look at the game, everything was pretty even,” Donovan said. “The difference in the game was the free throw line. Twenty-three attempts to our five was a huge factor in the game. … If you take away the free throw line, it’s pretty consistent all the way through. Just about every stat’s pretty even. But the one huge drastic difference was the free throw line and that was really, ultimately, the margin in the game.”

Significant stretch: Two Florida turnovers helped fuel a 9-0 run for Kentucky, which gave the Cats an 11-point lead with 14 minutes to play. UF redshirt senior center Jon Horford responded with five straight points to cut his team’s deficit to six, but his the Gators never got within fewer than five over the duration of the contest.

Continue Reading » 2015 SEC Tournament Fastbreak: No. 1 Kentucky pulls away from Florida 64-49

Former Florida Gators PG Scottie Wilbekin signs with A.E.K. Athens B.C.

Former Florida Gators point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who originally planned to continue his professional career in the NBA D-League, has instead decided to sign with A.E.K. Athens B.C., a source close to the player told OnlyGators.com on Friday.

Wilbekin, a Most Valuable Player candidate who helped lead the Cairns Taipans to the Grand Final in Australia’s National Basketball League, averaged 15.4 points and 4.3 assists per game. The team fell short of the championship, but Wilbekin was named to the All-NBL First Team this week.

Like the NBL, the Greek Basketball League is the top league in its country. Wilbekin is expected to start for the veteran-laden team, putting himself in position to be a featured player in one of Europe’s best leagues over the next three months.

He will be the second Gators point guard to join a GBL team in the last few seasons as Nick Calathes led Panathinaikos B.C. to back-to-back titles (2010-11) during a four-year run from 2009-12.

Calathes coupled his success at Panathinaikos with a solid run for Lokomotiv Kuban (Russia) to propel himself into the NBA as a 24-year-old rookie in 2013-14. A successful run in Athens could get Wilbekin back in the United States next season, possibly as an NBA rookie.

2015 SEC Tournament Gameday: Florida Gators vs. Kentucky Wildcats – Third time a charm?

Location: Bridgestone Arena – Nashville, Tennessee [Capacity: 19,395]
Time: 1:00 p.m. EDT

TV: SEC Network (Brad Nessler, Sean Farnham, Shannon Spake)
Streaming Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: Watch ESPN app

SiriusXM: 93/190 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]

Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

(8) FLORIDA GATORS (1) KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 16-16 (8-10 SEC) Record: 31-0 (18-0 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Odds: Florida +13.5

THIRD TIME MAY NOT BE A CHARM FOR FLORIDA

Florida has already dropped two games to Kentucky this season – both by significant margins – though that is not to say the Gators were not competitive in each contest.

In a seven-point home loss to UK, UF led for nearly the entire first half and were up two on the nation’s top team with 12:17 left in the game. The contest remained close with the Wildcats holding just a two-point lead with 1:05 to play. From there, the visitors outscored the hosts 7-2 with all seven points coming at the line.

Kentucky’s win in Rupp Arena was more decisive. Florida trailed by just three with 10:30 to play, but UK outscored UF 23-9 over the remainder of the contest as the Gators made just three field goals in that span.

In other words, Florida knows exactly what it is going up against on Friday.

Continue Reading » 2015 SEC Tournament Gameday: Florida Gators vs. Kentucky Wildcats – Third time a charm?

SEC Tournament Fastbreak: (8) Florida Gators take down (9) Alabama 69-61 in opening game

(8) Florida Gators basketball (16-16) earned a decisive 69-61 victory over the (9) Alabama Crimson Tide (18-14) on Thursday afternoon, advancing to the second round of the 2015 SEC Tournament at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.

Florida head coach Billy Donovan improved to 10-0 all-time against former Gators assistant and Alabama head coach Anthony Grant as UF ensured itself a difficult second-round match-up against (1) Kentucky.

OnlyGators.com breaks down Thursday’s action with eight quick-hitters:

It was over when: With Florida’s 11-point lead cut to seven, sophomore point guard Kasey Hill attempted a would-have-been-clutch steal, though Alabama corralled the loose ball and Rodney Cooper drove it to the hoop. Gators redshirt junior forward Alex Murphy stepped in Cooper’s way and drew the offensive foul, sending the Tide’s leading scorer to the bench with five on the afternoon and three minutes left in the game. Redshirt junior F Dorian Finney-Smith drained a three on the ensuing possession, pushing UF’s lead back to 10.

Significant stretch: Finney-Smith and freshman F Devin Robinson drained back-to-back threes, negating an Alabama stretch and giving the Gators a nine-point lead at 49-40 with 12 minutes left. UF would extend that advantage to a game-high 11 points just minutes later. Robinson scored 10 points in the contest, hitting 5-of-6 attempts from the charity stripe.

Continue Reading » SEC Tournament Fastbreak: (8) Florida Gators take down (9) Alabama 69-61 in opening game

Greg Sankey named Mike Slive’s successor as the SEC’s eighth commissioner

Five months after Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive announced that he would retire on July 31, 2015, after 13 years at the helm of the league, the SEC has named Greg Sankey as his replacement.

Sankey, who has also been with the SEC for 13 years after serving as the commissioner of the Southland Conference for seven years, was promoted to executive associate commissioner and chief operating officer of the league in 2012 and was long rumored to be the favorite for the position.

“The universities of the SEC represent the greatest combination of academic and athletic excellence and I am honored to be selected to follow Mike Slive as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference,” Sankey said in a press release. “The SEC is poised to make a difference in the lives of student-athletes for generations to come. We must ensure that the lessons they learn from their achievements in competition and in the classroom translate into success in life after college.”

Continue Reading » Greg Sankey named Mike Slive’s successor as the SEC’s eighth commissioner

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