Gators win first SEC title since 2007 as No. 14 Florida chomps Alabama 78-51 on Senior Night

It took them four years of scratching and clawing, but on Senior Night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL, the No. 14 Florida Gators (23-6, 12-3 SEC) won at least a share of the Southeastern Conference regular season title for the first time since 2007 by thrashing the Alabama Crimson Tide (19-10, 11-4 SEC) 78-51.

Fittingly enough, it was Florida’s three seniors – redshirt center Vernon Macklin and forwards Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus – who led the way for the Gators’ romp. The trio combined to score 50 of UF’s 78 team points with Macklin and Parsons each accounting for 19. Macklin also led Florida with a game-high 11 rebounds; Tyus scored 12 and gave a sterling effort on the glass with nine boards.

The Gators played with passion and intensity the entire game, but one would not get that impression by looking at the first half box score. Florida started the game 3-for-19 from the field and 0-for-10 from downtown but led Alabama nearly the entire first half.

UF closed the half with back-to-back three-pointers from sophomore guard Kenny Boynton to knot it up at 30 even though they finished 11-of-30 from the floor, 2-of-12 from three and 6-of-12 from the free throw line. UA shot the ball better but had eight fewer attempts due to turning the ball over 10 times.

Coming out of the break, the Gators started hot with a 7-2 run to go up five. After some back-and-forth action, Florida put their foot on the gas and refused to let up. UF exploded on a 28-6 run over almost 10 minutes that included a flurry of three-pointers from Boynton, Parsons and junior point guard Erving Walker.

The Gators ended up hitting twice as many shots as the Crimson Tide in the second half (18-9), went 18-for-26 overall in the later portion of the game and took a game-high 27-point lead in the final few minutes of action.

Florida head coach Billy Donovan pulled Macklin and Parsons to standing ovations with 1:23 to go and called a timeout for Tyus to leave the court with a minute left. He then substituted redshirt junior F Adam Allen, who had not stepped on the court in three years and is retiring after the season, to run out the final 25 seconds of the clock.

Boynton joined the seniors with a stellar offensive effort including 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc to go along with six assists. Walker added eight points and seven dimes even though he did not hit his first shot until well into the second half.

Guard Trevor Releford led Alabama in scoring with 17 points, while star Fs JaMychael Green and Tony Mitchell combined for 24 points and 17 rebounds (11 offensive).

UF hopes to keep the SEC title to themselves but first must face No. 20/21 Vanderbilt on the road Saturday at 6 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN. UA will also head on the road to face Georgia on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

No. 14 Florida vs. Alabama Gameday (Senior Day)

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 12,000]
Time: 7:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPNU
Online Video: N/A
Online Audio: Yahoo!
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

No. 14 FLORIDA GATORS ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Anthony Grant
Record: 22-6 (11-3 SEC) Record: 19-9 (11-3 SEC)
Division: SEC East Division: SEC West
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -6; O/U 125.5

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Alabama leads the all-time series against Florida 73-59, but the Gators have beat the Crimson Tide in 15 of the last 18 contests dating back to 1999. Florida defeated Alabama 66-65 in Tuscaloosa last season, making Donovan 16-5 all-time against the Crimson Tide (8-0 at home).
» The Gators are 4-1 against the SEC West this season after going an undefeated 6-0 against the division last year.
» Florida has won 14 of its last 17 games with 12 victories against RPI top 100 teams; their six-game winning streak was snapped Saturday by Kentucky.
» Alabama has also won 14 of its last 17 games and has only allowed six opponents to score more than 60 points over that stretch.
» UF and UA, both No. 1 seeds in the 2011 SEC Tournament, are squaring off Tuesday with the victor winning the overall SEC regular season title.
» The Gators are 19-1 (8-0 SEC) when holding an opponent under 70 points this year.
» Florida is 13-3 at home this year and can reach 14 wins in the O’Dome for the seventh time in Donovan’s 15-year UF career.
» The Gators, struggling all season from the line, are hitting 73.6 percent of their attempts from the charity stripe over the last six games.
» Florida is 9-2 when senior forward Chandler Parsons takes 10+ shots from the field. He moved into the top 20 in school history in scoring (1,345 points) with 15 points on Saturday. He is also one of only three active players in Division I college basketball with over 1,300 points, 750 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals.
» Gators junior point guard Erving Walker, with 195 three-pointers, is sixth all-time at UF. He is three treys away from moving into the top five.
» Florida has reached 20+ wins for the 13th consecutive season, the longest active streak in the SEC. The Gators have also reached 10 wins in league play for the ninth time in the last 13 years and first time since 2007 (13-3).
» The Crimson Tide are led by Grant, a former assistant under Donovan, who has compiled a 112-49 mark in five years as a head coach (36-24 at current job).
» Florida bests Alabama in all four major national statistical categories. The Gators top the Crimson Tide in points per game 70.8-67.6 (120th-214th), rebounds per game 37.8-37.2 (46th-65th), assists per game 13.8-12.9 (115th-176th) and field goal percentage .457-.452 (80th-104th). Alabama is one of the few teams in the SEC that plays better defense than Florida, limiting opponents to 58.2 points and .373 shooting on the season (vs. 62.2 and .423). UF ranks 12th in RPI (.6333) and eighth in strength of schedule nationally compared to UA being 87th (.5487) and 175th, respectively.

SENIOR DAY

The Gators’ 2010-11 senior class will graduate with a (as of press time) 92-42 all-time record including a SEC East title and two NCAA Tournament appearances. Allen, who has suffered from chronic knee problems, has not played since April 1, 2008 and will depart the program one year early. Macklin was around for 43 of those wins, joining the team as a transfer and only playing two seasons after redshirting. Parsons is in the top 20 in school history in scoring, and Tyus was just the fifth player under Donovan to reach 500 career field goals. Parsons also won SEC Player of the Week and Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week in his senior season.

* F Adam Allen – #14 – Milton, Fla. [redshirt junior]
Career at UF (2007-08): 144 points, 29 rebounds, 15 assists, six steals, three blocks

* C Vernon Macklin – #32 – Portsmouth, Va. [redshirt senior]
Career at UF (2009-11): 673 points, 355 rebounds, 46 assists, 29 steals, 52 blocks

* F Chandler Parsons – #25 – Casselberry, Fla. [senior]
Career at UF (2007-11): 1,345 points, 787 rebounds, 303 assists, 121 steals, 37 blocks

* F Alex Tyus – #23 – St. Louis, Mo. [senior]
Career at UF (2007-11): 1,243 points, 692 rebounds, 72 assists, 51 steals, 107 blocks

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Parsons…who is back to averaging double-digit points (11.1) while leading the Gators with 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Parsons ranks No. 1 among active SEC players in rebounds (787), No. 3 in points (1,345) and assists (303) and No. 4 steals (121). At one point he notched three-straight double-doubles and now has six this year.
» Walker…who is leading his team in scoring with 14.6 points per game and leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.415) and three-point percentage (.374). Walker also leads Florida in turnovers (69) 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 56.9 percent from the floor this season as a starter with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.2 points and 6.0 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 37.0 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second in scoring with 13.5 points per game and makes a team-high 83.5 percent of his free throws. He is also shooting 90.6 percent from the line (48-of-53) in SEC play.
» 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.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are Florida’s primary reserves each averaging over 17 minutes per game. Wilbekin, in relief of Walker, leads UF in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.25:1), while Young averages 3.2 points and 3.4 boards.
» Alabama Fs JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell who each shoot better than .500 from the floor while averaging nearly 16 points and seven boards per game. The duo is responsible for the vast majority of the Crimson Tide’s points and rebounds this season.

Parsons, Tyus, Macklin celebrating Senior Day

The No. 14/14 Florida Gators (22-6, 11-3 SEC) hope the conclusion of Tuesday’s game against the Alabama Crimson Tide (19-9, 11-3 SEC) brings the same smiles that three seniors and one junior will have on their faces before the contest even begins, as the University of Florida celebrates the achievements of redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, senior forwards Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus, and redshirt junior F Adam Allen on Senior Day. All three players, along with head coach Billy Donovan, spoke about the special occasion on Monday.

LOOKING BACK ON FOUR YEARS OF GROWTH

Refraining from referring to ego or a sense of entitlement, Donovan discussed the trials and tribulations his graduating class went through over the course of their Florida careers – especially early on.

“I don’t think you can really be successful unless your heart really gets broken in something that’s competitive,” he said. “I did not feel, when those guys were freshmen and sophomores, that their hearts were broken. Their hearts got broken after their sophomore year. When they came in here after those two National Championships, there was no doubt in their mind they were cruising right to the same thing in 2008 and 2009. It was just very, very immature. It was not their fault. There was no one there to show them.

“They walked into the most difficult situation you could possibly walk into as a young group, and it was not their fault. If anybody, it was my fault. When I say it was my fault, I did not have enough depth or enough people around those guys that when [the Oh Fours] left, that there was enough there for those guys. They came in as freshmen not knowing anything and really got put into a very difficult situation. I give them credit because they were resilient. They did battle and they did fight and they did try to figure things out. They could have felt sorry for themselves. They could have left and gone somewhere else, but they kept battling. Where they are today from where they were as freshmen is two totally different ends of the spectrum.”

Parsons remembers Donovan locking the team out of the beautiful practice facility and taking away their official team clothes after a tough first season that resulted in a NIT berth. “That was unbelievable. That was a rough time for everybody,” he said. “Having to practice at Florida Gym with no shirt, our own shorts, having to do our laundry, come back three times a day, practicing at P.K. Yonge. That was definitely different. Those experiences have helped our upperclassmen get to where they are today.”

EMOTIONAL YET REWARDING

Like most coaches, Donovan will probably show plenty of emotion and stick his chest out with pride as his four oldest players celebrate their final game in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. “It’s always a hard thing. It’s emotional for anybody. When guys step into the arena and know it’s their last game, that’s significant,” he said. “They’re never going to play there again. When they’re young, they act like it’s never going to end. Now they realize, ‘Wow, this is coming to an end.’”

That being said, he also realizes what it took for them to get to where they are now both as players and individuals. “It’s been very rewarding, fulfilling just to see them to get to this point. Sometimes, two-to-three years ago, you don’t know if you’re ever going to get to that point in time,” Donovan noted. “They have worked hard. They have figured some things out. They still know there is a lot left of this season to be played.

“Those three guys deserve a lot of credit in terms of trying to get better, trying to improve and dealing with the adversity and growing pains of trying to be successful.”

Macklin in particular realizes he has made huge strides since first joining the team as a transfer from Georgetown. “I came a long way. I was mentally and physically weak when I got here,” he said. “It was tough for me to realize that coaches and these players actually care about me. Me sitting out, these guys treated me like I was actually playing that year. That made me feel like those guys really wanted me to be here. That helped me out a lot, and I think I’ve grown a lot from there.”

Read more from the mouths of Parsons, Allen and Macklin…after the break!
Continue Reading » Parsons, Tyus, Macklin celebrating Senior Day

FOUR BITS: Bond, Manuel, Dwyer, swimming

1 » Florida Gators guard Jaterra Bonds, who is second on the women’s basketball team in points this year, was named to the 2011 Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team on Tuesday. She won the SEC Freshman of the Week award twice this season and scored a career-high 22 points one week ago.

2 » Former Gators safety Marquand Manuel, a sixth-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, completed an eight-year NFL career in 2009 and has been hired as an intern with the football staff, according to the University of Florida. Manuel, who played under former head coach Steve Spurrier from 1998-2001, totaled 308 tackles (nine for loss), six interceptions, 22 passes defended, eight sacks and six fumble recoveries in his college career. He played in both a SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl and was an honor student at UF. In the league, he saw extensive time from 2002-2006 with Cincinnati, Seattle and Green Bay. Manuel caught and returned an interception 32 yards in the 2005 NFC Championship game to help send Seattle to Super Bowl XL, a game in which he started. He also spent a full season as a starter with Green Bay the following season before being released by the team and bouncing around the NFL until deciding to call it quits.

3 » Florida senior swimmer Conor Dwyer has been chosen as the cover athlete for the March 2011 issue of Swimming World Magazine, which is a College Championships Preview issue. Dwyer is the defending NCAA National Men’s Swimmer of the Year and is having yet another fantastic season.

4 » Gators swimming, under head coach Gregg Troy, has announced a significant restructuring of the program due to the 2012 London Olympics. Troy was named head coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Men’s Swimming Team and, with Florida’s blessing, will need some assistance handling both gigs next season. Below is a portion of UF’s release, which can be read in full here.

The University of Florida men’s and women’s swimming program will undergo an organizational restructuring in preparation of the 2012 Olympic year, head coach Gregg Troy announced Tuesday. Assistant head coaches Martyn Wilby and Anthony Nesty have each been promoted to the title of associate head coach, while assistant coach Steve Jungbluth has been named recruiting coordinator. Assistant coach Leah Martindale-Stancil will retain her duties on deck as well as her role as swim camp director, while Erva Gilliam has been elevated to the director of swimming operations.

“The restructuring of our program will provide us with an opportunity on deck to really focus in on the first-hand development of premier performances by our swimmers,” Troy said. “With the number of current and post-graduate swimmers here on our campus that are training towards the 2012 London Olympics, the delegation of administrative duties will allow us more time on deck to really work hand-in-hand with the training of each of our student-athletes, allowing them to compete for SEC, NCAA and Olympic Championships.”

2/28: Donovan on SEC title, Grant, defense

No. 14/14 Florida Gators (22-6, 11-3 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 availabilities Monday.

IT’s ALL ABOUT THE ‘SHIP

Don’t get it twisted. While there are plenty of storylines that will converge Tuesday night in Gainesville, FL, the most important thing to both Florida and the Alabama Crimson Tide is the opportunity to capture the 2011 Southeastern Conference regular season title. It is something that the Gators have worked four years to be in the position to achieve, while the Crimson Tide has simply played terrific basketball in conference play after starting the season out shaky.

“Ultimately both teams are going to go out there and are going to have to play,” said Donovan of facing his ex-associate coach. “We both do similar things, there are some similarities there. But you’re always coaching to your personnel and what you have.”

Alabama head coach Anthony Grant shared a similar sentiment, also heavily complimenting Florida as a team and the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. “Florida’s playing terrific basketball right now. It will be a tough environment to walk into, in their building Tuesday,” he said. “The thing we try to do is stay in the moment. It’s one game at a time. We’ve got enough with Florida’s team. They’re very talented.”

Perhaps summing it up best from UF’s perspective is redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, who will play his final game in the building Tuesday. “I just want to come out of here with a win, our last win at home. It would be very rewarding,” he said. “I don’t know a player in college basketball who wouldn’t want [to win a conference title].”

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP REMAINS STRONG

Donovan and Grant, both of whom became great friends while working together and have forged a bond that will last a lifetime, have not seen much of each other on the court since the latter left to become a head coach. However, the respect level they have for one another knows no bounds.

“I’m really happy for Anthony because he’s done a teriffic job with his team,” Donovan said early Monday during the SEC media teleconference. He continued praising Grant later in the day. “The personal relationship with Anthony, I’m very happy for him and the job that he’s done with his team. He really has done a terrific job.” Grant shared his thoughts as well. “Obviously I’ve got a lot of respect for what Billy’s done,” he said, “not only this year but the way his guys play [in general].”

PHYSICALITY, TOUGHNESS AND DEFENSE

The Gators have been lauded for the hard-nosed, grind-it-out defense they have exhibited game-in and game-out. In fact, many of Florida’s big victories this season have come from a thorough defensive effort. UF may meet its match Tuesday when it takes on UA, a team that has been holding opponents to fewer points per game (67.6-70.8) and lower shooting percentages (.452-.457). The Crimson Tide also block more shots per game (5.2-3.7), grab more steals (9.6-6.1) and force more turnovers (16.1-13.0).

“They’re a physical team. They do a great job defensively creating a lot of steals. They do a great job with their hands,” Donovan remarked. “Our ability to be strong with the ball is going to be really important in the game. They really don’t give up a lot of easy baskets so to speak. They have good speed, good quickness and athleticism [as well as] size across the front line. They’re just very active defensively and very athletic.”

This is a fact that has not been lost on the players, especially senior forward Chandler Parsons. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country. We’re going to have to execute our offense really well,” he said. “Coach Grant was in this system for a while, so I’m sure he knows some of the stuff we’re going to throw at him. It’s all about us being strong with the ball, making smart plays, not turning the ball over because they’re very disruptive on defense.”

FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Black, Hill, soccer commits

1 » Florida Gators center Mike Pouncey has heard the doubters, but he is steadfast in believing a few things: (1) he’s better than his brother, (2) staying another year at UF had a positive affect on him and (3) he will be drafted higher than No. 18 overall [where the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Maurkice Pouncey in 2010]. “I think I block in the open field better, but like I said, we’re the same player,” Mike quipped during the media session at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine. He also told CBS’s Len Pasquarelli that not being picked before his brother would cause him great anxiety. “I won’t sleep, man, if I don’t go higher than he did,” he said. “I mean, I came back to [the Gators] for a reason. It’s not like we have a bet or anything. He keeps saying, like, ‘OK, you can go 19th [overall]. That would really be good.’ But I want to be higher, if possible. That would be good, too.” Pouncey also discussed his early season struggles. “There was a lot of [focus] on the bad shotgun snaps at the beginning of the year,” he noted. “But things got a lot better as the year went on. And people were looking at one or two snaps out of the 70 that I played, and making a judgment on them. Scouts, they’re looking at all 70 plays and grading them. Judge me on a whole game. I think I can play.”

2 » Florida safety Ahmad Black is sick of having his size criticized, especially when scouts only have positive things to say about all of his other attributes. Nevertheless, he has not let the insults get him down and continues to push ahead toward his goal of starting in an NFL secondary sooner than later. “It’s frustrating,” he said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. “At the end of the day, it’s about making plays, You’ve got the big guy that’s fast and can make plays and you just want to make more plays than that guy. I get to the ball, I’m fast. At the end of the day, I get what they’re saying. But can he make plays or can he not? That’s how I live. Teams may pass on me because of my size, but the team that picks me up will definitely have something good.”

3 » Black was not the only Gators safety to depart this season; junior Will Hill left a year early to pursue his dream of playing football professionally while providing for his family. Before the combine, Hill was the subject of a feature story by the Newark Star-Ledger. In it he noted that he was concerned with how teams perceived his character. “How are they going to judge me as a person, see me as a person?” Hill said. “Character issues are a big thing in the NFL and that can make or break you, so that’s the biggest pressure.” The writer speaks with a number of people close to Hill to get a fuller picture about the type of person he is both on and off the field. The paper also spoke with ESPN’s Todd McShay, who had this to say about Hill’s future:

“He’s going to be asked a lot of questions. He’s going to have to answer them sincerely and NFL teams are going to have to feel comfortable with him. When you’re one of the top 30, 40, 50 players, teams are going to overlook more than when it comes to guys who are somewhere in the 100s, 150-250 overall — it’s like anything in life. And with Will Hill, obviously, there are some of those questions.”

4 » Florida soccer, which finished the 2010 season ranked No. 12 in the country and No. 1 in the SEC, announced Monday that 13 players will be joining the team as part of the 2011 recruiting class. Joining the Gators in the fall are forwards Tessa Andujar (San Clemente, CA) and Jillian Graff (Medina, OH); defenders Savannah Berry (Encinitas, CA), Annie Bobbitt (Fleming Island, FL), Kim Sapienza (Gainesville, FL), Lauren Silver (Delray Beach, FL) and Taylor Thigpen (Jacksonville, FL); midfielders Lindsey Cooper (Seminole, FL), Katrina Gutsche (Valrico, FL), Jennifer Larrick (Westford, MA), Havana Solaun (Gainesville, FL) and Annie Speese (Augusta, GA); and goalkeeper Taylor Burke (Medina, OH). Cooper is the sister of former Gators star wide receiver Riley Cooper, and Burke signed her National Letter of Intent with the track & field team so she will not count against soccer’s scholarship limit. For more information on the newest Florida student-athletes, click here.

New York Knicks waive forward Corey Brewer

Updated March 1 at 4 p.m.

Just days after making sure they acquired him in a side deal included in the blockbuster trade for forward Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks bought out and waved former Florida Gators F Corey Brewer on Tuesday.

New York decided to buy out Brewer in order to free a roster spot to sign veteran F Jared Jeffries, who the team traded to Houston in 2010.

Brewer, who was released on March 1 in order to be eligible to participate in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, was already being courted by four teams on Monday, according to ESPN‘s Marc Stein. Boston, Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio – all playoff teams – are all vying for his services as a defensive specialist on the wing.

Yahoo! Sports’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that “nearly a dozen teams have checked in” with Brewer’s representatives, who are “sorting through the suitors” in order to find the best fit for their client. In addition to the four teams above, Stein reports that Miami, Chicago, New Orleans and Cleveland have also joined the hunt for Brewer. Chances are he will wind up with a contender, but Cleveland can offer almost $3.7 million of their mid-level exception, a figure which could sway him toward the Midwest.

Averaging 24.3 minutes per game with the Minnesota Timberwovles this season, Brewer posted 8.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game (all below his career numbers). He did not see the court for a single minute with the Knicks in the three games played while he was a member of the team.

OGGOA will update this story as more information is made available.

Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Allen to skip fifth season, be honored Tuesday

Redshirt junior forward Adam Allen, who has not played since first injuring his knee in April 2008, has decided to forgo his fifth year of eligibility and conclude his basketball career with the Florida Gators.

Due to his decision, Allen will be honored alongside redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin and senior Fs Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus during Senior Day ceremonies on Tuesday before Florida plays Alabama at home.

“It means a lot to me,” Allen said, per The Gainesville Sun. “Even though I haven’t been able to compete this last three seasons, I still feel like I’m a huge part of the team.”

Allen, who sits on the bench for every home game but does not travel with this team, has been a great cheerleader for his teammates. Whether consoling guys who are struggling or running down the court on one leg after a teammate hits a buzzer-beating game winner, he has done his best to smile in the face of continued adversity.

Moving on to what he hopes will be a career in broadcasting, Allen is departing on the heels of the best season he has seen as a member of the team.

As the Sun’s Kevin Brockway points out, Allen’s decision opens up a second scholarship that head coach Billy Donovan could use for the 2011-12 season. The Gators will have four available with two being filled by five-star guard Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) and three-star F Walter Pitchford (East Lansing, MI).

Photo Credit: Unknown

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