FOUR BITS: Pouncey’s stock, Crowder, Eckstein

1 » Former Florida Gators center Mike Pouncey, expected to be the only member of his team picked in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, told the Sporting News on Monday that he will attend the event if invited regardless of what the NFLPA asks rookies to do. “I haven’t been invited yet, but I’m hoping to get invited,” Pouncey said. “I’ll bring my brother up there and a couple of my family members. I’m going if I’m invited. I just feel like it’s a dream I’ve wanted my whole life. We’ve busted our tails to be in the draft, and it’s a dream come true.” He understands this might ruffle the feathers of some veterans but explained that the day is about the rookies. “I’m not too worried about [any backlash],” he said. “I respect their feelings because they’re great players. But as far as them keeping us from going to the draft, I’m totally against it.”

2 » Speaking of Pouncey, former NFL head coach Brian Billick – who also spoke highly of safety Ahmad Black – praised his versatility on his daily blog published for WNST AM1570 in Baltimore, MD. Below is a portion of what he wrote:

When you watch Pouncey play, you see a good athlete that plays light on his feet, but can anchor down and get physical when needed. That athleticism is on display when you watch him pull on counter and trap plays. He runs a tight line through the hole and gets to the second level quickly to clear a path for the running back. His initial punch is powerful and he keeps good leverage to hold up the defender at the line of scrimmage. […] Late in the game as fatigue sets in, Mike tends to stand up straighter and bend at the waist rather than the knees. He will need to fight off the urge to be a consistent performer in the NFL. Because of his versatility and body of work, Mike Pouncey will be the first interior lineman to be selected.

3 » There has never been any attempt by OGGOA to hide our admiration for Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder. Proving our fascination with his ability to make any interview interesting once again, Crowder spouted off on ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. on 560 WQAM in South Florida on Monday, nothing that the high-haired analyst cost him a bunch of money coming out of the University of Florida by over-projecting him. “Mel Kiper and all, he messed me over,” Crowder said. “He lied to me, said I was a top-20 [pick] had me go out and spend X amount of dollars and then owe the bank stuff. They’re just guessing like we guess.” Obviously Kiper didn’t force Crowder to spend a penny; he was being facetious in the statement.

4 » A family man first and baseball player second, former Florida second baseman David Eckstein has decided to put his playing career either on hold or on the shelf permanently in order to donate a kidney to an ailing family member. The Ecksteins, who Yahoo! Sports’ ThePostGame reports have had “five kidney transplants with six more anticipated” as a family, did not ask David to give up his over the years because of a MLB career that earned him millions. He took it upon himself to save a family member’s life this time around. “Everything my family went through gave me a life lesson at an early age that a game is just a game, it’s not life-or-death,” he said. “But along with that, it taught me to never take a day for granted. I’m looking forward to the transplant. I consider it a privilege. I knew at some point it would be my turn.” Also donating a kidney for his family is former Gators player Rick Eckstein, David’s brother. Read the rest of writer Steve Henson’s amazing story on the Ecksteins here.

3/28: Gators experience offensive shake-ups

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice now in full swing, the school made a number of the team’s players available to the media as the third week of action began on Monday. There was a noticeable excitement in the air about the possibilities in Florida’s new offense under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, as evidenced by some of the notable news and quotes provided during the press sessions.

A NEW MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Known as one of the team’s most versatile lineman, redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison has a chance to prove that moniker is true after learning that he has been moved to center and will compete for the starting job with redshirt junior Sam Robey. “[I’m] playing center this year,” he said on Monday. “It’s going real good. It’s a big change from left guard, but I’m enjoying it so far and I’m just going to work at it all spring.”

Harrison, who has not manned the middle since his freshman year of high school, said coaches did not give him any specific reasoning for the move, noting that it was “for the betterment of the team” and that he was “shocked but…excited at the same time.”

With the ball now in his hands, Harrison understands that he has to shoulder additional responsibility from this point forward. “I have to learn the calls. Especially with this new offense and everything, I’m just adjusting to all these calls,” he said. “The center is actually required to make the IDs now and everything, so I’m getting used to that.”

OFFENSIVE LINE STILL ADJUSTING

As with any unit that loses the majority of its starters to graduation and the NFL Draft, Florida’s offensive line is still trying to find its identity. Harrison thinks the unit will come together rather quickly. “Offense as a whole, we’re looking real good. We’re going to be amazing,” he said. “I feel like this is just all going to mesh together as soon as we’re used to playing with each other and everything, especially with the young O-line. […] We’re young, but we worked together as the second string, a lot of us. So now we’re just bringing all that together on the first string,” he said.

Redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio said that the schemes the offensive linemen are being taught are completely different from a year ago, something that is taking some getting used to. “Everything from point A to point B – blocking and everything – everything is different from last year,” he said. “Our offensive line coach [Frank Verducci] is not only teaching us techniques, now we’re learning the whole entire football play. We got to know what the quarterback is thinking, running back is thinking, wide receiver is thinking. We’re not just thinking about ourselves and our blocking schemes; we’ve got to know what everyone else is doing on the field.”

RAVING FOR RAINEY

No matter who you ask about the Gators’ offense these days, you will hear one thing for certain: redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey is having an awesome spring. Head coach Will Muschamp has said so on numerous occasions, and the guys blocking for him are coming to the same conclusion.

“Our offense really fits [Rainey] because he’s got so much speed,” redshirt freshman tackle Chaz Green said. “We got some things that can put him in some one-on-one match-ups, get him in some space. It will be good, with his speed, to use his athletic ability.”

Harrison and Halapio both agreed. “Chris Rainey’s doing real well in this offense,” the former said. “He’s so fast. He’s done real good from last year. His cuts are more sweet. His routes are precise. He’s just a good football player right now,” the latter added.

LEADERS EMERGING

With any change in regime and departure of a number of seniors comes a leadership void. Halapio noted how different the team is now “because we don’t have [Tim] Tebow, [Brandon] Spikes and the Pounceys.” He went out of his way to point out a few guys who are doing their best to lead the way. Offensively, Halapio said himself, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and junior tackle Xavier Nixon are leading the way, while sophomores buck linebacker Ronald Powell and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd are carrying the load on defense.

SECONDARY COMING TOGETHER

Both of Florida’s starting safeties departed in 2010, leaving sophomore Matt Elam as the most experienced valve in the defensive backfield. As part of his new responsibilities, he is slowly learning how to step up and be someone his teammates can count on. “There’s a lot of things I need to work on just being a leader. I’m not used to being vocal and everything like that,” he said. “I might have to take on that role and start doing that, being more vocal and being more of a leader, because I’m not used to that.”

Elam also said that he feels comfortable with the new staff and is happy that Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are allowing him to blitz. “I love Muschamp. He’s a cool man. I’m learning a lot from him. I’m loving the coaching right now,” he said.

Redshirt senior cornerback Moses Jenkins, who OGGOA has been keeping tabs on since the website began, spoke about getting a new lease on his college career with a sixth year of eligibility. “I worked hard, came out the first game and injured myself,” he said of hurting his elbow in 2010 after missing most of 2009 due to a head injury. “It was kind of tough, but it’s football. Injuries happen and you’ve got to move forward.”

FOUR BITS: Harvin, Taylor, Bullock, Macklin

1 » Due to his migraines and a coaching change mid-season, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin did not end up performing up to where he did when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie one year earlier. When If the 2011 season begins, Harvin will be more involved in the offense, according to head coach Leslie Frazier. “I still think there are more things that can be done with Percy [Harvin],” he told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “We did some things toward the end of the year where we definitely tried to isolate him, and that’s one of the reasons I pulled him off kickoff at times. I wanted to feature him more than we were. I wanted him to be a featured part of our offense. There’s different things we can do with him, and hopefully, Sidney [Rice is] in the fold and he’s healthy and there’s some things that we can do with him. Because of Adrian [Peterson], there are opportunities that we can do on the perimeter that a lot of teams can’t. But you still have to account for him on every single play. So, we have to be able to exploit in that sense and I think what we’re trying to do is build to be able to do that. Adrian creates a lot of good situations for our perimeter people.”

2 » Two months ago, veteran running back Fred Taylor sounded like he was going to call it quits after a 13-year NFL career including 10 as a featured rusher. Having amassed 11,695 yards and 66 touchdowns (as well as 290 receptions for 2,384 yards and eight more scorers) over his career, Taylor has noted that being healthy enough to spend quality time with his family is important going forward. On Monday, Taylor told Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union that being injured in 2010 may have “bought him some extra years.” At 35-years-old, it remains to be seen if he will decide to continue and what time, if any, would sign him.

3 » Former Florida right-handed pitcher Billy Bullock was traded from the Minnesota Twins – who drafted him in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft – to the Atlanta Braves on Monday in order to complete an long-standing deal. Bullock has spent his time as a professional in the minor leagues and pitched for AA squad New Britain last season, striking out 60 batters in 36 2/3 innings.

4 » Wrapping up Gators basketball for the 2011 season is this story from The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway on a tattoo redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin has on his forearm. Though he has 40+ tattoos, Macklin has one that means a lot more to him the rest – a memorial to his deceased grandmother. Read more about Macklin’s tattoo here.

UF baseball, softball struggle in rough weekend

Both holding high national rankings going into the weekend, Florida Gators baseball and softball each faltered over a three-day stretch, combining to drop five of six games to a pair of top-tier Southeastern Conference opponents

OGGOA has compiled short summaries of each of the weekend contests below as well as information on what the two teams have ahead of them this week.

BASEBALL

Facing the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks (18-5, 4-2 SEC) at McKethan Stadium over the long weekend in Gainesville, FL, No. 1 Florida (21-4, 4-2 SEC) was topped 9-2 in Friday’s opener and edged 4-3 in the series finale on Sunday. In between, the Gators took a hard-fought 2-1 victory on Saturday.

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (4-1) dropped his first decision, allowing six earned runs on eight hits and a pair of walks in 5.1 innings on Friday. He gave up four runs in the top of the third and was pulled in the top of the fifth before additional damage could be done. Florida was scoreless until the bottom of the ninth, when senior second baseman Josh Adams and junior pinch hitter Jeff Moyer knocked in runs.

The Gators were engaged in a pitching duel Saturday with sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (4-0) tossing the first complete game of his career as the team took a 2-1 decision. Randall struck out four and did not allow a single earned run in the outing. Forrest Koumas and Matt Price combined to give up only three hits and a single unearned run for the Gamecocks, striking out eight UF batters in the process. Sophomore center fielder Kamm Washington (1-2, HR, RBI, 2 R) crossed the plate twice for Florida, initially scoring after being hit by a pitch and sacrificed home by sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (0-3, RBI).

Florida did themselves in on Sunday, coughing up a 3-0 lead and eventually losing 4-3 due to miscues and poor pitching. Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson got the start for the Gators and pitched well, striking out five and giving up an earned run on two hits and a pair of walks. Relievers junior Nick Maronde and sophomore Austin Maddox each gave up unearned runs in the sixth, and junior Tommy Toledo (2-2) allowed South Carolina to score the game-winner in the eighth. After allowing the lead-off batter to hit a double and hitting the next man with a pitch, Toledo threw an intentional walk to load the bases and walked in the winning run on a full count. Washington (1-3, RBI, R, BB), Adams (0-3, RBI) and freshman third baseman Zack Powers (1-3, RBI) all knocked in runs for Florida while sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (3-4, R) did the best he could.

SOFTBALL

Though they undoubtedly tried, softball performed even worse than baseball did over the weekend. The No. 2 Gators (30-4, 7-3 SEC) were swept at home at Pressly Softball Stadium by the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs (27-4, 8-3 SEC) and were outscored 28-13 over the three games. With star senior RHP Stephanie Brombacher (bicep) on the bench since March 12, freshman RHP Hannah Rogers and sophomore RHP Ensley Gammel struggled against one of the best offenses in the nation.

Down 6-0 in the fifth on Friday, Florida exploded with a six-run frame including home runs from senior first baseman Megan Bush (2-4, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R), freshman SS Cheyenne Coyle (1-3, HR, RBI, R) and senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (2-3, HR, 3 RBI, R). Bush homered again in the sixth to put the Gators ahead 7-6, but Gammel gave up two homers and four runs in the top of the seventh to blow the lead. She pitched a complete game but gave up 10 earned runs on 12 hits and nine walks in the outing.

Gammel (0-2) produced a similar performance just one day later, allowing 10 earned runs on seven hits and 10 walks in five innings. In addition to being down 6-5 through six, the Gators allowed seven runs in the top of the seventh to put the contest out of reach. Senior 2B Aja Paculba (2-4, HR, 2 RBI, R), Bruder (2-4, RBI, R), Bush (0-3, RBI) and sophomore C Brittany Schutte (1-3, RBI) all hocked in runs for Florida.

Rogers (16-2) tried her hand at the Bulldogs on Sunday but also failed in her efforts, tossing a complete game but giving up five earned runs on nine hits. Georgia led the entire way, outscoring UF 5-0 until Bush (1-3, HR, RBI, R) hit her third homer of the series in the bottom of the fifth.

The Gators will look to rebound from their disastrous weekend with a number of contests over the next week. Baseball will take on Florida State in a rubber match on Tuesday in Jacksonville, FL prior to taking on Tennessee in a three-game weekend series at home, while softball will face South Florida on Wednesday before heading to Lexington, KY for a three-game series against Kentucky over the weekend.

SIX BITS: swimming, Gal, gym, tennis, lacrosse

1 » During the 2011 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on Friday, the Florida Gators men’s team brought home a pair of National Championships. Competing in Minneapolis, MN, senior Brett Fraser captured the national title in the 200-yard freestyle. He was also part of the four-man team – including senior Conor Dwyer, junior Jeffrey Raymond and sophomore Sebastien Rousseau – that won the championship in the 800-yard freestyle relay.

2 » Former Florida golfer Sandra Gal picked up the first LPGA victory of her career on Sunday, winning the Kia Classic and $255,000. She finished at a 16-under 276 and won on the 18th and final hole on Sunday. “I’m a bit overwhelmed,” she said after the win. “you know, it was close all day long, so I had to kind of dig deep to pull out some shots. I’m just happy to have finally done it. I had a good feeling about today when I woke up.”

3 » Gators gymnastics was honored Wednesday when a number of players were awarded with spots on 2011 All-Southeastern Conference teams. junior Ashanée Dickerson and freshman Alaina Johnson earned First Team recognition, while junior Nicole Ellis, senior Alicia Goodwin, sophomore Marissa King and senior Maranda Smith were named to the Second Team. Johnson also picked up a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. Joining her with an overall honor was Rhonda Faehn, who won her second-straight SEC Coach of the Year award. It is the fourth of her career.

4 » No. 1 Florida women’s tennis continued their march to the postseason with a pair of impressive shutout victories over the weekend. The Gators (17-1, 6-0 SEC) took down the Ole Miss Rebels (8-6, 1-4 SEC) 7-0 on Friday and the Mississippi State Bulldogs (2-10, 0-6 SEC) 7-0 on Sunday.

5 » Following suit was No. 19 Florida men’s tennis (12-5, 5-1 SEC), which took down Mississippi State (9-6, 4-2 SEC) in a 4-3 nail biter on Saturday. With the match tied, No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix took No. 84 Artem Ilyushin into a third-set tie breaker to pull out the victory. Lacroix won 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5) to give UF its eighth 4-3 finish.

6 » No. 9 Gators lacrosse (10-1, 1-0 ALC) continued its spectacular sophomore season on Saturday, taking down the Ohio State Buckeyes (5-4, 0-1 ALC) 10-8 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Ohio State actually outscored Florida 5-3 in the second period but was unable to overcome UF’s 7-3 first-period advantage. Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen, on her way to likely earning conference and perhaps national honors this season, scored six goals on 11 shots for the Gators. She now has a team-high 49 goals and 53 points on the season.

TWO BITS: James signed, Noah disappointed

1 » Former Florida Gators kick returer/wide receiver Brandon James, signed as an undrafted free agent by the Indianapolis Colts in 2010 but cut during the season, was picked up by the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL on Friday. Edmonton had traded their kick-return specialist and wanted to sign a dynamic player to fill his shoes. “With his speed and elusiveness, we believe Brandon has a chance to be an explosive talent,” Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman said in a news release picked up by the Edmonton Journal. “He was dominant in an elite conference as his record-breaking career reflects and on our bigger field, where returning punts, kickoffs and missed field goals are all a major part of winning in the Canadian Football League. We’re hoping Brandon will generate an abundance of excitement and big plays.”

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, who won a pair of national titles with Florida, was more concerned about the Gators game on Saturday than he was about his upcoming matchup with the Boston Celtics. According to ESPN Chicago, Noah was “huddled around a television while the rest of his teammates got dressed in the locker room” and was pacing back and forth watching the team in overtime. “You got the sense that if Noah could pull the fuzzy orange hat which sat atop his head all the way over his face, he might have done it,” the site’s Nick Friedell reported.

Noah also spoke to him on Friday about how close his team came to not winning back-to-back championships. “People have this feeling that we dominated for two years,” Noah said. “I’ll always remember playing in the Sweet 16 [in 2006] and Corey Brewer hitting a shot he’s never hit before with 10 seconds left to get us up one against Georgetown. If he doesn’t hit that shot, we probably don’t make it and win back-to-back titles. It just shows how funny this game is. You’ve got to stay on edge and stay focused and understand that you can’t take anything for granted.”

Gators continue to roll through spring practice

With the men’s basketball team’s deep run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament dominating the front page over the last week, Florida Gators football took a backseat for once in people’s minds. Even so, football continued to make strides during spring practice and plenty occurred with the team throughout the last seven days.

CONGRATULATING THE BASKETBALL TEAM

Florida head coach Will Muschamp took a moment before he began talking about the football team on Friday to praise head basketball coach Billy Donovan and the efforts of his team. “I want to congratulate Billy Donovan and our basketball program with a great game [against BYU],” he said. “It’s a great example of competing and playing defense and coming together for a common purpose. That was exciting to watch.”

RAINEY CONTINUES TO STAND OUT

After a few days of spring practice, Muschamp pointed to redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey as one of the team’s most impressive players. He did the exact same thing on Friday. “I think Chris has had a phenomenal spring. Here’s a guy who’s a senior [and] has played a lot of football – some really good football – for the Gators, and he’s really worked his tail off as far as day-to-day going in and doing things you’ve got to do to be successful,” he said. “He’s enjoying getting the ball deeper I the backfield to have a chance for his vision and great cutback ability [to pay dividends]. You have to be very gap-sound defensively when he carries the football. He can take the ball all the way. I’m pleased with his progress.”

Muschamp also spoke about how offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will use Rainey’s talents to maximize what the team can do offensively. “Charlie Weis’ philosophy is [to] get the ball in the playmakers’ hands and create matchups,” he said. “Chris will be spread all throughout the field. The slot, outside, depending on how people want to play us defensively, he presents issues. You match a linebacker with him, you’ve got a matchup problem. If you put a secondary guy on him, generally, we we’re going to gain a matchup [advantage] somewhere else. He makes you show your hand defensively a little bit.”

INJURY UPDATES

Junior RB Mike Gillislee (foot): Stress fracture; will be limited remainder of the spring

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Kendric Johnson (knee): Sprained; will not participate for the remainder of the spring

Gillislee and Johnson join defensive tackles redshirt senior Jaye Howard (ankle) and redshirt junior Earl Okine (wrist) on UF’s spring injured list.

QUOTES

Muschamp on four-star quarterback commit Jacoby Brissett possibly playing basketball: “Billy has been a little busy. We haven’t had a whole lot of conversation, but in the recruiting process, that door is open for Jacoby. We’re going to let him make that decision. Once we get done with spring and Billy gets done winning the whole thing there, we’ll sit down and talk about it. […] We’ve been very honest and forthright with that situation. It’s hard, especially at that position, but we’ve told him from the beginning that if that’s something he wants to do, we’ll certainly make that accommodation to make sure it happens.” This quote above comes courtesy of The Gainesville Sun

Florida ends 2011 season with tough OT loss

Putting together a fantastic run to end the season, the No. 2-seed Florida Gators fell just short in the Southeast Regional Final of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, dropping a heartbreaker 74-71 in overtime to the No. 8-seed Butler Bulldogs. It was the first time in school history that the Gators fell in the Elite Eight and did not advance to the Final Four. The teams’ coaches and players spoke with the media following the contest, and OGGOA has compiled the most important news, notes and quotes for you to peruse below.

SENIORS GO HOME DISAPPOINTED

Saturday’s loss was devastating for the entire Florida program but perhaps no one more so than the team’s trio of seniors – forwards Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus and redshirt center Vernon Macklin.

“Right now it’s tough to end a season like that, especially for me with Chandler, Alex and Vernon,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “They’ve provided so much for our program, and I’m proud of them. The thing I mentioned to them in the locker room after the game was that, when a group of guys decide to come together and try to become a team – a real team – a lot of great things can be accomplished. When you go after trying to accomplish something, there is the other side that the losing is even more painful because you have so much invested in each other. When you have that kind of investment in each other, losing at this time becomes much more difficult. These guys came together as a team, and the losing part hurts, and you want it to hurt because you want to get the opportunity to play for what we played for [Saturday].”

Macklin was the most despondent of the three in the post-game press conference, sitting with his head in his hands looking down at the table. Unlike Tyus, who talked about just moving on, he and Parsons were able to articulate their thoughts. “It’s been a great run. I love my teammates. I love my coaching staff. I’m sad to see it all end right now, but it’s been a great time at Florida,” Macklin said. “I’m glad I came here and got a chance to play with these guys, play under Coach Donovan and with this coaching staff.”

Parsons added that he will likely feel this pain for a while. “It hurts right now. It’s what it was made out to me. It is everything I thought it was,” he said of playing in the Elite Eight. “I had a great career here. I loved every day coming to practice, playing with my teammates. I loved the opportunity that we had tonight. Right now it’s just disappointing because we fell short. We wanted to be out there right now celebrating. It just hurts to end this way. […] I haven’t been in this situation. It hurts right now, so right now I have a terrible feeling. I almost feel sick to my stomach. My career is not over. I plan on playing basketball for a long time, so I can’t dwell on it my whole life. But it’s definitely a disappointing time, a sad time for me, because I wanted to keep playing with these guys.”

DONOVAN OUTCOACHED STEVENS, NOT OTHER WAY AROUND?

Sentiment from Gator Nation following UF’s loss Saturday was that Donovan had been outcoached by Butler’s Brad Stevens because Florida took threes at the end of regulation and overtime. However, according to Stevens himself, Donovan did a number on him the entire game. “[The Bulldogs] carried their coach today in a big way. I got outcoached big-time,” he said. “The last thing that I’m going to do is question [the Gators], because I got outcoached pretty thoroughly today. We’re just lucky that our guys are good players.”

VIDEO: See handshake, final one-fourth of the clip.

What is lost in the rush-to-judgment opinions and extreme calamity about Florida’s final shots are two facts: (1) A team was on the floor defending them so the Gators could not do whatever they wanted, and (2) The execution of each play was not necessarily how Donovan drew it up. To conclude regulation, junior point guard Erving Walker was supposed to try to penetrate and either draw a foul or kick the ball open to someone for a potentially shorter jump shot. At the end of overtime, sophomore guard Kenny Boynton should have taken it to the hoop rather than launched a deep three.

“I don’t try to coach anybody else’s team. [Donovan]’s going to be a Hall of Famer whenever he decides to retire,” Stevens said. “I understand what they were doing at the end of regulation. You don’t want to give us the ball at all. The reason [Walker] didn’t get any penetration is because we trapped the ball screen and stayed up with him. He got a pretty good look for a pretty good player. I know this: I was scared when the shot went up. I wasn’t scared when Boynton’s last shot – that heave from about 80 feet – went up.”

Donovan shared similar sentiments. “You want to put the ball in a guy’s hands that you feel like can make that kind of shot,” he said. “In regulation, we got Erving Walker a great look; he told me he had a great look and was really wide open. He was disappointed he missed that one. […] I probably would have liked to seen Kenny drive the ball when we were down by one, I would have preferred that. But he’s another guy that has made some big shots for us. I would have liked to have seen him drive the ball to try to create some contact. You know what? He’s made some shots in some really big situations for us to even be at this position. It’s hard for me to say it’s a bad shot. I would have liked to have seen him drive the ball. He’s made some huge threes in second halves of games and overtimes for us all year long. If it goes in, we’re talking about how Boynton’s clutch shooting continues. But it didn’t go in, and that’s what happens.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO MACKLIN?

By all accounts, Macklin had a dominant game for the Gators in the post. However, three early fouls and a fourth tacked on exactly two seconds after he returned with 9:02 to play in the second half made him ineffective. His free throw shooting down the stretch also made him a liability that Florida could not gamble on in the clutch.

“I felt like Vernon was going to have the opportunity to play on-on-one from the post. He had a great game, gave us a big-time scoring presence inside,” Donovan said. “We went to Vernon to start overtime, and he was 1-for-2 from the free throw line. Certainly we were trying to go inside, but when Vernon comes off the floor, I don’t know necessarily if we have a low-post offensive presence. I knew at that point in time, they were just not going to allow him to do what he did in the first half. If he was going to get an angle, they were going to foul him. I made a decision to at least pull him out and go with Patric [Young]. Patric probably, as a freshman, is not as seasoned and polished as Vernon is as a senior, so he’s a hard guy to go to. And Alex is not that kind of physical presence.”

Even Macklin agreed that he should have been off the court. “[Being in foul trouble was] frustrating. I wanted to be on the floor,” he said. “[I was pulled for] two different reasons. I’m not that great of a free throw shooter, so I didn’t want to jeopardize my teammates. I think Coach Donvoan made a great decision. I picked up some early fouls and some dumb fouls I shouldn’t have got. That’s on me; I should have been in the right position.”

DIFFERENCE IN THE GAME: GRABBING LOOSE BALLS

Things unraveled for the Gators at about the same time Macklin picked up his fourth foul. The Bulldogs went on a quick run to reduce UF’s 11-point lead, partially because Florida was unable to grab a number of loose balls and defensive rebounds which gave Butler a extra possessions. “The difference in the game was right around the 9:00 mark; there was an enormous amount of loose balls that we did not come down with that they came down with,” Donovan explained. “We had two three-point shots that were blocked; they came down with and scored. We had a couple free throws where they missed – one we actually tipped the ball in – that hurt. The game was won by them on loose balls.”

QUOTES

Donovan on his team’s effort: “They became a team. They gave themselves an opportunity to go to the Final Four, and they fell short of that, but they did everything in their power physically, mentally and emotionally to try to win.”

Donovan on if the players will realize what they did accomplish: “They’ll all get over it. It will take some time. Right now we lost, but there will be a time when they look back on where they were in December and they’ll see a better picture of how far they came. You never want it to end. You want it to keep on going.”

Donovan on a frustration about not getting the ball in the post more at the end: “I was pleased with our balance offensively. I thought we had really good inside-outside action. I would have liked to have utilized Vernon a lot more in the second half, but it was hard because he was in foul trouble. Once we got into overtime and the end of regulation, because of his free throw situation, we had to play Patric.”

Donovan on if Parsons and Walker were not in a groove: “The one thing you have to do in order to be a really good team is you have to have balance. In the BYU game, they sold out on Vernon Macklin on every post catch. They sold out on him. So he had to be a post passer. This was a game where they decided to take our perimeter away. You got to throw the ball to Vernon and you got to let him score. He did a heck of a job tonight when we needed to throw the ball to him.”

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