FOUR BITS: Weis on Brantley, Sweeting wins

1 » Florida Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was a guest Monday on ESPN‘s First Take. He spoke about a number of topics (see video) but also discussed recruiting redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley out of high school. “I’m a drop-back, pro-style offense guy. John really fit that bill. He was your prototypical drop-back quarterback. He could sling it; he could make every throw. He was very, very productive [in high school],” he said. “I thought he would have been a great fit for us. He had a lot of family ties at the University of Florida that kept him at Florida. I’m glad he made that choice because right now we get a chance to work together.”

2 » After dropping the series opener 5-7, No. 4 Gators baseball (26-7, 9-3 SEC) achieved back-to-back victories over the weekend to take a three-game road series against the Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-11, 5-7 SEC). Outscored 5-7 on Friday, Florida rebounded with consecutive 18-0 and 3-1 victories on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (5-1) picked up his first loss of the season in the first game after giving up six earned runs in only 2.1 innings. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (5-1) and sophomore LHP reliever Steven Rodriguez (2-1) picked up victories in the final two contests. Standout performers included sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (6/12, GS, 6 RBI, 6 R, 2 BB), senior second baseman Josh Adams (5/14, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB) and sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox (5/14, 2 RBI, 2 R).

3 » No. 10/11 Gators softball (33-7, 10-6 SEC) ended a six-game losing streak with a three-game sweep of the Arkansas Razorbacks (10-32, 1-18 SEC) at home over the weekend. Florida outscored Arkansas 20-1 in the dominant fashion they finished opponents off the majority of the season. Freshman RHP Hannah Rogers (19-5) tossed three complete games, scattering 12 hits while striking out 23 batters. Unlike recent outings, Rogers had plenty of run support from her teammates with a trio of seniors – 1B Megan Bush (3/9, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R), 2B Aja Paculba (5/9, 5 RBI, R, 2 BB) and left fielder Kelsey Bruder (4/9, 3 RBI, 4 R, BB) – leading the way.

4 » Former Gators tennis player Ryan Sweeting won his first ATP title over the weekend, defeating the field in the 2011 U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston, TX. He jumped more than 20 spots in the ATP rankings to No. 71 in the world after winning the final match 6-4, 7-6.

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Billy Donovan praises Grant, Pelphrey, Smart

Many successful head coaches in a variety of sports are praised as having extensive coaching trees of former assistants who have gone on to succeed with other teams. Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan normally escapes such praise but was questioned about three of his former assistants who led major programs in 2010-11.

Not only did the two compete for the Southeastern Conference regular season title, Donovan and Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant were also the leading candidates for 2011 SEC Coach of the Year. The coaches and the Associated Press recognized him with the honor while Grant was given the award by SportingNews.

One thing Grant – and more specifically his team – did not receive was a berth to the 2011 NCAA Tournament, a development that confuses Donovan.

“I feel bad for Anthony, and I feel bad for our league because I really thought we had an opportunity [to get six teams in],” he said on Monday. “Everybody talks about the difference between the East and the West, and with Georgia getting in as a 10 seed. […] Alabama had more wins against the East than Georgia did, and they beat Georgia twice in head to head competition. I just thought not that they should have gotten in over Georgia. I think Georgia should be in. I thought Alabama should have gotten in.”

Continuing the legacy Grant left at his previous stop with the Virginia Commonwealth Rams is fellow former Donovan assistant Shaka Smart. VCU will complete in a play-in game on Tuesday to earn a berth into the tournament.

“I was very happy for him. He’s done a great job. He’s a great guy,” Donovan said of Smart. “He played a good schedule. He’s had some good quality wins in the non conference. They came up a little bit short in the conference tournament. But for him to be able to get in, that was terrific. I was really happy for him.”

Donovan was understandably not happy for John Pelphrey, who was fired as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks around the same time Donovan was competing for the 2011 SEC Tournament Championship.

Stan Heath I think took two teams to the NCAA Tournament. And they make a change. Then John goes in there and goes to the NCAA Tournament with all of Stan’s players and does a good job coaching them. He’s in his third year with his entire team returning with a top-five recruiting class, that doesn’t make sense to me,” Donovan said.

“At Arkansas they’re going to have to make a decision. At some point they’re going to have to let whoever is in there be able to do the job.”

He remained confident that Pelphrey would land on his feet elsewhere as the man in charge. “John’s a good coach, and he will definitely be somewhere,” Donovan said.

Photo Credit: Unknown

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FOUR BITS: basketball, softball, gym, tennis, lax

1 » Participating in the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament beginning on Thursday, Florida Gators women’s basketball did a great job beating the Arkansas Razorbacks 68-59 in the event’s opening round but ended up falling to the top-seeded No. 4 Tennessee Lady Vols 92-75 in quarterfinal action on Friday. Florida (18-14) saw five players reach double-digit point totals in the opening game with sophomore forward Jennifer George, junior guard Deana Allen and redshirt junior F Ndidi Madu scoring 12 a piece while freshman G Jaterra Bonds and redshirt junior G Jordan Jones each posted 11. Unfortunately for the Gators, the Lady Vols routed them for the third time this season, beating them by 17 Friday after wins of 43 and 22 earlier in the year. Allen (13), Madu (13), Bonds (12), Jones (10) all scored double-digit points while junior G Lanita Bartley led the team with 14.

2 » Achieving a much better outcome over the weekend was No. 2/3 Florida softball (19-0), which swept the 2011 Lipton Invitational at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL with five victories in three days. UF beat Valparaiso 13-4 and Syracuse 2-0 on Friday before throttling the North Dakota State 18-0 and Pacific 10-2 on Saturday. The Gators closed the tournament with a 9-0 victory over NDSU, combining to outscore them 27-0 in a two-game span. Florida senior right-handed pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (11-0) won three of the five games, only giving up one earned run and four hits in 14.2 innings while striking out 20. Finishing the sweep was freshman RHP Hannah Rogers (8-0), who spelled Brombacher and won both of her games while allowing two earned runs and seven hits while striking out 14 in 13 innings of work.

Senior second baseman Aja Paculba, sophomore outfielder Brittany Schutte and senior first baseman Megan Bush all had spectacular weekends. Paculba (9-17) hit a pair of homers while knocking in five RBI and scoring eight runs. Schutte (5-15) hit two home runs in the opening game and another each in the final two games to total four over the weekend along with 14 RBI, eight runs and six walks. Bush (8-16) was equally impressive with two homers, eight RBI, five runs and three walks. Not to be outdone, freshman third baseman Kasey Fagan hit a grand slam in the third game of the weekend, and sophomore catcher Kelsey Horton hit dingers in back-to-back games.

3 » No. 1 Gators gymnastics (12-1, 5-1 SEC) helped set a NCAA attendance record on Friday, defeating the No. 5 Utah Utes (7-2) 197.00-196.75 in front of 15,558 fans at the Huntsman Center. Florida won the match overall by capturing the vault, bars and beam team events even though they lost the floor by .075. Event winners included sophomore Ashanée Dickerson on the beam (9.875) and vault (9.90), where she tied freshman Alaina Johnson and sophomore Marissa King. Johnson and freshman Mackenzie Caquatto tied to win the bars (9.925), too. With the regular season now complete, UF will defend their SEC title at the 2011 SEC Championships beginning March 19.

4 » No. 1 Gators women’s tennis (13-1, 2-0 SEC) and No. 11 Florida men’s tennis (9-3, 2-0 SEC) each came away from their respective SEC opening weekends with a pair of decisive victories. The women swept the LSU Tigers (2-6, 0-1 SEC) 6-0 and No. 16 Arkansas 7-0 on the road, while the men stayed home and beat the Tigers (3-6, 0-1 SEC) 6-1 and Razorbacks (3-7, 0-2 SEC) 7-0. No. 7 sophomore Allie Will and No. 26 sophomore Lauren Embree won both of their singles matches over the weekend for the women, while No. 6 senior Alexandre Lacroix and No. 28 sophomore Sekou Bangoura, Jr. mirrored their performances on the men’s side.

Extra BIT » Continuing their steady rise in the sport, No. 14 Florida lacrosse (4-1) defeated the Lehigh Mountain Hawks (2-2) 15-10 after fighting back from a 5-5 tie on Saturday afternoon at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville. Standout sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen once again led the way for the Gators with foul goals, while sophomore attacker Ashley Bruns added three of her own.
 

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Florida men’s track & field wins SEC Indoor title

No. 1 Florida Gators men’s track and field captured their sixth conference title and first since 2004 on Sunday, winning the 2011 Southeastern Conference Indoor Championship with 148 total team points.

Florida took down the No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks (136.5), No. 2 LSU Tigers (98), No. 17 Alabama Crimson Tide (65.5) and No. 24 Georgia Bulldogs (55.33) at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, AR.

Junior running back and sophomore sprinter Jeff Demps captured the SEC 60-meter dash championship with a 6.55, one-hundredth of a second faster than his record-setting time from the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championships. Joining him with SEC titles were junior Gray Horn (heptathlon), junior jumper Christian Taylor (triple jump), junior Dumisane Hlaselo (3,000-meter run), senior Kemal Mesic (shot put), freshman Eddie Lovett (60-meter hurdles) and two members of the women’s team – junior Fidela James (20-pound weight throw) and freshman Cory McGee (mile run).

Horn’s heptathlon title is the first in school history, and Hlaselo’s 3,000-meter title is Florida’s first since 1993. Taylor’s triple jump title is his third-straight. The Gators finished held the top three places in the triple jump with junior Will Claye and sophomore Omar Craddock following Taylor for silver and bronze.

Florida has two more meets next month before competing in the 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships March 11-12.

Photo Credit: GZTrackField

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FOUR BITS: gymnastics, baseball, softball

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics (11-1, 5-1 SEC) suffered its first defeat of the season on Friday, falling 196.70-196.10 to the No. 15 Arkansas Razorbacks (5-3, 5-1 SEC) in Fayetteville, AR. Florida captured three individual events with sophomore Ashanée Dickerson winning the vault and floor exercise and freshman Mackenzie Caquatto taking home the even bars; however, Arkansas surpassed UF in their team totals and came out on top. The Gators final match before the 2011 SEC Championships begin on March 19 is against Utah next Friday in Salt Lake City, UT.

2 » Florida’s other top-ranked team, No. 1 baseball, had better luck Friday, taking down the Boston College Eagles 9-3 in the second game of the teams’ three-game series. The Gators (6-0) scored three runs in the seventh inning alone to escape a 3-3 tie and move past the Eagles (2-3) for the victory. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (1.64 ERA) got the start for Florida and tossed four innings of shutout ball before giving up an earned run in the fifth and getting pulled at the end of the inning. The Gators led 2-1 at that point on a solo homer from junior right fielder Preston Tucker (3-4, 2 RBI, 2 R) in the third and an RBI from junior first baseman Ben McMahan (2-2, RBI) in the fourth. Junior left-handed pitcher Nick Mardone allowed a batter on via a bunt in the top of the seventh and junior RHP Greg Larson, coming into relieve him, let another batter hit himself on base. Freshman LHP Daniel Gibson, trying to get out of the inning, struck out his first batter before giving up a two-RBI triple to clear the bases and put Boston College up 3-2.

Looking to get out of a jam, Florida utilized the infamous hidden-ball trick to get the final out of the inning. With Eagles shortstop Brad Zapenas (2-4, 2 RBI) on third after his game-tying triple, freshman third baseman Zach Powers corralled the ball as Gibson pretended to wind up. Once Zapenas took a lead, Powers tagged him out, ended the inning and stopped the bleeding. The Gators responded with a three-run bottom of the seventh including a RBI each from Tucker (via a bases loaded walk), sophomore catcher/1B Austin Maddox (1-5, RBI) and sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson (3-5, 3 RBI, R). Florida added three more runs in the bottom of the eighth with sophomore center fielder Kamm Washington (1-1, RBI, R) doubling down the left field line to score sophomore C Mike Zunino (BB, R) and Johnson singling through the left side to bring home sophomore SS Nolan Fontana (1-2, 2 R, 3 BB) and Washington. Gibson (1-0) earned the win after juniors RHP Tommy Toledo and LHP Alex Panteliodis combined to strikeout three in 1.2 innings.

3 » No. 4 Gators softball (13-0) earned a pair of victories Friday at the Cathedral City Classic in Palm Springs, CA, defeating the San Diego State Aztecs (5-6) 4-2 in the afternoon and the No. 2 UCLA Bruins (10-2) 4-1 in the evening. Junior RHP Stephanie Brombacher (7-0) earned the win in the early game after giving up two earned runs in 5.1 innings. Freshman RHP Hannah Rogers (6-0), who tossed the final 1.2 innings of the San Diego State game in relief of Brombacher, threw a complete game against UCLA; she struck out 10 and only gave up a single earned run in the second inning. Senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder led the way for Florida offensively, combining to go 4-6 with three RBI and a walk in the two games. Junior CF Michelle Moultrie scored three runs and notched a pair of RBI on a 4-8 outing from the plate.

4 » Struggling all season, Gators women’s basketball (16-13, 6-9 SEC) scored a much-needed 74-69 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores (18-10, 9-6 SEC) on the road in Nashville, TN on Friday. Postponed a day due to severe weather, the game marked Florida’s first win on the road against Vanderbilt since 2004. Three Gators junior starters – center Azania Stewart (14) and guards redshirt Jordan Jones (16) and Lanita Bartley (15) – scored in double figures as Stewart also grabbed 11 rebounds for a double-double. UF has now won back-to-back contests after dropping four-in-a-row to begin the month of February.

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Gators crawl into Top 25 polls after crazy week

Having won seven of their last eight games including a close victory at Auburn and dominating triumph against Arkansas at home this week, the Florida Gators (15-4, 4-1 SEC) earned their way back into the Top 25 polls for the first time in over a month. Whether or not they can remain ranked in the polls with a difficult Southeastern Conference slate ahead remains to be seen.

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)-

ESPN/USA TODAY
Last Week 1-25: Ohio State (28*), Kansas (2*), Syracuse (1*), Pittsburgh, Duke, San Diego State, Villanova, Connecticut, Brigham Young, Texas A&M, Texas, Kentucky, Purdue, Missouri, Louisville, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota, Washington, Saint Mary’s, Illinois, Georgetown, Kansas State, Arizona
+ Florida received eight voting points, good for 38th overall

This Week 1-25: Ohio State (31*), Pittsburgh, Duke, San Diego State, Connecticut, Kansas, Villanova, Texas, Brigham Young, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Purdue, Missouri, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Washington, Minnesota, Louisville, Georgetown, Illinois, Vanderbilt, Florida, Saint Mary’s, Utah State
+ Florida received 67 voting points

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Last Week 1-25: Ohio State (49*), Kansas (6*), Syracuse (8*), Duke (1*), Pittsburgh (1*), San Diego State, Villanova, Connecticut, Brigham Young, Texas, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Missouri, Purdue, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Louisville, Washington, West Virginia, Saint Mary’s, Georgetown, Illinois, Cincinnati
+ Florida received 42 voting points, good for 35th overall

This Week 1-25: Ohio State (63*), Pittsburgh (1*), Duke (1*), San Diego State, Connecticut, Kansas, Texas, Villanova, Brigham Young, Syracuse, Missouri, Purdue, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Vanderbilt, Illinois, Georgetown, Florida State, Louisville, Florida, Michigan State
+ Florida received 169 voting points

* Numbers represent first-place votes.
 

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1/22: Donovan disucsses bounce back victory

The Florida Gators (15-4, 4-1 SEC) put together arguably their most complete game of the season Saturday in a dominating 75-43 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks (12-6, 2-3 SEC) just two days after escaping a potentially resume-killing loss in a close 45-40 win on the road against Auburn. Head coach Billy Donovan and a few players spoke to the media after Saturday night’s game.

STRONG PERFORMANCE FROM START-TO-FINISH

For every disappointing showing that Florida has put forth this season, they have seemed to match it with an impressive performance. The juxtaposition between Thursday’s nail-biting win and Saturday’s rout could not have been greater.

“From start-to-finish, it was a real complete game for us. We’ve had some games where we’ve had some double-digit leads going into the half and we haven’t come out and handled it always the best. Our guys really did [that] in the second half,” Donovan recounted. “There was a limited amount of physical work we did, but there was a lot of mental work. Larry Shyatt, he scouted the game, I thought he really did a terrific job. There’s a fine line, when you have a one-day prep day, you can overload your guys mentally. […] He just tried to simplify it.”

He also spoke about what it took for the Gators to rebound from what was no doubt a depressing performance on the road. “Tonight was a display of their resiliency. I love that about those guys,” Donovan said. “But there’s times where I want to see more fire, more passion, more energy, more excitement, enthusiasm when the game is not going their way. I’d like to see a little bit more of that.”

VICTORY HAS A GREATER LONG-TERM SIGNIFICANCE

Aside from proving that Florida is resilient at times, Saturday’s game also showed that the Gators are able to forget about negatives and move forward as a team. Donovan, still shell-shocked by his team’s performance Thursday, explained it thoroughly.

“It was important because I thought our guys, mentally coming out of the Auburn game, had never ever been through anything like that before. I had never been through anything like that before,” he said. “I mean we shot 27 percent from the field and 19 percent from the three-point line and we scored 45 points in a game against a team that’s 0-4 [in the SEC] at the time and 7-10 in the league. And that’s not any disrespect to Auburn. When you have a game like that, I think it was important how we responded on a one-day turnaround. That’s what I was more concerned about.”

UF handled that turnaround quite well it seems, but Donovan remains concerned whether or not Florida can keep up the momentum once again on such short rest. “The goal is – we play this well tonight – can we come back on Tuesday and play better than we did today? That’s the challenge you try to get across to them,” he said. “[You try] to get them to say, ‘OK, we need to try to get better.’”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 1/22: Donovan disucsses bounce back victory

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Florida rebounds with 75-43 rout of Arkansas

Two days after scoring a total of 45 points in a close win against Auburn on the road, the Florida Gators (15-4, 4-1 SEC) put up 39 in the first half alone and went on to demolish the Arkansas Razorbacks (12-6, 2-3 SEC) 75-43 on Saturday night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Florida rebounded from the worst offensive performance in head coach Billy Donovan‘s tenure in the Orange and Blue with what can only be considered an offensive explosion by comparison.

The Gators made it a point to force the ball inside the paint to the bigs at the beginning of the game. After the Razorbacks’ first basket, redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin scored eight-straight points and senior F Alex Tyus added a layup to complete a 10-0 run. Florida would follow that up with an impressive 12-0 run to jump ahead 29-11 with 7:03 left in the first.

Looking to make a statement heading into the locker rooms, the Gators ended the opening half on an 8-0 run, which included sophomore guard Kenny Boynton’s second three-pointer of the game, to go up 23 points at the break.

Florida shot 57.1 percent from the field, 50 percent from downtown and 66.7 percent from the line in the first half. They also made 16 shots – one more than they did throughout the entire game on Thursday.

Going back-and-forth much of the second half, the Gators led by 31 a number of times before ending the contest up a game-high 32 points when freshman G/F Casey Prather completed an alley-oop dunk with the clock winding down.

Boynton, breaking out of a slump he has suffered through most of the season, scored a game-high 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting while connecting on 4-of-7 attempts from downtown. Macklin and Tyus each posted 13 points and went a combined 11-for-17 from the floor. Held scoreless in the first half, Parsons ended up with five points, a career-high 15 rebounds and a game-high five assists.

Florida’s reserves were just as efficient as the starters with Prather, sophomore F Erik Murphy and freshman C Patric Young each scoring six points on a combined 14 shots. Tyus added seven boards while Macklin, Young and Prather contributed four apiece.

UF also excelled on defense Saturday, holding Arkansas’ leading scorer G Rotnei Clarke scoreless on two attempts. Forwards Delvon Johnson and Marshawn Powell led the Razorbacks with 12 and 10 points, respectively.

The Gators dominated every aspect of the game; they not only shot better but also out-rebounded their opponent 41-26, dished 13 more assists (18-5), grabbed two more steals (6-4), blocked four more shots (5-1) and committed six fewer turnovers (7-13). Florida held Arkansas to 30 percent shooting from the field and 15.4 percent from downtown while keeping their second-straight opponent from scoring 45 points. In fact, the Gators’ two-game opponent point total of 83 points is the lowest ever in Southeastern Conference play under Donovan.

Florida hopes to keep the momentum going as they travel to face Georgia on the road on Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN.

Photo Credit: Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun-Associated Press

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