2/7: Donovan hopes to ride momentum wave

No. 17/19 Florida Gators (18-5, 7-2 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 availability Monday.

AVOIDING A LETDOWN AFTER A BIG WEEK

All but one of the Gators’ losses this season have come after a hard-fought and/or impressive victory. Florida fell to Central Florida after beating Florida State 55-51 on the road, lost to Jacksonville in overtime after defeating then-No. 6 Kansas State in South Florida, dropped a tough one to South Carolina following a 81-75 overtime win at Tennessee, and lost to Mississippi State after taking down Georgia 104-91 in two overtimes. Coming off two difficult home games against top 25 opponents, UF looks not to repeat a trend Wednesday at USC.

“We are at an interesting time right now in our league, because we will start to play people in the East for the second time,” Donovan said of his team’s second game against South Carolina. “[We’re] going to Columbia against a team that I thought played very, very well here in Gainesville, they really out-played us all the way through. Their front court did a great job blocking shots. I thought when the game was close [Bruce] Ellington, really made some key free throws and some key plays coming down the stretch. It was a hard-fought game; a game that they really out-performed us, and out-played us, and we now have the challenge of going there to play.”

He also realizes the Gators must mentally adjust to being successful and adapt accordingly. “There’s got to be a level of awareness and a step that we can make to understand what we got to do. We do have a very, very clear visual understanding that the team we are playing against beat us already – and beat us on our home court. We’ve got to understand why we got to do to get better,” Donovan said.

“They’ve got to understand very, very clearly what we have got to try to do against South Carolina. They are a great offensive rebounding team. They are a great shot-blocking team, and they are a team that takes a lot of three-point shots. Those things really, really hurt us. Our energy and our effort; emotionally, can we get to a level that we need to get to on Wednesday night to try and play at the very best of our ability?”

PARSONS’s RESURGENCE

Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons has improved his offense substantially over the past few games, but what he has done rebounding the ball has been equally impressive. Donovan notes that his growth in that area is simply due to putting himself in the right place at the right time and being aggressive.

“The biggest thing is, for any rebounder, he’s active. He makes the effort to go to the glass. When you are a small forward like he is, there is an advantage there for his size because he is on the perimeter a lot,” he said of Parsons. “It is a lot more difficult, believe it or not, for Vernon Macklin or [Alex] Tyus to rebound the ball when you are in a smaller space. For a guy like Chandler, who is playing on the perimeter, it’s a lot easier to see flights of balls and run in. The tendency when someone’s on the perimeter a lot of times is not to block them out, to lose sight, to be caught in a rotation. That gives him a lot of times the free run to go in there. It helps us when he defensive rebounds, because of his size he can start to break and run quickly without having to outlet the ball. He provides effort when he goes to the back board.”

GOOD DEFENSE MAKES UP FOR POOR SHOOTING

Junior point guard Erving Walker, perhaps the team’s best pure shooter at this point, continues to struggle at points either for portions of games or for full contests. Saturday was one of those nights as he went only 1-for-9 from the field (1-of-6 from downtown) and scored six of his nine points from the charity stripe. Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton has also had issues scoring this season, mostly stemming from his reliance on the three-pointer. Donovan believes that even though the duo may not be shooting as well as he’d like, what they’ve done on the other end of the floor has been huge.

“I thought [Walker] was really pretty good [Saturday],” he said. “I did not think that he forced very many shots; he took nine shots. He really tried on defense. He had a huge steal that he got fouled on when we were down. He ran our team. I did not think he got to a point where he was over-penetrating and trying to be too aggressive and make too many plays. He and Boynton, when the ball goes in or out, it is going to be kind of part of it with them. I do think both guys try at the other end of the floor. Boynton has been on some tough matchups these last couple of games. He gives it to me at the end of the floor; both those guys try to do that.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 2/7: Donovan hopes to ride momentum wave

SIX BITS: gymnastics, track, tennis, softball

1 » Don’t bother asking them to, because it does not look like No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics (6-0, 3-0 SEC) plans to slow down anytime soon. Drawing nearly 7,000 fans to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Friday, Florida took down the previously undefeated No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide (6-1, 1-1 SEC) 197.55-195.45. Gators freshman Mackenzie Caquatto led the team with two event wins (uneven bars, balance beam) and took the all-around title with a score of 39.575, while senior Maranda Smith captured the vault event and sophomore Marissa King won the floor exercise. Florida will be tested once again on Saturday as they face No. 4 Georgia on the road.

2 » Gators sophomore sprinter Jeff Demps and junior jumper Christian Taylor became the fourth and fifth members of the team, respectively, to automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships after posting strong individual showings over the weekend at the Virginia Tech Elite Meet. Demps recorded a 6.57 in the men’s 60-meter dash, the second-fastest time in the NCAA this season, during his first race of the year. Taylor won the triple jump with a mark of 16.61m/54-6 for the sixth-straight time in his last six competitions. The duo join jumpers junior Will Claye and sophomore Omar Craddock and junior heptathlete Gray Horn as Florida’s current NCAA automatic-qualifiers off the No. 1 men’s track & field team.

Read the rest of this post…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: gymnastics, track, tennis, softball

TWO BITS: Brissett signs LOI, Murphy to Duke

1 » Four-star Florida Gators quarterback commitment Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) officially sent his National Letter of Intent to the University of Florida Monday morning, head coach Will Muschamp confirmed early in the afternoon. “Jacoby will be a good fit in our program,” Muschamp said in a UF release. “He is an outstanding quarterback and we are excited to have him join the Gator family.” Check out Brissett’s whirlwind commitment process and what he brings to the table.

2 » Five-star 2012 forward recruit Alex Murphy (Southborough, MA), the brother of Florida sophomore F Erik Murphy, committed to the Duke Blue Devils over the weekend after strongly considering UF and several others programs. Alex told FOX Sports‘ Jeff Goodman that telling Gators head coach Billy Donovan he would not be heading to Gainesville, FL like his brother was the most difficult part of the process. “They started recruiting me before anyone else,” Murphy told Goodman. “I had such a good relationship with Coach Donovan, obviously my brother, and a lot of their players. That was hard for me. It basically came down to them and Duke.”

Pair of Top 25 wins vaults Gators in latest polls

Following back-to-back home victories against Top 25 opponents in the then-No. 24 Vanderbilt Commodores and then-No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats, the Florida Gators (18-5, 7-2 SEC) not only took a slightly larger lead in the Southeastern Conference East division, they also found more respect from voters in the latest ESPN/USA Today coaches’ and Associated Press polls released on Monday.

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: Ohio State (31*), Kansas, Texas, Pittsburgh, Duke, San Diego State, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Purdue, Kentucky, Villanova, Louisville, Georgetown, Missouri, Texas A&M, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Washington, Minnesota, Utah State, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Vanderbilt
+ Florida received 51 voting points

This Week 1-25: Ohio State (31*), Kansas, Texas, Pittsburgh, Duke, San Diego State, Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Connecticut, Villanova, Georgetown, Purdue, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Louisville, Arizona, Utah State, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Saint Mary’s, Vanderbilt, Minnesota
+ Florida received 243 voting points

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Last Week 1-25: Ohio State (65), Kansas, Texas, Pittsburgh, Duke, Connecticut, San Diego State, Brigham Young, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Purdue, Villanova, Georgetown, Missouri, Louisville, Texas A&M, Syracuse, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Arizona, Utah State, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, West Virginia
+ Florida received 80 voting points, good for 27th overall

This Week 1-25: Ohio State (65), Kansas, Texas, Pittsburgh, Duke, San Diego State, Brigham Young, Notre Dame, Villanova, Connecticut, Georgetown, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Purdue, Arizona, Louisville, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Utah State, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Temple, West Virginia
+ Florida received 534 voting points

* Numbers represent first-place votes.

2/5: Parsons leads resilient, battle-tested team

No. 23 Florida Gators (18-5, 7-2 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 availability after Saturday’s hard-fought 70-68 win against the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (16-6, 4-4 SEC), Florida’s second win against a top 25 opponent in one week.

WELCOME TO THE CHANDLER PARSONS SHOW II

Florida played quite well as a team Saturday, but if you had to pick a most valuable player down the stretch it would be no one else than senior forward Chandler Parsons. Notching his fifth double-double of the year while leading his team in points (17), rebounds (12) and assists (five), Parsons also hit a clutch free throw at the end of the game (though he did miss another). He won the SEC Player of the Week award on Monday after scoring 35 points and grabbing 23 boards while posting back-to-back double-doubles this week.

“The one guy I thought offensively was really, really good was Chandler Parsons. He had an incredible game. Kenny Boynton gave us great points in production early in the game in the first half, but Chandler was really a complete game,” Donovan said. “I don’t know since I’ve been here if I’ve ever played a guy 20 minutes in the second half. That may be the first time I’ve done that. I wanted to rest him, I wanted to try to get him out of the game, but he was doing too many things. Defensive rebounding, starting the break… I felt like I needed him to facilitate offense against their zone. He was offensive rebounding. He really had a complete game all the way through.”

Donovan continued heaping the praise on Parsons.

“Visually, the greatest growth I’ve ever seen from a player that I’ve coached here at Florida since Joakim Noah,” he said. “[Noah went] from a total enigma – ‘Who is this guy? He plays eight minutes a game.’ – to potentially being the first player taken in the NBA Draft, winning a National Championship and being the finals MVP. Visually, you can see that. Chandler has made the same kind of jumps and steps in terms of understanding what this all is about.

“He came in with a very poor understanding of competition, work ethic, all that goes into this. Where he was from the first day he arrived on campus to where he is now is as great of a jump I’ve seen from a guy in terms of just changing in every possible way. I’m really, really proud of him because he had some stretches there earlier in the year where he really wasn’t shooting the ball well. He knocked down two free throws against Vanderbilt at a crucial time; he made one out of two tonight – I know he was 3-for-6. There’s a presence there with him where he, as a player, is giving me, as a coach, a confidence of him being very reliable.”

WILBEKIN, TYUS SPLIT THE HALVES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 2/5: Parsons leads resilient, battle-tested team

Florida holds on to top Kentucky 70-68 in thriller

With ESPN College GameDay in town and an opportunity to set themselves apart from the pack in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern division, the No. 23 Florida Gators (18-5, 7-2 SEC) fought off a late surge by the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats (16-6, 4-4 SEC) to prevail 70-68 over their divisional rival on Saturday evening at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Up a game-high 13 points with 11:50 remaining in the contest, Florida allowed Kentucky fight back and re-take the lead with a 17-3 run over the course of six minutes. However, the Gators would hang in there and out-score the Wildcats 5-2 over the final two minutes of the game to come away with the win.

Florida senior forward Chandler Parsons registered team-highs in points (17), rebounds (12) and assists (five) for his fifth double-double of the season and the 12th of his career. He has now grabbed 10 or more boards in five-straight games and posed a double-double in back-to-back contests as well as three of the last five.

Kentucky scored the first six points of the game before redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin posted five straight to cut Florida’s deficit to one. The Gators took the lead three times in the first half, going into the locker rooms up 34-32 even though Wildcats guard Jon Hood hit a buzzer-beating jumper to end the opening period.

UF started the second half with a 7-0 run to go up nine and an 8-0 run to take their game-high 13-point lead, 55-42. UK answered in kind with their explosive 17-3 run to jump ahead 59-58 with 5:43 remaining in the contest.

The teams traded leads from that point forward with two free throws by Kentucky G Brandon Knight giving his team a 66-65 advantage with 2:05 left. After two free throws by Florida junior point guard Erving Walker, senior F Alex Tyus took over.

Tyus played great defense on Wildcats F Terrence Jones to force a missed jumper, grabbed the rebound and hit a nice jump hook from the baseline on the alternating possession to put the Gators ahead 69-66 with 1:13 to go. Jones responded with a power drive and dunk to make it a one-point game with 43 seconds remaining.

With Macklin on the bench and freshman C Patric Young in for free throw purposes, Parsons was the worst shooter on the court from the charity stripe. Walker worked the clock down before eventually passing to Parsons, who was purposely fouled with 12.7 seconds remaining. He missed the first shot but hit his second attempt from the line, putting Florida ahead two.

Kentucky immediately drove the court, but Knight missed an open three to end the game.

With a school-record 12,663 fans looking on in the O’Dome, the Gators defeated the Wildcats for the ninth time in their last 13 meetings. Florida improved to 15-1 when holding an opponent under 70 points this season and has now won 13 of its last 16 games with 10 victories against RPI top 100 teams.

Struggling from the line this year, UF shot 81.8 percent from the charity stripe. Macklin, the Gators’ worst free throw shooter, was a perfect 3-for-3 from the line and finished with 11 points. After being shut out in the first half, Tyus scored all eight of his points in the second and added four rebounds and two blocks.

Florida’s backcourt of Walker and Boynton both struggled from the field. Walker was 1-for-9 from the floor but 6-for-6 from the line, and Boynton was 4-for-12 from the field and 3-for-3 from the charity stripe; each was 1-for-6 from downtown.

Knight posted a game-high 24 points for Kentucky and hit all four of his three-pointers before missing the potential game-winner. Jones added 18 points and seven rebounds.

The Gators out-rebounded the Wildcats 28-27, dished one more dime, coughed up two fewer turnovers and committed eight less fouls. It is the sixth-straight game Florida has hit the boards harder than their opponent.

Now having defeated their second-straight top 25 team inside a week, UF has three days off before traveling to Columbia, SC to face South Carolina on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The game will air live on SEC Network; check your local listings for availability.

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

No. 23 Florida vs. No. 11 Kentucky Gameday

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 12,000]
Time: 9:00 p.m. (ET)

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

No. 23 FLORIDA GATORS No. 11 KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 17-5 (6-2) Record: 16-5 (4-3)
Division: SEC East Division: SEC East
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Kentucky -1; O/U 134

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Kentucky leads the all-time series against Florida 88-32; the Wildcats swept the Gators last season. However, Florida is 8-4 in their last 12 games against Kentucky and is 8-6 when facing them at home under Donovan.
» Calipari is 2-0 against Donovan as UK’s head coach.
» The Gators have won 12 of its last 15 games with nine victories against RPI top 100 teams. Florida is 10-3 at home this season (3-1 against the SEC).
» UF is 3-1 in overtime this season, 3-0 in SEC games that go to overtime and 7-3 this year in games decided by six points or less (4-0 against SEC opponents). Their four overtime games tie a single-season school record (1978-79).
» Florida improved to 14-1 when holding opponents under 70 points this season after holding No. 24 Vanderbilt to 61 points on Tuesday.
» The Gators have out-rebounded their last five opponents by +8.0 rebounds per game and have averaged 15.4 offensive rebounds per game in that same time frame.
» The Wildcats are winning their games by a SEC-high 15.1 points per contest. Kentucky is also the best-shooting team in the conference from beyond the arc, connecting on almost 40 percent of their attempts.
» Kentucky bests Florida in three of four major statistical categories including points per game 77.5-71.1 (29th-123rd), rebounds per game 39.5-39.2 (23rd-26th) and field goal percentage .459-.454 (77th-104th). However, The Gators dish one more assist per contest 14-13 (107th-175th) than the Wildcats and hold their opponents to fewer points per game 61.6-62.4. UK ranks 10th in RPI (.6488) and 13th in strength of schedule nationally compared to UF being 17th (.6316) and seventh, respectively.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Junior point guard Erving Walker…who is leading his team in scoring with 14.5 points per game and leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.425) and three-point percentage (.383). Walker also leads the Gators in turnovers (57) and became the 47th player in school history to score 1,000 points earlier this season.
» Senior forward Chandler Parsons…who is back to averaging double-digit points (10.7) while leading the Gators with 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Parsons ranks No. 1 among active SEC players in rebounds (741), No. 3 in points (1,280) and No. 4 in assists (279) and steals (117).
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-best 57.8 percent as a starter this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.1 points and 6.3 rebounds a game while being a major presence for Florida.
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably UF’s most talented player but is struggling with consistency in his field goal percentage. Boynton is only shooting 35.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second on the team in scoring with 13.0 points per game and hits 82.5 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 Tuesday against Vanderbilt.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are the Gators primary reserves each averaging 17.1. Wilbekin, in relief of Walker, leads Florida in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5:1), while Young averages 3.4 points and 3.4 boards off the bench.
» Kentucky G Brandon Knight…who plays a team-high 35.0 minutes as a freshman, averages 17.2 points per game and picks up nearly four rebounds and assists per contest, too. Knight and Boynton are friends who grew up and played both against each other and together in South Florida.
» Wildcats F Jeffrey Taylor …who leads his team in scoring and rebounding with 17.9 points and 9.0 boards per game.

ESPN COLLEGE GAMEDAY

Visiting Gainesville for the first time since 2008 and third time overall, ESPN College GameDay emanated from the O’Connell Center Saturday at 10 a.m. and will once again with a pregame show an hour before the game begins. Donovan and Calipari were both interviewed in the morning; you can view the video below to see what they had to say.

FOUR BITS: Tebow, Dunlap, Jenkins, Horford

1 » Just because Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow earned the starting nod for the team’s final three games last season does not mean he is guaranteed to retain that job next year, new team president John Elway said this past week. “Kyle [Orton] is definitely in the equation,” he said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that we’re going to trade Kyle Orton. At all. We still have to evaluate that. A lot of people think it’s an automatic, but it’s not.” With player trades not able to be completed until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed, Orton would not be traded any time soon no matter what Elway and new head coach John Fox decide is best for the team.

2 » ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Saturday that Cincinnati Bengals rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who concluded the 2010 season with an impressive 9.5 sacks (a franchise rookie record), has left agent Todd France and signed with Drew Rosenhaus. He currently has three years remaining on a four-year, $3.01 million contract with Cincinnati that included a $1.22 million signing bonus, $1.779 million in guaranteed cash and an additional $649,000 available through incentives.

3 » Receiving a commitment from four-star QB Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) on Friday, the Florida Gators were only awaiting word from one more potential signee. That wait is now over as four-star junior college defensive tackle John Jenkins (Perkinston, MS) officially committed to the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. Florida has now finished the 2011 recruiting cycle with 19 commitments . Their class (not yet updated to include Brissett) is ranked No. 14 by Rivals, No. 18 by Scout and No. 12 by ESPNU.

4 » Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford was provided an opportunity to live up to his NBA All-Star billing as he was tested with the game on the line Friday. With nearly no time remaining and his team down one, Horford drove the lane and was met by Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, who impeded his track to the rim with a flagrant foul. Landing on and injuring his back, Horford was slow to get up but eventually reached the line and hit both free throws to propel Atlanta to a 101-100 victory.

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