TWO BITS: Noah returning, Horford interviewed

1 » Out of action for more than two months, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah is set to return Wednesday now that his torn thumb ligament has healed. Averaging 14.0 points and 11.7 rebounds this season – both career-highs – Noah has been out of action since Dec. 15. He had a pin placed in his thumb and had it fit for a cast; both have been removed and Noah is ready to provide a spark for Central Division-leading Chicago.

2 » Coming off his second consecutive NBA All-Star nomination, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford sat down for an extensive and wide-ranging interview with SI.com’s Zach Lowe. Horford, who is in the middle of the best season of his career, discusses his team’s playoff projections, his unique jump shot and whether or not he plans to add a three-point game to his repertoire.

Tebow speaks on Broncos, sponsorships, Meyer

Preparing for the release of his autobiography Through My Eyes while also trying to earn a starting job next season, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Gene Frenette of The Florida Times-Union. Particularly interesting portions of Frenette’s interview with the former Florida Gators star can be found below but you can read the entire thing by clicking here.

Even if Orton stays in Denver and the Broncos are willing to let you two duel for the starting job, do you feel you’re far enough along with your mechanics and understanding of the offense to win it?
“I feel that I’m definitely ready to compete for it. I’m excited for that challenge. I’ve worked extremely hard this offseason. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to lead this team and try to win games. I don’t feel like it’s even close from last year to where I am now. In fact, it’s not even close to where I am now from the end of last season. I’m much more prepared.”

How has the demands on your time from fans in Denver compare with what you dealt with at Florida?
“That’s a good question. At both places, they have wonderful, passionate fans. That’s one of the things I love about being a Bronco. There are different things I try to do now as far as fan interaction. At Florida, I was around them all the time going to classes. I don’t have to deal with that as much here, but I’m more involved with my foundation and the community. It always seemed like I’d have more time this offseason, but things fill up quickly. It’s training, growing my foundation or hanging out with my family. Those three things take up 95 percent of my time. That’s my life right now.”

You are either a pitchman for or have a working relationship with Nike, EA Sports, Jockey, FRS Healthy Energy drink and Palm Beach Autographs. How do you go about deciding which products to endorse and which to pass up?
“When something gets proposed to us, I run it through a multitude of counselors, where there is wisdom. I talk it over with my brother Robby, my business manager, Angel Gonzalez, my agent [Sexton], my parents and an uncle as well. I don’t rush into those decisions. I start by asking myself, ‘Do I use the product? Do I believe in it and what it stands for?’ For example, I started using FRS three or four times a day after my senior year in college because it was low calories, low sugar. It has a lot of antioxidants. I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep at that time, and I couldn’t get sick because I was training to get into the NFL. FRS helped me train hard because it would help my immune system. They saw me drinking it on TV at the NFL combine. That’s how it all got started. In every endorsement deal, I also talk to the companies about what they’re doing with kids. We put in the contract that I want them to be involved in my foundation to give back as well. I have that with every single one of them.”

Your coach at Florida, Urban Meyer, has settled in as an ESPN analyst. Do you think he can stay behind a microphone and, if not, how long will it be before you think he’s back on the sideline?
“I think he’s going to enjoy being behind a microphone for now. He loves having the time to hang out with his family, going to son Nate’s games. He really enjoys the analyzing part on television. Now I know he’s competitive. That urge creeps up on him every now and then. I think he’ll resist it for a little while. He will always have that burning desire to coach. When he comes back, I have no idea. I think he enjoys being a Dad and not having the stress of coaching a team.”

So here’s a chance for full disclosure. Are you a free agent on the dating scene, seeing one woman exclusively, or is this topic out of bounds?
“No, it’s not out of bounds. I can say I’m single. It hasn’t happened yet for me. Who knows? We’ll see.”

Photo Credit: Jeremy Cowart

Florida Gators even out at No. 13 in Top 25 polls

With eight days off, the Florida Gators (21-5, 10-2 SEC) were well-rested for their road match-up against the LSU Tigers (10-17, 2-10 SEC), even if they were without senior forward Chandler Parsons. Florida’s victory, combined with some losses at the top of the polls, allowed them to finally even out and climb in both standings.

WeekGator BaitRecordAP Top 25USA TodayNCAA RPI
Preseason--No. 7 (1,153)No. 7 (568)-
2W 68-45 vs. William & Mary1-0No. 8 (1,127)No. 7 (560)-
3L 69-67 vs. Miami
W(OT) 61-56 vs. ULM
2-1No. 18 (467)No. 16 (303)-
4L(OT) 65-66 vs. Georgetown
W 56-47 vs. UAB
L 64-75 vs. North Carolina
3-3NR (40)No. 24 (60)-

ESPN/USA TODAY
Last Week 1-25: Kansas (14), Texas (13), Ohio State (3), Pittsburgh (1), Duke, San Diego State, Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Purdue, Connecticut, Arizona, Villanova, Florida, Louisville, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Syracuse, Missouri, Kentucky, Saint Mary’s, Utah State, Temple
+ Florida received 341 voting points

This Week 1-25: Duke (19), Kansas (1), Ohio State (4), San Diego State (3), Texas, Pittsburgh (4), Brigham Young, Purdue, Notre Dame, Arizona, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Florida, Villanova, Connecticut, Louisville, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Syracuse, Missouri, Kentucky, Utah State, Temple, St. John’s
+ Florida received 397 voting points

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Last Week 1-25: Kansas (22), Ohio State (14), Texas (23), Pittsburgh (6), Duke, San Diego State, Brigham Young, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Purdue, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Villanova, Louisville, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Missouri, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Temple, Xavier, Utah State
+ Florida received 775 voting points

This Week 1-25: Duke (35), Ohio State (10), Kansas (5), Pittsburgh (12), Texas (1), San Diego State, Brigham Young (2), Purdue, Notre Dame, Arizona, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Florida, Connecticut, Villanova, Louisville, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Missouri, Texas A&M, Kentucky, St. John’s, Temple, Xavier
+ Florida received 841 voting points

Numbers in parenthesis represent first-place votes.

Gators sweep Bulls; Fontana and Whitson shine

Topping the South Florida Bulls 7-2 in their season opener on Friday, No. 1 Florida Gators baseball put together back-to-back wins on Saturday and Sunday to sweep the season opening series at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Florida (3-0) took down USF (0-3) 4-1 on Saturday and 5-0 Sunday, outscoring their opponent by a 16-3 margin over the three-game stretch.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (1-0) took the mound for the Gators on Saturday, giving up only one run on seven hits in six innings. Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (1-0), the No. 9 pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, provided the most impressive performance of the weekend Sunday, striking out nine batters while only allowing one hit and registering one walk in five scoreless innings.

SATURDAY: Down one after the opening frame, Florida quickly evened things up in the bottom of the first when sophomore infielder Austin Maddox (2-4, RBI) scored sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (3-4, run) from third base on a fielder’s choice.

The Gators jumped ahead two innings later when junior left fielder Daniel Pigott (2-3, RBI, run), who ended up on third after hitting a lead-off double, scored on a double play ball to give UF a 2-1 lead. Held scoreless the next three innings, Florida added single runs in the seventh and eighth.

With junior designated hitter Ben McMahan (1-3, run) on second due to a passed ball in the seventh, Pigott singled past the shortstop to give his team a 3-1 advantage. In the eighth, senior second baseman Josh Adams (1-3, run) scored from third when sophomore first baseman Brian Johnson (RBI) reached base on a fielder’s choice.

Junior left-handed pitcher Nick Mardone came in to relieve Randall after the first six innings but was pulled for junior closer Tommy Toledo (S1), who tossed 2.1 scoreless innings to earn his first save of the season.

SUNDAY: Fontana (2-3, 2 runs), leading off with a hit for the second-straight game, was also the first run to cross the plate Sunday. After doubling down the left field line, he reached home when junior right fielder Preston Tucker (1-3, RBI) singled up the middle. The Gators piled on more two runs in the fourth when sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (2-4, HR) hit a lead-off homer to left and senior center fielder Bryson Smith (1-4, run) scored on a single through the left side by Pigott (2-4, 2 RBI). Fontana scored again via a sacrifice fly by Maddox (RBI, BB) in the sixth, and McMahan (run, BB) crossed the plate in the eighth on another single by Pigott.

Completing Whitson’s stellar pitching performance was the trio of junior RHP Greg Larson, sophomore LHP Steven Rodriguez and freshman LHP Daniel Gibson, who each gave up a hit but combined for four strikeouts.

Fontana posted a stunning .750 average (9-for-12) over the weekend, got on base at a .786 clip and scored five runs in three games.

Florida had 14,003 fans walk through the turnstiles over the weekend, the highest opening weekend and second-largest three-game series attendance in school history. UF’s three defeats of USF extended their winning streak to 11 against the in-state rival.

Florida, sans Parsons, tops LSU 68-61 on road

The crowd was sparse Sunday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, LA, but the No. 14/15 Florida Gators effort without senior forward Chandler Parsons (deep thigh bruise) was not. Missing their best player, Florida (21-5, 10-2 SEC) still rolled to a 68-61 victory over the LSU Tigers (10-17, 2-10 SEC) behind 17 points each from junior point guard Erving Walker and sophomore guard Kenny Boynton.

Leading 40-25 at the break, the Gators allowed the Tigers to get within six midway through the second half but held on to their lead due to a superior effort by the backcourt at the charity stripe over the final few minutes.

Florida opened up the first half with a 10-0 run and utilized an 8-2 run later in the period to go up a game-high 15 points, 36-21, with 4:20 to go before the break. A layup by redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin allowed UF to close the half with the same 15-point advantage; they shot 59.4 percent from the field as a team while holding LSU to only 34.4 percent shooting.

The Tigers fought back with a 9-2 run to open the second half and cut the Gators’ lead to 42-34. A three-pointer by Walker put Florida back ahead 15 with 12:59 left, but LSU responded with an impressive 17-7 run to reduce their deficit from 15 to six with 4:41 remaining in the game and UF on their heels.

Boynton ended the Tigers’ run and a 5:51 scoring drought for the Gators on a fastbreak layup with 3:10 remaining.

Florida, which was only 6-for-12 from the free throw line and saw three consecutive frontcourt players miss the front end of one-and-ones in the second half, hit eight-straight free throws to end the game thanks to the backcourt of Walker (four), Boynton (two) and freshman PG Scottie Wilbekin (two).

LSU G Ralston Turner posted a game-high 18 points but was the only player on his team to score in double figures.

Three of UF’s starters hit that mark with Macklin adding 16 points and seven rebounds to Walker and Boynton’s respective 17-point performances.

Walker went 5-for-10 (3-of-6 from downtown) while also hitting four free throws and tying Matt Walsh for sixth all-time on the school’s career three-pointers list. Boynton was 5-of-12 (1-for-5 from three, 6-for-7 from the line) and also grabbed two steals.

Senior F Alex Tyus picked up nine boards while also scoring six points. Freshman F Casey Prather, who started in place of Parsons, was held scoreless in only 15 minutes of action. Wilbekin ended up playing the majority of Parsons’s minutes.

With the victory, the Gators have won 10 conference games for the first time since 2007. Florida improved to 18-1 when holding an opponent under 70 points this season and 12-0 when forcing more turnovers; they have now won 16 of their last 19 games. The Gators’ defeat of the Tigers was their first in Baton Rouge since Jan. 28, 2003 and just their fourth win in the last 10 total games in the series.

Florida hosts Georgia on Thursday for the second meeting between the teams this season. UF beat UGA 104-91 in double overtime on Jan. 25.

Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

No. 14 Florida Gators at LSU Tigers Gameday

Location: Pete Maravich Assembly Center – Baton Rouge, LA [Capacity: 13,472]
Time: 1:00 p.m. (ET)

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

No. 14 FLORIDA GATORS LSU TIGERS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Trent Johnson
Record: 20-5 (9-2) Record: 10-16 (2-9)
Division: SEC East Division: SEC West
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -10.5

HISTORY and STREAKS

» LSU leads the all-time series against Florida 60-38, has won six out of the last nine games in the series, and has not dropped a home game to UF since 2003. However, the Gators defeated the Tigers 72-58 last season.
» Donovan is now 10-8 all-time against LSU and 3-4 when facing them on the road. Conversely, Johnson is 1-1 against UF.
» Florida has won 15 of their last 18 games with 11 victories against RPI top 100 teams. The Gators are 6-1 on the road this season, which includes a 4-1 record in SEC play; they were 8-9 away from home last year. A victory Sunday would give UF seven true road wins for the first time since 2003.
» Florida is 3-1 against the SEC West this season after finishing a perfect 6-0 in the division last year. They are 53-17 against the division since 2000. LSU is 0-3 against the SEC East this season.
» The Gators earned back-to-back victories against ranked opponents for the first time since 2007, defeating then-No. 24 Vanderbilt and then-No. 11 Kentucky two weeks ago.
» Florida improved to 17-1 when holding opponents under 70 points this season after limiting South Carolina to 60 points last Wednesday.
» UF is 11-0 this season when forcing more turnovers than their opponents and 4-0 in SEC play when dishing 15 or more assists.
» The Gators will be without senior forward Chandler Parsons Sunday afternoon; a deep thigh bruise has ended his streak of 43 consecutive starts.
» Florida junior point guard Erving Walker is a trio of three-pointers away from tying the career total of Matt Walsh (192); the mark would place him sixth all-time in school history. Nine treys from Walker would move him into the top five.
» Defeating Tennessee on Saturday, UF reached 20 wins for the 13th consecutive season, the longest active streak in the SEC.
» The Gators best the Tigers in all four major statistical categories. Florida holds advantages in points per game 71-62.4 (120th-306th), rebounding 38.2-35.5 (39th-149th), assists 13.9-11.4 (106th-285th) and field goal percentage .458-.401 (78th-318th). UF ranks 12th in RPI (.6389) and seventh in strength of schedule nationally compared to their opponent being 215th (.4704) and 114th, respectively.

GATORS WITHOUT PARSONS ON SUNDAY

Parsons, who is averaging double-digit points (10.8) while leading the Gators with 7.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, will not be active Sunday after suffering a deep thigh bruise last Saturday against Tennessee, the University of Florida announced Saturday evening. He underwent treatment for the injury throughout the week and even traveled with the team to Baton Rouge but is simply not healthy enough to get on the court. Florida was hopeful Parsons could be ready as the team had eight consecutive days off for him to heal. With the Gators’ next game not until Thursday, he could have up to 11 days off should he not return to practice early in the week. It is expected that freshman F Casey Prather will start in his place, though Donovan could choose to go with a smaller lineup including freshman PG Scottie Wilbekin instead.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Walker…who is leading his team in scoring with 14.7 points per game and leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.423) and three-point percentage (.385). Walker also leads Florida in turnovers (63) 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 58.3 percent from the floor this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.3 points and 5.9 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 shooting the ball. Boynton is only hitting 36.1 percent from the field and 29.5 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second in scoring with 12.9 points per game and makes a team-high 82.9 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 two weeks ago against Vanderbilt.
» Prather…who will likely earn his first start for the orange and blue on Sunday. The freshman only plays an average of 6.9 minutes per game but is shooting at a 48.5 percent clip on 33 shot attempts this season.
» Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are Florida’s primary reserves each averaging approximately 17 minutes per game. Wilbekin, in relief of Walker, leads UF in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.25:1), while Young averages 3.3 points and 3.3 boards off the bench.
» LSU Gs Ralston Turner and Andre Stringer…who are both freshmen yet their team’s best scorers. The duo combines for 24.2 points per game while each playing 30-31 minutes every contest. Turner is the better three-point shooter (33.6 percent), but Stringer is the best free throw shooter of the starting five (76.3 percent).
» Tigers F Malcom White…who is his team’s third-leading scorer with 8.5 points per game. White also averages 5.5 boards and shoots a team-best 47 percent from the field.

LB Neiron Ball released from hospital Saturday

Florida Gators freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was released from Shands Hospital Saturday night after undergoing treatment since Monday when a blood vessel ruptured in his brain, a family member told the Orlando Sentinel.

Ball, a special teams standout this past season who registered 10 tackles in 13 games, has been ruled out of spring practice. The severity of his condition and the amount of recovery time doctors deem necessary for him to be 100 percent healthy will determine if and when Ball can return to the field. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Admitted to the hospital late Monday, Ball was being treated in the Intensive Care Unit until Thurdsay. He will return to his hometown of Jackson, GA until Feb. 28, when he is scheduled to come back to Gainesville, FL for a follow-up appointment, his brother-in-law Daryl Myricks told the Sentinel.

The University of Florida’s University Athletic Association, which disclosed on Monday that Ball was in the hospital being treated for a congenital vascular condition, has yet to release any additional information.

OGGOA once again sends our best wishes to Ball and his family.

Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Florida gains two 2012 commits Saturday night

Just five days after receiving their third commitment for the 2012 recruiting cycle, the Florida Gators nearly doubled their class when running back Mike Davis (Stone Mountain, GA) and linebacker Jeremi Powell (Largo, FL) each announced their intention to play in The Swamp on Saturday.

Davis, the brother of former Clemson now-Washington Redskins RB James Davis, is Florida’s second running back commitment for 2012; four-star Matt Jones (Seffner, FL), considered to be the best rusher in the state of Florida, committed on Monday.

“They said that they are only going to take two running backs this year and I’m the other one they wanted, so I went ahead and made my commitment,” he told Rivals. “I know it takes more than one [running back]. I split carries last year. I don’t mind that. Florida recruited me hard and said that I am needed.”

Powell is the Gators’ second defensive commitment for 2012 and the team’s first at linebacker, a much-needed position. “This was the best experience I’ve had in my entire life man,” said Powell, according to Rivals‘ Mark Wheeler. “I went to visit USF the other day, and I felt like I was comfortable and a good fit there, but when I got here today, man, I can’t imagine going anywhere else. When I committed in coach [Will] Muschamp‘s office, it was like a dream.”

Auburn, Florida State, South Carolina and Tennessee also offered Davis, while Powell was picking from South Carolina, South Florida, Iowa State and Purdue early on. Both unrated prospects visited the Univeristy of Florida over the weekend.

The duo join four-stars defensive tackle Omari Phillips (Venice, FL) and wide receiver LaTroy Pittman (Citra, FL) as the Gators’ 2012 commitments.

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