FOUR BITS: lacrosse, Noah, Horford, Brewer

1 » Florida Gators lacrosse continues to make history as, in just the third season of the program’s existence, it was announced Sunday that the team received the No. 1 overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida, which won the ALC regular season title for the second-straight year and captured the first ALC Tournament Championship in team history on Saturday, is on a 13-match winning streak heading into the tournament. The Gators will receive a tremendous homefield advantage in the first two rounds (should they advance) before being forced to travel to Stony Brook, NY for the Final Four. Florida is looking to become the fastest program in the sport’s history to go from inception to national title but has a long road ahead of them beginning on Saturday, May 12 at 1 p.m. against Albany at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was knocked out of Game 3 of his team’s first-round series against Philadelphia after severely spraining his ankle midway through the contest. Noah did his best to continue playing but was badly limping and eventually headed back to the locker room where he was told he would be unable to return to the court. He sat on the bench in a suit and air cast during Game 4 on Sunday and is also expected to miss Game 5 (as well as the remainder of the series should it advance past that point). Noah’s injury is a tough blow for a Chicago team already without point guard Derrick Rose. The top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls may wind up eliminated in the first round while playing without their two biggest stars.

3 » The polar opposite of Noah, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford came off a major injury and returned to action this weekend just as his former teammate appears to be going on the shelf for the rest of the season. Horford, who tore his right pectoral on Jan. 11 and has not played since, was an active participant in Atlanta’s Game 4 on Sunday. He posted 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in 20 minutes of action, not showing much rust despite missing almost the entire season. Horford may only see one more game in 2012 as the Hawks are set to face an elimination Game 5 on Tuesday.

4 » Denver Nuggets F Corey Brewer may have been trending on Twitter during his game Sunday while fans were joking about his hairline, but Brewer is taking his team’s first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers very seriously. According to the Denver Post, Brewer has been “finding fuel” to play hard by thinking about his father who passed away during the season. “He always used to smile when I’d do something good,” he said. “Every time he’d see me, he was always happy. Everybody says we have the same smile. He had it rough. He didn’t have legs. He was blind. But every time I’d see him, he was smiling. He can’t walk, he can’t see and he’s happy every day – so I got to be happy.” Head coach George Karl called Brewer his team’s “energizer, offensively and defensively” and has praised his ability to make an impact especially on the defensive end of the court. Like Noah and Horford, Brewer’s team is also facing an elimination Game 5 on Tuesday.

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Florida lacrosse wins first ALC Tournament title

There have been plenty of firsts for the young Florida Gators lacrosse program but few will be as memorable as what the team accomplished on Saturday, defeating the Northwestern Wildcats 14-7 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL to capture the 2012 ALC Tournament Championship.

No. 3 Florida (17-2), the top seed in the tournament, played stellar defense throughout the contest and used seven clutch goals and a career performance by freshman midfielder Shannon Gilroy to upend No. 1 Northwestern for the second time this season and third time in the last two years.

The victory marked the first ALC tournament title in school history and the third conference championship overall as UF has won the league’s regular season title in each of the last two years.

The teams traded goals to open the match, but the Gators went on a 4-0 scoring stretch including two goals each by Gilroy and junior attacker Kitty Cullen to take an early 5-1 lead. UF was able to maintain that four-goal advantage through the break by matching both goals the Wildcats scored down the stretch and taking a 7-3 lead into the half.

Florida and Northwestern took turns scoring in the second half with the Gators’ lead never dipping below three goals for the duration of the contest. In fact, once UF’s lead was cut to three, Florida scored three-straight goals to jump ahead 11-5 with 12:44 left in the match. The Gators held on down the stretch, using a combination of tough defense, controlled ball handling and consistent scoring to outlast the Wildcats and pick up the hard-fought victory.

Joining Gilroy’s efficient, effective and dominating offensive performance (seven goals on nine shots with three draw controls) were Cullen (three goals on six shots) and junior A Caroline Chesterman (two goals on three shots). Midfielders junior Brittany Dashiell and freshman Nora Barry added a goal each.

Florida handed Northwestern their worst loss in nine years and is proving to be a major thorn in the side of a team that has won six of the last seven national titles. The Gators are 3-1 against the Wildcats over the last two seasons with all three victories resulting in ALC titles (two regular season, one tournament). Florida is also the first team besides Northwestern to win the ALC Tournament in the event’s six-year history.

The Gators will now set their sights on the 2012 NCAA Tournament where UF may very well earn the No. 1 overall seed in the event. Either way, Florida will play host at least through the quarterfinals of the event as long as they are awarded a top-four seed.

ALC Tournament MVP: Junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher
ALC All-Tournament Team: Brittany Dashiell, Shannon Gilroy, Mikey Meagher, junior defenders Sam Farrell and Jamie Reeg

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FOUR BITS: Hunter, lacrosse, tennis selections

1 » Florida Gators freshman gymnast Kytra Hunter, who won a pair of 2012 NCAA Championships in the all-around and vault last month, was named the recipient of the Honda Sports Award on Wednesday. The honor, which basically makes Hunter the “gymnast of the year” by recognizing her as the best student-athlete in her sport, is awarded to one female in 12 different NCAA-sanctioned sports. It is the second straight year that a Gators student-athlete has won one of the awards with outfielder Kelsey Bruder bringing home the honor for softball in 2011. In the 36-year history of the Honda Sports Award, Florida has won it 15 times in six different sports (UF student-athletes were honored in two sports in 1982).

2 » One of six Florida lacrosse players to be honored by the American Lacrosse Conference on Wednesday, freshman midfielder Nora Barry was named the 2012 ALC Rookie of the Year after registering 32 goals (on 54 shots) in 17 games during the regular season. Barry’s goal total was the fifth-highest on the Gators, but she led the team in ground balls and also finished second in draw controls. Three Florida juniors – attacker Kitty Cullen, M Brittany Dashiell and defender Sam Farrell – were named to the All-ALC First Team, while Barry, junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher and junior A Gabi Wiegand received second-team nods.

3 » Four members of No. 2 Gators women’s tennis found themselves placed in the brackets for the 2012 NCAA Individual Championships when the selections were announced on Wednesday. Junior Allie Will not only earned the No. 1 seed in the singles tournament but is also one half of the No. 1 doubles team along with sophomore Sofie Oyen. Junior Lauren Embree was placed in the grouping of singles seeds 9-16, Oyen was chosen as an alternate and the pairing of Embree/senior Joanna Mather also made it as an at-large doubles team. Florida has not won a NCAA singles title since 1996 (Jill Craybas) or a doubles title since 2001 (Whitney Laiho/Jessica Lehnhoff).

4 » No. 11 UF men’s tennis also had four players selected for the NCAA Individual Championships as senior Nassim Slilam and juniors Tripper Carleton and Bob van Overbeek all received at-large bids for the singles bracket. (Sophomore Spencer Newman is listed as an alternate.) Additionally, the duo of Slilam/junior Billy Federhofer will compete in the doubles draw. The Gators have not won a NCAA singles title since 1999 (Jeff Morrison) or a doubles title since 1993 (Mark Merklein/David Blair).

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FOUR BITS: Leak, Demps, lacrosse, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak supposedly signed with the Orlando Predators of the AFL on Monday and the team wants to name him their starter for Saturday’s game, according to the Orlando Sentinel. “We would like to bring him in as the face of the franchise, and I hope he ends up as our starting quarterback,” team general partner Brett Bouchy told the paper. Unfortunately for both sides, Leak was not able to join the team Monday or Tuesday thanks to his former squad the Jacksonville Sharks. According to the Florida Times-Union, even though Leak refuses to play for Jacksonville and the team does not want him back the Sharks have not released him from his contract and still retain his rights. “If the Predators want Leak, they have coach [Les] Moss’ number and we will be more than happy to trade him,” Jacksonville managing partner Jeff Bouchy (Brett Bouchy’s brother) said. “We cannot see any scenario in which Leak will wear a Sharks uniform again.” Leak’s future is now in limbo as he waits to find out if one Bouchy will trade the other something for his services. He has bounced around the CFL and AFL since being passed over by the NFL and actually played for the Jacksonville franchise this season before being replaced as starting quarterback after a five-touchdown performance. “It was an unfortunate situation in Jacksonville, but I’ve moved on,” Leak said. “I’m just very excited about the opportunity to play at home.”

2 » With the 2012 NFL Draft approaching, one name that continues to be notably absent is former Gators running back and current Florida sprinter Jeff Demps, who chose after the season to bypass the NFL in order to concentrate on running track and the 2012 London Olympics. Demps likely would have been a third- or fourth-round pick in the draft but chose an uncertain path that he enjoys over a certain future that did not hold the top spot in his heart. “Just, during the football season, I enjoyed football, but I just felt I had to be on the track,” he told FOX Sports in in yet another article about his decision and future in sports. “I had to follow my heart, and my heart said to be with track. It’s a career decision.”

3 » Gators lacrosse swept the ALC weekly awards on Monday. Junior atacker Gabi Wiegand won Offensive Player of the Week, junior defender Sam Farrell picked up Defensive Player of the Week and midfielder Nora Barry was named Rookie of the Week. It is the first time since the ALC expanded to three weekly awards that one team has swept all three in a single week.

4 » Could QB Tim Tebow already be winning over New York Jets players through a few days of offseason camp? According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Jets No. 2 wide receiver Jeremy Kerley was pleasantly surprised how well Tebow has been performing already and offered up some praise for his new teammate. “Different than Mark, different than Mark,” he said of Tebow as a quarterback. “His ball comes out a little bit stronger, but he’s accurate, he’s more accurate than what I thought he was going to be. But he’s a good dude, he has a great personality, he’ll bring a lot of personality to the team.” The Ledger asked him how much more velocity Tebow throws with as compared to Mark Sanchez. Kerley’s answer: “A LOT, a lot more velocity. No dis to Mark, he brings it man.”

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No. 5 Florida knocks off No. 1 Northwestern 8-7, captures second-straight ALC title

For a program only in its third season of existence, Florida Gators lacrosse continues to make plenty of noise. No. 5 Florida (15-2, 5-0 ALC) took down the previously undefeated No. 1 Northwestern Wildcats (14-1, 4-1 ALC) on Saturday, outscoring their hosts 8-7 at Lakeside Field in Evanston, IL to capture their second ALC regular season title in as many seasons.

UF clinched a share of the 2011 ALC title by defeating Northwestern 13-11 last season before winning the championship outright a few days later after beating Vanderbilt. The Wildcats got a measure of revenge on the Gators in 2011 by prevailing over their new rivals for the ALC Tournament Championship in a 10-9 slugfest. Florida will be the No. 1 seed in the tournament for the second-straight year.

Three Gators juniors – midfielder Brittany Dashiell and attackers Ashley Bruns and Gabi Wiegand – each scored two goals in Saturday’s contest. Junior goalkeeper Mickey Meager was equally clutch for the orange and blue by picking up seven saves on 14 shots over the course of the match.

Florida got out to an early 2-0 lead and scored the final three goals of the opening period to hold a 5-2 advantage at halftime. Northwestern scored three goals to open the second period (including two by Erin Fitzgerald) to even things out at 5-5, but it took Bruns less than 30 seconds to put UF back ahead 6-5 with 25:39 remaining.

The Wildcats soon evened things up and then took their only lead of the game, 7-6 with 20:51 left, but were unable to maintain their momentum. Gators freshman M Nora Barry tied the match a minute later on an assist from freshman M Nicole Graziano and both sides went scoreless over the next 14 minutes.

Wiegand (four points) then stepped up unassisted at 5:47 and scored what would become the game- and championship-winning goal for UF.

Northwestern has now lost two total regular season matches since 2004 after dropping late-season contests to Florida in each of the last two seasons. UF also ended NU’s 24-game winning streak.

The Gators will return to Gainesville, FL as they prepare to host the 2012 ALC Tournament May 3-5. Florida, as the No. 1 overall seed, receives a first-round bye and will participate in semifinal action on May 4 at 7 p.m.

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Gator Bites for Monday, April 16

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah continues to play a major role for his team, posting a line of 20 points and 17 rebounds (13 offensive) on Sunday night to help lead Chicago past Detroit in overtime. Noah now has 21 double-doubles on the season though that was his first in the month of April.

» Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford told OGGOA on Friday that it is “realistic” to believe that he will be able to return to his team for the playoffs after tearing his pectoral early in the season. Horford, who has missed almost the entire shortened season, said he doubts he will be at 100 percent when the playoffs begin because he will not have the proper time to practice and condition. However, he hopes to be able to contribute in some way and help his team win.

» Unlike Horford, Golden State Warriors F/C David Lee will not see a basketball court again this year. Lee, whose Warriors are out of the playoffs and vying for a better draft slot, will be benched for the remainder of the season after injuring his groin last week. He was already dealing with a hip injury and will be rested mostly for precautionary reasons. Lee averaged nearly a double-double this season, posting totals of 20.1 points and 9.6 boards per game.

» Julie Quittner of Gainesville Television Network sent over a copy of her interview with former Florida Gators running back Chris Rainey that aired on Friday. In the piece, Quittner asks Rainey directly about the allegations made recently in a Sporting News column about former Florida head coach Urban Meyer. Below are a few standout questions/answers from the interview:

Did you see the incident when Billy Gonzales was apparently choked by Percy Harvin at practice and apparently he wasn’t disciplined for it? Is that a situation where maybe guys like that got away with certain things?
Rainey: “I heard that story from players; I ain’t never saw it and just like I said, players like that…certain players even the coaches are scared of and there are certain players that the players were scared of but you can’t just answer a question like that because they’re good in sports and you just can’t do nothing about it.

What do you mean by scared?
Rainey: “Scared, like a player if you’re scared of another player…just like that. Coaches can be scared of players.”

What do you have to say to the fact that [safety Bryan Thomas] said at one point that the program got “out of control”?
Rainey: “It wasn’t ever ‘out of control’ they just were scared of certain players and when the younger guys can’t do nothing but watch and see, you’re scared for your life too, so you just got to be quiet because if you say the wrong thing, you might get beat up from him or get in trouble by a coach.”

Do you remember incidents here that happened with [those elite players] specifically that you can remember them getting special treatment or something being covered up for them?
Rainey: “I don’t remember everything being covered up, but I just know a lot of stuff that happened through my college career…like you see people doing bad stuff off the field, fights, getting in trouble in school, whatever it is but if they made it to the NFL, they made it. It’s too late now.”

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Monday, April 16

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SIX BITS: Wuerffel, Tebow, Pouncey, women

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel has been added to the ballot for induction as part of the 2012 class for the College Football Hall of Fame. Wuerffel is one of 76 players on the candidate list, which also includes eight former coaches. Should he be nominated for induction, he would be the seventh Florida player and 10th representative of the Gators (three coaches) to be placed in the hall of fame. The National Football Foundation will announce the 2012 class on May 15 and induct it at an awards dinner on Dec. 4, 2012.

2 » Speaking at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine last Friday, Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway had some positive comments to throw the way of Tim Tebow, who will enter the team’s training camp as the starting quarterback. “Hopefully, he can be the franchise guy for a long time, but those are things we don’t know at this time,” Elway said, according to NFL.com. “He made tremendous strides last year, and that’s without an offseason. He’s our starter going into training camp, and we have great expectations for him.” Denver will bring in two more quarterbacks to compete with Tebow but how they acquire them should give some insight into their thoughts on Tebow. If the Broncos draft a signal caller high or sign a high-profile free agent like Matt Flynn, it could be an indication they have not bought in, whereas should they sign a lower-tier free agent and draft a quarterback in the later rounds, it could speak to the opposite. Elway is confident in Tebow’s intangibles but plans to work with him on his footwork and ability to read coverages in the offseason.

3 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey missed another critical playoff game this year with a high-ankle sprain after reaggravating the injury he suffered one year ago that caused him to out of the 2010-11 Super Bowl. He had surgery on the injury after the season and is expected to make a full recovery going forward. “The reports we got and the last time we saw him, he was progressing just fine,” team general manager Kevin Colbert said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “High-ankle sprains, they’re a different injury and then when you re-injure it sometimes you’ve got to do some procedures to shore that joint up.” Pouncey is no longer wearing a cast on his foot/ankle but is in a boot for the time being. He and his brother were at the NFL Combine this past week to support running back Chris Rainey, their close friend and former teammate.

4 » No. 4 Florida lacrosse (4-1) extended their winning streak to four games with consecutive victories over Siena (23-5 on Friday) and Detroit (22-3 on Sunday). Junior attacker Ashley Bruns scored a school-record eight goals against Siena, helping the Gators post their highest total in program history. One of the eight was Bruns’s 100th career goal, making her the second player in school history to reach that mark. Bruns scored four more on Sunday (12 for the weekend), leading the way for Florida in both contests and helping earn her the ALC Offensive Player of the Week award on Monday. Junior attackers Kitty Cullen (seven goals, three assists) and Gabi Wiegand (six goals, three assists) joined her in the scoring party.

5 » No. 1 Gators gymnastics (9-1, 5-1 SEC) tore through the league this year and took down the No. 3 Georgia Gym Dogs (5-3, 4-2 SEC) in exciting fashion at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Friday. Florida, which defeated Georgia 197.525-196.825, had two gymnasts win a total of five events. Freshman Kytra Hunter, named SEC Gymnast of the Week on Monday, took the vault (9.95), floor exercise (9.95) and all-around (39.675), while junior Marissa King won the uneven bars (9.925) and balance beam (9.95). UF swept UGA in the meet and is set to take on Nebraska and Utah over the next three weeks before participating in postseason action.

6 » After earning a season-highlight win on Senior Day in the O’Dome, Gators women’s basketball (18-11, 8-8 SEC) concluded the 2012 regular season by falling 75-59 at the No. 9 Tennessee Lady Vols (21-8, 12-4 SEC) due in part to 20 costly turnovers. Though Florida was unable to continue their magic against Tennessee, eight-seeded UF will hope to make a splash in the 2012 SEC Tournament, which begins for them against Auburn on Thursday at 1 p.m. The Gators also got some good news on Tuesday when it was announced that junior forward Jennifer George (first-team All-SEC) and senior guard Deana Allen (SEC Co-6th Woman of the Year) earned awards from the conference’s coaches.

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2012 Florida Gators lacrosse primer: Title or bust?

Entering the program’s third year, No. 4 Florida Gators lacrosse is looking to continue their record pace and become the fastest team in the sport’s history to win the NCAA Championship. The Gators progressed from new kids on the block in 2010 to one of the elite teams in the country in 2011 and hope to continue that progress.

Florida opens their 2012 campaign on the road Saturday at No. 3 North Carolina for the second-straight year and is looking to avenge a tough 10-9 overtime loss.

Following the defeat in their 2011 opener, the Gators went on 14-match winning streak that spanned two months. Florida lost their final regular season game 9-6 to Cornell; however, UF still finished 11-0 at home and captured the 2011 ALC regular season title. The Gators then fell in the conference’s tournament to Northwestern and were ousted in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament by a talented Duke team.

Continue Reading » 2012 Florida Gators lacrosse primer: Title or bust?

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