Florida steady but down points in new top 25s

The first regular season editions of the USA Today Coaches and Associated Press Top 25 polls were released on Tuesday and a new No. 1 team has been crowned as the Alabama Crimson Tide took over the top spot in both rankings systems. Alabama received 37-of-59 first-place votes from the coaches and 45-of-59 first-place votes from the AP voters after thrashing Michigan 41-14 in their season opener.

The Florida Gators, fresh off of a lackluster 27-14 season opening victory over Bowling Green, lost points in both polls. Florida remained at No. 23 but lost 46 points in the USA Today rankings; the Gators dropped one stop to No. 24, losing 68 points in the AP poll.

WeekResultBCSUSA TodayAssociated Press
Preseason--No. 10 (930)No. 10 (894)
2W 24-6 vs. Toledo-No. 9 (974)No. 12 (875)
3L 16-21 at Miami-No. 20 (410)No. 18 (405)
4Open-No. 18 (398)No. 19 (412)
5W 31-17 vs. Tennessee-No. 19 (449)No. 20 (414)
6W 24-7 at Kentucky-No. 19 (515)No. 18 (481)
7W 30-10 vs. Arkansas-No. 17 (574)No. 17 (536)
8L 6-17 at LSU-No. 22 (240)No. 22 (249)
9L 17-36 at Missouri-NR (4)NR (17)

USA TODAY COACHES POLL
This Week 1-5: Alabama (37), USC (14), LSU (7), Oregon (1), Oklahoma
6-10: Florida State, Georgia, West Virginia, South Carolina, Arkansas
11-15: Michigan State, Clemson, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Texas
16-20: Oklahoma State, TCU, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Kansas State
21-25: Stanford, Notre Dame, Florida, Louisville, Boise State

Last Week 1-5: LSU (18), Alabama (20), USC (19), Oklahoma (1), Oregon
6-10: Georgia, Florida State (1), Michigan, South Carolina, Arkansas
11-15: West Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Clemson, Texas
16-20: Nebraska, TCU, Stanford, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech
21-25: Kansas State, Boise State, Florida, Notre Dame, Auburn

ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25
This Week 1-5: Alabama (45), USC (11), LSU (4), Oregon, Oklahoma
6-10: Florida State, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina / West Virginia
11-15: Michigan State, Clemson, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Virginia Tech
16-20: Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma State, Michigan, TCU
21-25: Kansas State, Notre Dame, Louisville, Florida, Stanford

Last Week 1-5: USC (25), Alabama (17), LSU (16), Oklahoma (1), Oregon
6-10: Georgia, Florida State, Michigan (1), South Carolina, Arkansas
11-15: West Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Clemson, Texas
16-20: Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, TCU,
21-25: Stanford, Kansas State, Florida, Boise State, Louisville

* Numbers in parenthesis represent first-place votes.

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Alabama runs over Florida 10-1 in SEC final

No. 7 Florida Gators softball’s clutch hitting and dominant pitching both came to a halt on Saturday as the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide dominated the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game and downed their rivals 10-1 in a run-ruled five-inning contest.

With home field advantage and arguably the best player in the tournament on their side, Alabama (50-7) beat up on Florida (46-11) for the third time in four matchups this season (all of which took place at Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa, AL).

The Crimson Tide hit Gators freshman right-handed pitcher Lauren Haeger early and often, rallying for two runs in the bottom of the first and tagging her for two homers (a three-run shot and two-run bomb) and six total runs in the third.

Florida cut Alabama’s 2-0 lead in half by scoring in the top of the second but left six players on base and did not plate another run for the remainder of the contest.

Haeger (14-5, 3.0 IP, 6 H, 8 ER, 4 BB, K) was pulled as the Gators faced an 8-1 deficit, but sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (1.0 IP, 2 H, ER, 2 BB, K) did not fare much better. Rogers allowed two more runs to score in the fourth and gave the Crimson Tide the necessary margin to end the contest early and claim their title.

Alabama won their first SEC Tournament Championship since 2010 while Florida will wait until next year to try and capture their first since 2009. Both teams will learn of their respective seedings in the 2012 NCAA Tournament during the selection show on Sunday at 10 p.m. live on ESPNU.

Haeger, freshman third baseman Sami Fagan and sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle were named to the 2012 SEC All-Tournament Team following the title game.

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Florida softball drops weekend series to Alabama

No. 7 Florida Gators softball failed in their opportunity to capture a regular season title on Sunday, losing two of three games to the No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide over the weekend and finishing third in the Southeastern Conference.

Florida (44-10, 21-7 SEC) opened the three-game series with a 4-1 win over Alabama (46-6, 22-5 SEC) on Friday but was routed Saturday in a 9-1 loss and defeated 5-3 on Sunday as the Crimson Tide took firm grasp of the 2012 SEC regular season championship. The Gators had to win two of three games in order to bring the title back home to Gainesville, FL.

Sophomore right-hander Hannah Rogers pitched a gem in the opening game, allowing one earned on three hits and three walks with seven strikeouts in a complete game effort. However, she struggled mightily on Saturday (2.0 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K) and was even less effective on Sunday (0.0 IP, 3 H, 4 ER) as she fell to 26-6 on the season with a victory and two losses.

Freshman designated hitter Lauren Haeger was Florida’s only consistently productive batter in the three-game series, finishing 4/8 with a homer, four RBIs, a run and a walk. She also filled in for Rogers after she was pulled without recording an out on Sunday; Haeger allowed five hits and gave up an earned run while striking out six in 6.0 innings.

The Gators also celebrated Senior Day over the weekend, honoring center fielder Michelle Moultrie for her contributions to the team over the last four seasons. She finished the series 2/8 with a RBI, two runs and a walk.

UF will now set their sights on competing for the 2012 SEC Tournament title. Florida, the No. 3 seed in the event, will take on No. 6 seed LSU in first-round action on May 10 at 12 p.m. on ESPNU. The Gators would have to win three games over three days to bring home the tournament championship for the first time since 2009.

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FOUR BITS: gymnastics, baseball, tennis, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics did everything they could during the 2012 NCAA Super Six on Saturday but came just short of earning their first national title as the Alabama Crimson Tide edged Florida 197.850-197.775 to win the 2012 NCAA Championship. One of four teams in 31 years to win the national title, Alabama captured their sixth in school history by a 0.075 margin thanks to a stellar 49.500 effort on the balance beam in the final rotation. The Gators led the Crimson Tide by 0.025 heading into the final rotation; however, Florida posted a 49.400 on the floor exercise, allowing Alabama to leap them and earn the championship. All is not lost for the Gators as UF’s individual gymnasts will compete for event national titles on Sunday. Freshman Kytra Hunter already won the NCAA Championship in the all-around on Friday.

2 » Looking to carry some momentum from the 16-inning marathon win Friday night, No. 1 Florida baseball (30-9, 10-7 SEC) was not as fortunate Saturday night falling 5-3 to the Georgia Bulldogs (24-16, 8-9 SEC) at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. UF led 2-1 after the first inning thanks to a two-run bomb by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, HR, 2 RBI, R, SB) but found themselves in a 4-2 hole after UGA rallied for three runs in the top of the third. A solo homer by senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/4, HR, RBI, R) cut the Gators’ deficit to a single run in the bottom of the fourth, but Bulldogs’ starter Michael Palazzone and reliever Blake Dieterich combined to no-hit Florida over the final five innings of the game. Georgia’s timely pitching and clutch defense handed the loss to junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (5-2, 7.0 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 5 K). UF has not swept a weekend series in over a month hopes to pick up a series win in the rubber match on Sunday at 3 p.m. (ESPN2).

3 » No. 1-seed Gators women’s tennis (20-1) swept the No. 4-seed Ole Miss Rebels (17-8) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday, using a 4-0 victory to propel them into the finals on Sunday against No. 3-seed Georgia. Florida captured the doubles point in entertaining fashion having split the first two matches 1-1 before the No. 1 duo of junior Allie Will and sophomore Sofie Oyen earned a 9-8 (7-5) victory. Singles action was a more of a breeze for the Gators with No. 23 senior Joanna Mather (6-3, 6-1), No. 10 junior Lauren Embree (6-2, 6-0) and No. 51 Oyen (3-6, 6-1, 6-0) picking up three wins to end the match. UF, which improved to 25-0 all-time in SEC Tournament quarterfinals action on Friday, is now 23-2 in the semifinals and competing for their 18th conference tournament title.Florida defeated Georgia 4-3 on March 4 in Athens, GA in the teams’ sole meeting this season.

4 » No. 3/4 Gators softball (41-5) completed their sweep of the Florida International Golden Panthers (24-23) with a 7-1 victory on Saturday at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville. Florida and FIU were scoreless through four innings with Gators sophomore right-hander Hannah Rogers (24-3) holding the Golden Panthers hitless for most of the contest. Florida jumped ahead 1-0 in the fifth on a RBI double by sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1/3, RBI, BB), but Rogers allowed FIU to even things up in the top of the sixth. Junior RF Ensley Gammel (1/2, HR RBI, R) put the Gators ahead for good in the sixth with a solo homer that spurned a six-run bottom of the inning including two RBIs by freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2-3, 2 RBI, R, BB) and another solo bomb by freshman left fielder Jessica Damico (1/1, HR, RBI, R). Rogers (7.0 IP, 3 H, R, 3 BB, 7 K) completed the outing and her team’s third-straight weekend series sweep.

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3/9: (4) Florida vs. (5) Alabama post-game notes

The No. 19/22 Florida Gators squeaked out a 66-63 victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Friday in the second round of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament. Before Florida can advance to take on the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats in the semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. on ABC, head coach Billy Donovan and a handful of players met with the media to discuss the hard-earned win.

FLORIDA PUTS FORTH A PRAISEWORTHY EFFORT

After being admonished by Donovan for the way they played in Athens, GA four games ago, Florida received praise from their head coach on Friday for executing well for the third-straight game. He was especially pleased with the way the team practiced during the week but did offer one criticism of the Gators’ game.

“This time of year, you got to find ways to advance and move on and we did,” he said. “I thought we had some opportunities both in the first half and the second half to really extend our lead and we weren’t able to do that. We got it up by 12, and I thought our defense hurt us in terms of let ting them get back into the game and tie it.”

Florida had multiple six-point leads and went up a game-high 12 points mid-way through the second half but allowed Alabama to tie it up. Though the Gators shot poorly (38.5 percent from the field) in the contest, Donovan blamed UF’s defense for allowing UA to stop their scoring stretch and tie things up.

“The problem was on the defensive end of the floor. We would get a stop and we wouldn’t come down with the ball, wouldn’t come down with the rebound,” he said. “They came down with it, and it gave them an extra possession in the game. And they didn’t have a lot of offensive rebounds, but I think they had some timely possessions, where they got the ball back. That kind of shut down our run.”

Donovan noted that Florida hitting 10 threes – even though the Gators were not exceptionally proficient from beyond the arc – was easily the difference in the game, calling treys “the greatest equalizer in college basketball.” He continued, “You can sometimes overcome a tough defensive night if you make enough threes and the other team doesn’t, and I think that’s what happened today.”

Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant, formerly an assistant under Donovan, took the exact same stance on the outcome of the contest.

“You look at it, probably the difference in the game was the 3-point line,” he said. “Florida was able to make 10 threes. We knew coming into the game that that would be key. But they had some guys that stepped up, made some contested ones, very difficult from a defensive standpoint to be able to contain them. [...] Florida did a good job attacking the paint and just finding open guys and making the extra pass, and that’s what their team do. Erv[ing Walker], he got going and started looking for his teammates and opened things up. They just played to their identity.”

BEAL AND MURPHY LEAD THE WAY FOR THE GATORS

Though he injured his ankle against Kentucky on Sunday, freshman guard Bradley Beal was 100 percent healthy for Friday’s game. Donovan said that he sat out practice on Monday and Tuesday but returned to practice in full on Wednesday and Thursday and was perfectly fine for the contest.

“It didn’t hurt at all,” Beal said after the game. I was 100 percent [Friday]. It really didn’t bother me. I should be good to go [against Kentucky]. I’m fine.”

Beal notched team-highs in points (16), rebounds (seven) and assists (five) but struggled mightily with his scoring in the second half. He hit 3-of-4 threes in the first half but finished the game 3-for-11 from the field, scoring nearly half of his points from the free throw line, where he went 7-of-8.

That is probably part of the reason why he credits Florida’s defense for the win.

“We had to bear down and play defense, because like coach always tells us, he says every night we’re not going to make a lot of shots like we usually do. So this has kind of been a trend for us these last couple games of not making shots, so we really had to bear down on defense and guard guys,” he said.

Junior forward Erik Murphy, who was an efficient 5-of-11 from the field for 15 points, said he is proud of how much confidence the Gators played with on Friday.

“We got the win today. I think we always play with confidence, and I don’t think that’s a problem for us,” he said. “If we continue to defend and make shots, I think we can beat anybody. We just got to play and stay together.”

Beal concurred. “I believe our confidence is a big thing for our team,” he added. “We don’t ever lose confidence in ourselves. We always encourage each other to keep shooting the ball. And even though the shots don’t fall, there’s other things in the game that we can do to impact and try to get the win.”

Donovan pointed out one of those very things and noted that Murphy in particular has improved greatly in that area.

“The one thing our guys are starting to figure out is when teams switch and do a lot of different stuff, we got to find a way to take advantage of them,” he said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of that today here with [Murphy].”

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Florida escapes Alabama in SEC Tournament

Despite never trailing in the game, the No. 19/22 Florida Gators (23-9, 11-6 SEC) coughed up a number of leads to the Alabama Crimson Tide (21-11, 9-8 SEC) on Friday afternoon but found a way to pull out a 66-63 victory and advance to the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament.

The Gators, held to 38.5 percent shooting from the field, were outrebounded 30-25 by the Crimson Tide but managed to force 10 turnovers while only coughing up the ball five times. UF’s 10 makes from three-point range were the difference in the contest even though UA connected on four more baskets over the duration of the game.

Florida outscored Alabama 7-1 to start, but the Gators followed up their hot start by going scoreless for 5:22 and allowing the Crimson Tide to tie things up by scoring six-straight points in that stretch.

UF again jumped ahead of UA by six thanks to an 8-2 run including two threes by freshman guard Bradley Beal, but Florida suffered another scoring drought (this time for 3:08) and let Alabama tie things up again at 15 all with 6:36 left in the opening half.

The Gators went back up six as Beal scored five-straight points including his third trey of the half with 2:57 remaining, but a buzzer-beating three by Crimson Tide G Levi Randolph cut their lead to just two points at the break.

Beal and junior forward Erik Murphy combined to score 19 of Florida’s 26 first-half points while the team as a whole shot just 32 percent (8-of-25) from the field and 35.7 percent (5-of-14) from downtown.

Alabama opened up the second half with a fast break dunk to tie the game at 26. Florida answered quickly, retaking their lead and extending it to a game-high 12 points with an impressive 17-5 scoring stretch.

The Crimson Tide refused to go down without a fight though, responding by taking off on a 16-4 run to tie the game at 49 as the Gators went scoreless for 3:47.

Florida and Alabama battled back-and-forth for the duration of the contest. The Gators jumped ahead seven points after junior G Kenny Boynton nailed a three with less than two minutes to play, but the Crimson Tide scored five-straight and used a trey by G Trevor Lacey to cut UF’s lead to two with 1:07 to go.

A turnover by Walker, who drove the lane and appeared to slip on a wet spot and travel, gave UA the ball back with 41.4 seconds left. Alabama F JaMychal Green missed the ensuing shot but got fouled and hit the first of two free throws before missing the second and giving the ball back to Florida. Boynton was fouled on the other end; he made both free throws to put the Gators ahead three points, a margin UF would retain over the final 9.8 seconds as Lacey missed what would have been a game-tying three at the buzzer.

Beal led the way for Florida with team-highs in points (16), rebounds (seven) and assists (five). He went 3-for-4 from downtown to start the game but did not hit a single bucket in the second half even though he was an efficient 7-for-8 from the free throw line. Murphy was the team’s most efficient player, scoring 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting despite hitting just one trey. He also had three boards and a game-high three blocks.

Boynton added 14 points, four rebounds, two dimes and two steals. Sophomore center Patric Young, coming back down to earth after a breakout game against Kentucky, scored six points and grabbed five boards but fouled out in the waning minutes.

Green was the player of the game even in a losing effort for Alabama, posting a double-double with game-highs in points (22) and rebounds (10). The Crimson Tide as a team hit 53.3 percent of their shots from the floor.

The Gators’ victory celebration will be short-lived as Florida must turn around and try to avoid a three-game season sweep at the hands of No. 1 Kentucky, which they will take on in semifinal action on Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will air live nationally on ABC.

Photo Credit: Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

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2012 SEC Tournament: (4) Florida vs. (5) Alabama

Location: New Orleans Arena [Capacity: 18,000]
Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPNU/SEC Network
SiriusXM: 220
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(19) FLORIDA GATORS ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Anthony Grant
Record: 22-9 (10-6) Record: 21-10 (9-7)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -4; O/U 128

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is 35-43 all-time in 46 SEC Tournament appearances but boasts a 20-12 record since Donovan took over the program. The Gators have won three SEC Tournaments (2005-07) and finished as the runner-up five times.
» UF is 59-73 all-time against Alabama and 4-7 against UA in SEC Tournament games. However, Florida holds a 16-5 all-time mark against their opponent while under Donovan’s stewardship and is 3-2 against them in SEC Tournament action
» Donovan is the longest-tenured head coach in the SEC (16 years) and has five former assistants currently serving as head coaches across the country, including Grant.
» All five of the Gators’ normal starters are averaging 10.0 points per game or more.
» Florida has made 10+ three-pointers in 19 of 31 games, a season-high mark under Donovan. UF has also made more treys this season (307) than any other in team history.
» Three Gators shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.
» Florida has made a three in 682 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» Alabama’s defense is holding opponents to 27.8 percent shooting from downtown.
» UF led the SEC this season in assists (14.9), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3) and free throw percentage (.764) in conference play.
» The Gators are 17-1 (loss to Kentucky) this year when posting a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and are just 5-8 when the margin is even or negative.
» Florida is 287-37 since 1988-89 when holding opponents under 70 points and 237-38 since 1998-99 when recording 15 or more assists in a game.
» The Gators have won 20+ games for the 14th consecutive season. That mark is currently the longest active streak in the SEC and fifth-longest nationally.

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TWO BITS: SEC Tourney, Kiper’s thoughts, NCAA

1 » The four-seed Florida Gators (22-9, 10-6 SEC) learned Thursday that they will take on the five-seed Alabama Crimson Tide (21-10, 10-7 SEC) in the second round of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Friday at 3:30 p.m. The game, which will air live nationally on SEC Network, is the second meeting between the two teams this season. Alabama beat South Carolina 63-57 on Thursday, giving head coach Anthony Grant his second opportunity to defeat his former boss – Florida head coach Billy Donovan – this season. Donovan is 3-0 against Grant since the latter coach took over the Crimson Tide program. More information on this game will be available in Friday’s Gameday Preview here on OGGOA.

2 » Speaking with ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. on Thursday, OGGOA was told by the NFL Draft analyst that he believes Florida Gators running back Chris Rainey raised his stock at the 2012 NFL Combine. Previously projected to be selected in the third or fourth round, Rainey may go a full round higher now, according to Kiper. “Rainey is an all-purpose guy. He’s got the big-play potential; you can utilize him in a lot of different ways,” he said. “I think he could be in that second- or third-round discussion because of the weapon he could be.” Kiper also discussed with OGGOA the future of former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was dismissed from the team over the summer and spent the 2012 season with North Alabama.

Jenkins was previously considered a somewhat unanimous mid-first-round pick, but Kiper has now dropped him to the bottom of the round and thinks he could slide into the second round if some other players make up even further ground on him. “In terms of Jenkins, you knew the off-the-field concerns were going to be there. He was going to have to answer a lot of question at the Combine,” he said. “When you put it all together, playing the one year at North Alabama, he did play at Florida and played very effectively with the Gators. There are other corners that may have jumped a little bit ahead. I still have him in the first round – barely – to New England [at No. 31 overall]. [Bill] Belichick likes Florida players; he lived in Florida the majority of his career. They need a cornerback with his skill level. Right now Stephon Gilmore [South Carolina] may have passed him by a little bit and he’s getting some competition now from Dwight Bentley from Louisiana-Lafayette, Trumaine Johnson from Montana. There are some other cornerbacks even putting pressure to be the late first-round pick. There’s some that think he’s a two. I’d put him in the late first to New England. He’s not up where he was at one point in the mid-first round area, which is where I had him a month or so ago.”

Extra BIT » Bracketologists are currently projecting that Florida will play their round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament in Nashville, TN. You can already order tickets for the three sessions at the Bridgestone Arena from PrimeSport, the NCAA’s official ticket exchange for the event. Don’t miss your chance to see all the excitement in person as PrimeSport is able to bring you face-to-face with all of the action on the court in Nashville. Tickets are available for around $63 per session and are available by clicking here.

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