Inept offense nearly dooms Florida at Auburn

Posting the worst offensive performance since head coach Billy Donovan took over the team 15 years ago, the Florida Gators (14-4, 3-1 SEC) squeaked past the Auburn Tigers (7-11, 0-4 SEC) 45-40 on the road at the brand new Auburn Arena Thursday.

Equally inefficient in both halfs, Florida shot 28.3 percent from the field (15-of-53) and 19.2 percent from downtown (5-of-26). Luckily for the Gators, they limited a similarly poor-shooting Tigers squad to 37.5 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from beyond the arc. Auburn also failed to capitalize on their free throw attempts, hitting only 1-of-8 from the charity stripe, while Florida was a surprising 10-for-14 from the line including 6-for-7 in the first half.

The Gators led for the first 7:20 of the game until the Tigers took off on a 10-0 run to go up 18-11. Florida turned the ball over nine times in the first half, missed 14 of their last 16 shots and trailed Auburn 24-23 in what looked to be their worst start to a game this season since posting only 20 points against then-No. 5 Kansas State on Dec. 18.

UF started the second half in similar fashion, missing their first eight shots from downtown, first three from the charity stripe and 12 of their first 16 attempts.

Junior point guard Erving Walker ‘s three-pointer with 7:16 remaining in the game gave the Gators a 35-34 lead that was handed back on a wide-open dunk just one play later. Trying to keep Florida in the game with a high-energy effort, senior forward Alex Tyus was sent to the line and made two free throws to put UF up 37-36 with 4:17 left; once again the Gators handed the lead right back to the Tigers allowing them to score four-straight points to take a 40-37 lead.

Down three with 2:08 to go, Donovan took a 30 second timeout; sophomore guard Kenny Boynton nailed a trey on the following possession to tie the game at 40. Walker then stepped up with three consecutive plays that wound up sealing the game.

Stealing the ball on an inbounds play with 1:20 left, Walker drained a three. On the next possession he drew a charge in the paint to give the ball back to Florida. He wound up taking an ill-advised jump shot and turning the ball over on the next possession but would hit two free throws to ice the contest and conclude a game-ending 8-0 run.

Walker wound up leading UF with a game-high 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting. Senior F Chandler Parsons and redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin each grabbed a game-high six rebounds helping their team out-rebound the opposition 34-27.

Florida hopes to turn things around on Saturday as they return home to face Arkansas at 8 p.m. The game will air live on FSN.

Photo Credit: Todd J. Van Emst/Associated Press

SIX BITS: baseball, softball, Tebow, Brissett

1 » The No. 2 Florida Gators baseball and softball programs found out Thursday that each would have four games featured live on the ESPN family of networks during their respective 2011 regular seasons. Florida baseball – which will be featured on ESPNU’s Thursday Night Baseball Game of the Week with their contest at Arkansas on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. – will also face Georgia (away) on April 16 at 2 p.m. on ESPNU, Alabama (home) on April 23 at 6 p.m. on ESPN2, and Arkansas (away) on May 7 at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. Gators softball will have four home games aired live. Their back-to-back games against Alabama on April 23 (4 p.m.) and April 24 (1 p.m.) will air on ESPN2 and ESPNU, respectively, while their consecutive contests against Tennessee on May 7 (12 p.m.) and May 8 (3 p.m.) will be featured on ESPN and ESPNU. All games airing on ESPN or ESPN2 will also be simulcast on ESPN3.com.

2 » Florida softball also found out Thursday that their incoming 2011 recruiting class has been ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN/RISE. The Gators are bringing in six freshmen including pitcher Alyssa Bache (Clearwater, FL), third baseman Bailey Castro (Pembroke Pines, FL), infielder Jessica Damico (Gray Summit, MO), shortstop Sami Fagan (Dunnellon, FL), utility player Lauren Haeger (Peoria, AZ), UTL Brianna Little (Middleburg, FL) and SS Katie Medina (Downey, CA). Wrote ESPN: “The Gators had a lot of pressure to bring in a dynamic recruiting class with the group they have leaving this year, and they certainly pulled it off. They bring in a big class of seven athletes that includes two dominating pitchers in Lauren Haeger and Alyssa Bache, power at the plate with big hitters like Bailey Castro and Briana Little, and speed in the infield with tough players like Jessie Damico, Sami Fagan and Katie Medina. The Gators have the best recruiting class of the year, hands down.”

More on Tim Tebow, UF basketball and Jacoby Brissett…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: baseball, softball, Tebow, Brissett

TWO BITS: Dunlap’s back, Johnson’s training

1 » After a successful rookie season in which he notched 24 tackles and 9.5 sacks (second-most for a first-year player behind Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s 10), former Florida Gators now Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap has returned to Gainesville, FL to earn his degree from the University of Florida. Just 20 hours away from graduating with a degree in family, youth and community services along with a minor in business administration, Dunlap decided to take 12 credits in the spring 2011 semester and will likely complete the rest the next season his team misses the playoffs. “I felt like the longer you wait, the harder it is for you to come back,” Dunlap told The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu. “I just thought the transition would be a lot easier to do it now, to knock some of it out. The present is as good a time as any to get a degree. As hard as it was now to come back, I can imagine how hard it would be to come back a few years down the road.”

Dunlap also spoke to the Sun about his unfortunate arrest for driving under the influence before the 2009 Southeastern Conference Championship game and how the mistake has adjusted his outlook on his personal and professional life. “That incident changed my whole life,” he said. “It made me respect the game a lot more. It showed me how everything can be taken from you by making one mistake, and not knowing whether you’ll be able to play again. I remember what Cris Carter once said. He said, ‘I will never again allow my life to be put in the hands of somebody else where they can make the decision whether I play football again or not.’ That’s the quote I thought of [when I was suspended]. I’m going to use that quote the rest of my career.”

2 » Though many of his former teammates will be participating in the 2011 Under Armour Senior Bowl and 2011 East-West Shrine Game, former Gators guard Carl Johnson will be headed to the Texas vs. The Nation collegiate all-star game set to be played on Feb. 5 in San Antonio, TX. He will eventually end up participating in the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine in February with hopes of improving his stock for the 2011 NFL Draft in April. Johnson spoke with the Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser and provided these notable quotes (read what else he had to say).

PBP: How does Florida’s future look after a disappointing 2010 season?
CJ: “I think the team’s going to be six times better this year than last year. Some good guys didn’t get to play. At the skill positions, you need experience. [Quarterback John] Brantley has a year now. He knows the tempo. He knows what it’s like to face a team that’s trying to decapitate you. They’re going to be better. Now all these guys have experience, which helps a lot. I mean, when I first played, I was like a duck in a dirty pond — don’t know what’s underneath those feet.”

PBP: Was the 2010 freshman class better than people thought? How much impact could those players make this season?
CJ: “From what I saw of the freshmen — [wide receiver Quinton] Dunbar, to me, he’s dynamic. He should have played this year, but I’m not a coach. They have some certified ballers, Mack Brown, the running back, he’s going to be a beast. Trust me, they’re going to be good.”

Gators putting full-court press on DT Jernigan

Currently 15 members strong, the Florida Gators 2011 recruiting class is being looked down on because of the commitments that have been lost rather than lauded for those players new head coach Will Muschamp has retained.

While three four-star commitments have departed for what they believe are greener pastures since Muschamp jumped on board, the nation’s top quarterback and a number of other integral players remain dedicated to the Orange and Blue.

Muschamp hopes his group of committed prospects grows significantly in the coming weeks, and it appears he has honed in on four-star defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (Lake City, FL) as his prime target with National Signing Day approaching on Feb 2.

Assistant defensive line coach Bryant Young visited Jernigan in his home during his first day on the job last Friday, and the Gators are doing whatever they can to get him to take one of his final two official visits to Gainesville, FL.

Craig Howard, Jernigan’s head coach at Columbia High School, said Florida is one of three schools vying for the chance to host the player on a visit. Though he will not narrow down his options, reports have Jernigan considering those three schools along with LSU; UF is coming on strong and doing the best they can to get in his ear as of late.

“I would say that Florida is semi back in it,” Howard told ESPN’s Jamie Newberg on Monday. “Coach Muschamp and those guys have done a good job with him.”

The Gators will send Muschamp, Young and defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Dan Quinn to Lake City on Thursday to meet with Jernigan, who is set to announce his commitment live on ESPN at 10 a.m. on National Signing Day, according to Howard.

Jernigan, listed at No. 17 on the ESPNU 150 and No. 29 on the Rivals 100, is the No. 2 defensive tackle in the 2011 recruiting cycle according to both scouting services. He would be the only player at his position committed to Florida for 2011, though UF did sign prominent five-star DTs Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley in 2010.

Photo Credit: Unknown

1/18: Donovan on free throw shooting, maturity

Florida Gators 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 on Tuesday.

IT’S CALLED THE “CHARITY STRIPE” FOR A REASON

The fact that Florida is a poor free throw shooting team (65 percent combined, 54.9 percent from the starting frontcourt) is quite evident to Donovan. That is why he had his players take over 100 shots each from the line on Tuesday and expects them to put up over 500 per person this week. Yet while he provides a punishment when they miss (running) and expects improvement by simulating game situations as much as possible, he realizes that free throw shooting is mostly mental and outside his range of power.

“When a player goes up there to the free throw line, really you don’t have any control. If I could guide the ball into the rim, I would do it. But [coaches] don’t have any control,” Donovan said. “It’s a mentality. It’s a confidence. It’s wanting to be up there on the line in those situations. You fix it by getting in the gym, by constantly working on it, by taking it serious and by having a level of competitive substance that, ‘I’m going to go up there and knock down two free throws.’ There’s a mentality walking up there saying, ‘I’m going to put the game away. I’m going to do this.’ We’re going to be in more situations like that. We’re going to have to make free throws. Guys have got to walk up, man up and make shots. They got to be able to do that.”

He also provided additional thoughts about free throw shooting.

“When a golfer swings a club, right as he hits the ball he knows whether it’s good or bad. They just know. I’ve coached players where they have no understanding or idea why they’re missing,” he said. “My biggest thing [as a player] was just to focus on what’s going on right now. [When] you miss free throws, it’s the same shot, but there’s different circumstances. That’s why I try to create as close to a game-like atmosphere in practice as I can, because I’m never going to be able to simulate the crowd [or] home court.

“So much of it is an understanding and a maturity. If you’re shooting a free throw in the gym at practice, or you’re shooting a free throw in the game, it’s the same exact shot. What happens is, mentally, young guys create a bunch of drama in their head. They’re never thinking that way when they’re practicing. A free throw in the first five minutes of the game, that people would say have no barring on the outcome of the game, is the same exact shot at the end of the game except you’re creating this element around you. Trying to help those guys see that, identify that and understand that is important.”

LACK OF DEFENSE WAS A HINDRANCE

Though the Gators’ inability to hit shots from the charity stripe doomed them in the second half, Donovan believes the hole his team’s defense put them in to start the game made it difficult to win from the get-go. He thinks the poor defense, at least partially, stemmed from overconfidence coming out of a number of big-time victories.

“There’s been some slippage,” he said. “The one thing that has got to get better is our maturity in terms of understanding the winning aspect of what goes into it. ‘How can that be with some older guys?’ When you win, you have to look at where you got to get better. Winning is the best way you want to learn. It’s not fun having to learn through losing. Because we scored points, because we won in overtime against Tennessee, because we won on the road at Xavier, some of that stuff gets lost.

“Now all of a sudden we get into a situation against South Carolina in the first half where we shoot 30 percent from the field and we shoot a very low percentage from the three-point line. We gave up big percentages from the field. You’re going to be down double-digit points. If we would have played defense in the first half like we did in the second half, we probably could have weathered and battled that storm.”

QUOTES

On junior point guard Erving Walker missing his one-and-one after getting into a shoving fight: “You have to have the mentality to take a step back and move to the next play and not let that linger in there.”

On playing well enough to win: “We need to come out and play well. It’s not even about the result, because you can win a game and not play well. If we go out and play like we’re capable of playing with the passion and the intensity that we need to play with, then we got to live with the result. It’s understandable why you got swallow the result when you don’t do what you need to do to win the game.”

On getting up for a “lesser” opponent: “Every competitive challenge is totally different. You try to play as consistently or close to your potential and ability [as possible]. That’s what you’re trying to do.”

SIX BITS: Tebow, Pouncey, Wright, Noah, Horford

1 » After head coach Josh McDaniels was fired, murmurs surrounded the Denver Broncos specifically about whether or not his replacement would be a fan of rookie quarterback Tim Tebow. Now that John Fox has been hired as the team’s new head coach, questions about Tebow’s safety in Mile High have been quieted. The issue now is whether or not he will be tabbed as the team’s starter in 2011. “Just like any position, they’ll compete and we’ll go from there,” said Fox on the Dan Patrick Show when discussing Tebow and veteran Kyle Orton. “It’s too early for me to say. I’m going to evaluate guys on grass and we’ll have to see when we get those opportunities.” Most of Denver is calling for Tebow to be given the reigns to the offense after he started the final three games of the 2010 season; Fox hopes to be convinced of the same next year.

2 » The Beaver County Times sat down with Pittsburgh Steelers starting center Maurkice Pouncey and pick his brain about the team’s playoff run. One of two Florida Gators rookies remaining in the NFL Playoffs, Pouncey was candid in his answers. “It’s so much better,” he said of winning an NFL playoff game compared to playing in big games at Florida. “There is so much more on the line. In college, it was awesome. We had a great group of guys. But it was amazing. It was unbelievable. Man, our fans were awesome. For them to be out there with that much energy, it was crazy.” Pouncey also said winning a Super Bowl would be “the greatest accomplishment ever.”

3 » Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris injured his hip in the third quarter of Sunday’s game, paving the way for Major Wright to see extensive playing time against the Seattle Seahawks. Though Harris will be back against the Green Bay Packers, Wright is expected to see more playing time than usual in relief of his teammate.

4 » Catching up with injured Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, who is currently on the outside looking in, NBA.com reports that the former Gators star will have a pin removed from his injured right thumb in a week’s time and will finally begin rehabilitation on the thumb shortly after. “It’s been long and sometimes frustrating not being able to be out there with my teammates,” Noah said on Monday. “Physically, I feel pretty good. I’ve been doing a lot of cardio and working out. I feel strong and I’ll be ready to get back and help the team. I’m just trying to control what I can control right now. I’m all about getting this pin out of my finger and getting my hand back to 100 percent. Hopefully it’s before that because I would love to play in that game.” The article also discusses Noah inviting a dozen children to a game on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, his thoughts on point guard Derrick Rose and how good he believes the team can be this season.

5 » Speaking of former Florida stars in the NBA, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford is once again having an impressive season. In addition to averaging a career-high 16.5 points per game, Horford set a new career-high in blocks with seven on Monday night. He also scored 23 points (on 10-of-16 shooting), grabbed nine rebounds and dished six assists in his team’s victory against the Sacramento Kings.

6 » Swimmers Gemma Spofforth (who graduated in December) and senior Conor Dwyer have been named the 2010 recipients of the Ben Hill Griffin Award. Recognizing and honoring the top female and male student-athlete who excels in both athletic and academic achievement as well as extra-curricular involvement, the award is presented by the University Athletic Association. Spofforth is the third woman to win the award in back-to-back seasons (Angie McGinnis-2006-07, Nicole Haislett-1992-93); she and Tebow (only three-time winner) were honored in 2009. Dwyer is the third men’s swimmer to get the award (Ryan Lochte-2004, Greg Burgess-1993).

Photo Credit: NBA.com

FOUR BITS: Pittman, Jordan, Fraine, gymnastics

1 » Wide receiver recruit Latroy Pittman (Citra, FL) became the Florida Gators first commitment for the 2012 recruiting cycle on Aug. 17. When head coach Urban Meyer stepped down in December, Pittman paused for a second even though it has been “my dream to play there since I was three,” as he said himself last year. With new head coach Will Muschamp and WR coach Aubrey Hill now in the fold, Pittman told The Gainesville Sun that he remains as committed as ever after visiting campus over the weekend. “I feel so at home when I’m up there,” he said, according to the paper. “It’s like a feeling you get when you just know something feels right, that no other place can give you that factor.”

2 » With three-star offensive lineman Chase Hounshell (Kirkland, OH) switching his commitment to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Monday evening, Florida is left with only two commits at that position for 2011. One of those two players, three-star Tommy Jordan (Ridgefield, CT), was supposed to be an early enrollee set to begin classes at the University of Florida last week. Instead Jordan decided not to join UF in the spring and said he would be back in the summer. Shutting off communications, Jordan was rumored to be wavering in his commitment by assumption due to his decision to go silent. In a conversation with Ridgefield Patch, Jordan explains he remains committed to the Gators and simply wanted a break from the stress of school and recruiting. “I am going to take the semester off and go back in the late spring,” Jordan said at one of his high school’s basketball games. “I have been working my butt off to graduate early and now all this stuff is happening. It just seemed like I needed a break.” He also spoke about Muschamp and new offensive line coach Frank Verducci. “I am really excited about that staff they are putting together there,” he said. “I just thought it was better to come back here while all this was going on and they figure out how it is all going to work. But I still plan on going there and am really excited about the future.”

3 » The fourth former Florida player to earn this honor, goalkeeper Katie Fraine will play in Women’s Professional Soccer in 2011 after being selected in the league’s draft held last Friday. Only one of two goalkeepers selected in the draft, Fraine joins former Gators Heather Mitts, Abby Wambach and Stacy Bishop in the league. She will be teammates with Wambach on the Washington Freedom. Fraine left the Gators as the school’s career leader in solo shutouts (27) who played a big role in helping Florida win the 2010 Southeastern Conference Championship.

4 » No. 1 Gators gymnastics (2-0, 1-0 SEC) is off to a fast start this season with back-to-back victories over the then-No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-1) and No. 16 Kentucky Wildcats (2-1, 0-1 SEC). Florida took down Nebraska 196.925-194.950 in front of over 5,000 fans at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Jan. 8 and followed up that performance with a 196.775-192.90 win against Kentucky on Jan. 14. The Gators took home five events against the Cornhuskers with sophomore Ashanée Dickerson winning four of them. Dickerson won two more against the Wildcats; freshman Alaina Johnson and sophomore Marissa King each captured two of their own.

Hounshell switches commitment to Notre Dame

Though he never officially decommitted from the Florida Gators in early January, three-star offensive lineman recruit Chase Hounshell (Kirkland, OH) chose not to enroll early at the University of Florida as he had originally planned in order to delay his final decision so he could gather more information. Monday evening Hounshell switched his commitment from the Gators to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the same day coaches from that school paid him an in-home visit.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp, offensive line coach Frank Verducci and tight ends coach Brian White visited Hounshell on Sunday and came away with an agreement from the young man that he would visit UF this upcoming weekend in order to reaffirm his commitment. Meeting with Notre Dame less than 24 hours later appears to have canceled those plans as well.

“I committed to the University of Notre Dame,” Hounshell announced on his personal Twitter account. “[I] want to thank Gator Country for all your support. You guys are the best, but I had to do what’s best for me.”

According to 247 Sports, he will switch to defensive end for the Fighting Irish.

When he agreed to join the team on Aug. 11, Hounshell was the Gators 13th commitment. Since head coach Urban Meyer (and in this case offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Steve Addazio) left the program, he is Florida’s third decommitment. The others include four-stars cornerback Nick Waisome (Florida State) and linebacker Ryan Shazier (Ohio State). Four-star defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan (Clemson) decommitted from UF on Nov. 29

The Gators now have 15 commitments for the 2011 recruiting cycle, seven of whom enrolled in January for the spring semester.
 

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