Elite Eight: Florida vs. Louisville – Early notes

Following consecutive victories in Sweet 16 action on Thursday evening, the No. 7-seed Florida Gators and No. 3-seed Louisville Cardinals set in stone their match-up in the West Region’s Elite Eight as part of the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. live on CBS. Below is a post-game video along with some early notes on the game.

POST-GAME LOCKER ROOM CELEBRATION VIDEO
The video below is courtesy of UF’s GatorVision.tv.

EARLY NOTES

» Florida head coach Billy Donovan, who played under Louisville head coach Rick Pitino at Providence and was an assistant coach on his staff at Kentucky from 1989-1994, is 0-6 all-time against his mentor.

» Donovan and Pitino each have an ace up their respective sleeve for Saturday’s contest as the Gators and Cardinals traded staff members after last season. Former Florida assistant Richard Pitino is now an assistant with Louisville while former UL team manager Billy O’Meara is now UF’s assistant video coordinator after spending five years working under the elder Pitino.

» Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal has become more aggressive and is averaging 17 points per game on 54 percent shooting (43 percent from three) with 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 blocks in the 2012 postseason.

» Florida as a team is hitting 77 percent of its foul shots in the postseason and has taken at least 15 attempts from the line in four of the last five games.

» The Gators’ defense has improved immensely in the NCAA Tournament. Florida’s three opponents are averaging just 51 points (with no team scoring more than 58) while shooting 31 percent from the field and 21 percent from beyond the arc.

» UF’s three-point shooting, however, has been less than impressive in the tourney. The Gators are averaging just seven treys per game (down from 10 during the regular season) and are shooting just 27 percent from beyond the arc.

» The Cardinals knocked off No. 1-seed Michigan State for the opportunity to play in the Elite Eight. Louisville is on a seven-game winning streak dating back to March 7 which includes victories over six NCAA Tournament teams including MSU, Notre Dame, Davidson, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Marquette.

» Louisville’s NCAA Tournament defense has also been impressive. The Cardinals have held their three opponents to an average of 54 points on 35 percent shooting from the floor and 22 percent from downtown.

ESPN DISCUSSES FLORIDA’S DEFENSE AND SWEET 16 WIN

Stick with OGGOA over the next two days leading up to the Florida-Louisville game.

Photo Credit: Rich Clarkson/Sports Illustrated

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(7) Florida Gators advance to second-straight Elite Eight with 68-58 victory over (3) Marquette

The No. 7-seed Florida Gators (26-10) will compete for a Final Four berth for the second-straight season after advancing to the Elite Eight on the heels of a 68-56 victory over the No. 3-seed Marquette Golden Eagles (27-8) in the Sweet 16 round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ.

Competing in the West Region, Florida will face No. 4-seed Louisville (which defeated No. 1-seed Michigan State 57-44 in the previous game) on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

The Gators were led, as they have been all postseason, by freshman guard Bradley Beal, who posted a game-high 21 points on extremely efficient shooting. Beal was 8-of-10 from the field and 3-for-5 from beyond the arc; he also grabbed six rebounds (two offensive), dished four assists, swiped two steals and registered two blocks.

Senior point guard Erving Walker and junior G Kenny Boynton each struggled with their shooting but combined to go 10-for-11 from the charity stripe. Walker and Boynton both scored 11 points and combined for seven boards, seven dimes and a pair of steals.

Marquette jumped ahead by five early as Florida started 2-for-9 from the field and UF junior forward Erik Murphy missed his first four shots. The Gators and Golden Eagles then jockeyed back-and-forth with impressive scoring stretches until Boynton tied the contest at 15 after completing a four-point play.

UF went on their second run of the half, a 7-0 stretch, as MU forward Jae Crowder went to the bench with his second foul. Sophomore PG Scottie Wilbekin drained a three after sophomore G/F Casey Prather scored four-straight points including a highlight twisting finish on an alley-oop by Boynton.

After falling behind three while being outscored 10-3 by the Golden Eagles, the Gators ended the first half on a 9-0 run lasting 3:47 to take a six-point lead into the break.

Florida extended that advantage to a game-high 14 points early in the second half as Murphy ended his cold streak (he started 0-for-8 from the field and 0-for-5 from downtown) by draining a three with the shot clock winding down. Beal followed that up with his third trey of the game only to have Murphy find the bottom of the net again after he finished on a driving layup. The 8-0 run extended an impressive scoring stretch by the Gators to 21-4 including the nine-straight points they scored to end the first half.

Marquette was able to answer Florida as UF fell into a shooting drought lasting 4:07. The Gators went 0-for-6 from the field as the Golden Eagles scored six-straight points to cut their deficit to eight points. Florida’s tough shooting continued as the team went 2-for-11 with three turnovers since achieving their game-high lead, but the Gators began attacking the basket again and went back up 12, 56-44, with 4:54 left in the contest.

MU refused to relent, however, scoring seven-straight points (including five by G Todd Mayo) to cut UF’s lead to six points with 3:20 remaining. Walker and Crowder traded threes to keep the Gators’ lead at six, but Boynton hit five of six free throws down the stretch to clinch the victory for Florida.

Though Murphy had a tough shooting night with just seven points while going 3-of-13 from the field and 1-for-8 from three, he registered a season-high and game-high 10 rebounds (one short of his career-best). The Gators added 11 bench points (all scored in the first half) and six from sophomore center Patric Young, who did not get the ball much but cradled nine boards including a game-high five off the offensive glass.

Crowder led the Golden Eagles with 15 points and the team’s leading scorer, G Darius Johnson-Odom, posted just 14. Both players went just 5-of-15 from the field and Marquette as a team shot just 30.8 percent from the floor.

UF won the rebounding margin 39-34 and had 15 assists on 24 made baskets. The Gators also hit 86.7 percent of their free throws and registered six blocks on the evening.

Florida will advance to face Louisville at 4:30 p.m. on CBS in what will be the seventh career meeting between Donovan and his former head coach Rick Pitino. Donovan is 0-6 all-time against Pitino including 0-2 since he took over the Louisville program.

Photo Credit: Chris Carlson/Associated Press

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FOUR BITS: All-Americans, Tebowmania, Hillier

1 » Five Florida Gators baseball players were named to the 2012 NCBWA Pro-Line Athletic Preseason All-American Team on Wednesday. Juniors catcher Mike Zunino and pitcher/first baseman Brian Johnson earned first team recognition, while senior infielder/outfielder Preston Tucker and junior P Austin Maddox were named to the second team. Sophomore P Karsten Whitson, coming off of a stellar freshman season (8-1, 2.40 ERA), was given a third-team nod.

2 » A pair of Florida senior volleyball players – right-side/setter Kelly Murphy and outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel were named Wednesday to the 2011 AVCA All-American Team. Murphy, who according to UF “started every match and set of her career,” earned first-team recognition; her cohort Jaeckel was named to the second team. Murphy and Jaeckel led the Gators to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament this year.

3 » If you were thinking Tebowmania was going to slow down any time soon, then you were obviously kidding yourself. According to the Denver Post, Bonfire Brewing in Eagle, CO will be releasing a brand new beer inspired by Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow called the Tebrew Sunday Sipper. The company explains that the beer will be made available to the masses once the signature 10 oz. glasses it ordered arrive. It is expected to sold locally only, so chances are that you’ll have to contact Bonfire directly if interested in sampling some of their brew.

In other Tebow-related news, Fathead on Tuesday released a “Tebowing” edition of their signature product, which quickly became the site’s No. 1 seller. The No. 2 Fathead sold Tuesday? The normal version of Tebow.

4 » Florida midfielder Janine Hillier, the lacrosse team’s fourth leading scorer one year ago, has decided to transfer to Stony Brook for her junior season. Hiller, a part of the Gators’ inaugural recruiting class, scored 34 goals along with six assists in 2011. She chose to transfer due to “personal reasons,” as cited by Inside Lacrosse, which notes that Stony Brook is “closer to Hillier’s hometown and her sister, Kim Hillier” is an assistant coach on the team.

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FOUR BITS: Elway apologizes to Tebow, Gators earn awards, volleyball falls, Macklin ready

1 » Nothing that Denver Broncos executive vice president John Elway has done to this point – whether it be verbal comments or body language – has shown that he fully supports quarterback Tim Tebow. Despite the fact that Tebow is winning games and doing so in a variety of ways, Elway recently answered “no” when asked by a radio station if he was “any closer to having your quarterback on this team” than he was a month earlier. With Tebow continuing to win and Elway receiving more and more criticism, he told FOX Sports this week that he “could have done a better job answering that question.” “It was a little too blunt,” he went on to say. “I should have said, ‘We’re not talking about the future. We’re talking about right now. Tim Tebow is definitely our guy.’”

Tebow recently avoided a question asking whether or not he felt the entire organization was behind him; that non-answer is likely what led Elway to personally apologize to his star, which FOX Sports notes he did recently. In fact, Elway has also told Tebow that he plans to work with him alongside QB coach Adam Gase in the offseason – not to “fix’ his throwing motion but rather to improve his accuracy. “I don’t believe you change a throwing motion. I do believe you can really help your accuracy by your feet,” Elway said. “That’s where, to me, Tim has so much upside. He’s improving. It’s just a matter of getting it burned into his reactions and mind.”

2 » The Florida Gators football team participated in its annual banquet on Saturday in which the team is presented a number of awards for everything from on-field performance to working hard in practice and how courageous a particular player may be throughout the season. Below are the 2011 award winners along with some award explanations, courtesy of the University of Florida.

Coaches’ Choice Awards
President’s Academic Award: Caleb Sturgis
Gene Elleson Community Service Award: Jesse Schmitt
Iron Gator Strength and Conditioning Award: William Green
Chris Patrick Courage Award: John Brantley
Most Valuable Offensive Scout Team Award: Tim Clark Defensive: Michael McNeely Special Teams: Hygens Succes and Solomon Schoonover

Players’ Choice Awards
Rex Farrior Most Team Spirited Offense: Jeff Demps Defense: Dominique Easley
Greg See Tenacity Award Offense: Matt Patchan Defense: Dominique Easley
MVP Offense: Chris Rainey Defense: Jon Bostic, Matt Elam ST: Caleb Sturgis
James W. Kynes Award (Best Mental/Physical Toughness): John Brantley
* Presented to the “player who best exemplifies the mental and physical toughness and ‘iron-man’ determination.’ The award is traditionally won by offensive linemen.
Ray Graves Award (Team MVP): Chris Rainey
* As voted on by the entire team.
Fergie Ferguson Leadership Award: Lerentte McCray, John Brantley
* Presented to the “player who displays outstanding leadership, character and courage.”
Captains: John Brantley, Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, William Green, Jaye Howard

3 » Florida volleyball’s inspiring run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament came to an end Saturday evening as the No. 3 Illinois Illini defeated the Gators 3-1 in four sets (25-22, 23-25, 25-14, 25-20) in Elite Eight action at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL. UF has been ranked higher heading into the tournament in recent memory, but Florida reached the regional final this year for the first time since 2005. Seniors setter/right-side Kelly Murphy and outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel once again led the way for their squad. Murphy’s triple-double (13 kills, 21 assists, 17 digs) was the 30th of her career. Murphy posted 19 kills and 11 digs for a double-double. Each will end their careers in the top 10 of a number of categories in the Gators’ record book. Transfer Colleen Ward, who joined the Illini, posted 23 kills and 11 digs in the contest for a double-double of her own. Florida finished the season 27-6 and was on a 10-match winning streak before falling to Illinois.

4 » As one Gators rookie waits to sign his deal, center Vernon Macklin has already agreed to terms with the Detroit Pistons, which selected him in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft. Macklin, who stayed in shape during the lockout by maintaining his college conditioning and working out with NBA players like Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, Los Angeles Lakers F Metta World Peace, Atlanta center Al Horford and Chicago C Joakim Noah, recently told The Detroit News that he was star struck when he saw Detroit C Ben Wallace practicing. “It’s kind of a weird feeling,” he said. “Him going to Virginia Union, a lot of my family members idolized him and learned from him.”

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Florida at No. 10 in USA Today preseason top 25

The preseason USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25 Coaches Poll was announced Thursday with the North Carolina Tar Heels being slotted as the overwhelming No. 1 team in the country after receiving 30 of 31 first-place votes. North Carolina, which returns all five starters from 2010, is one spot ahead of the Kentucky Wildcats, which were not voted lower than No. 6 in any ballot submitted.

Four Southeastern Conference teams made the poll including Kentucky (No. 2), Vanderbilt (No. 7), the Florida Gators (No. 10) and Alabama (No. 17).

The 2010-11 Gators were ranked No. 11 heading into last season, which saw them win the SEC and end the year with a record of 29-8 (13-3 SEC) that included an appearance in the Elite Eight round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

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
2-1-

USA TODAY/ESPN COACHES POLL
Preseason 1-5: North Carolina (30), Kentucky (1), Ohio State, Connecticut, Syracuse
6-10: Duke, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Memphis, Florida
11-15: Pittsburgh, Baylor, Kansas, Wisconsin, Xavier
16-20: Arizona, Alabama, Michigan, Texas A&M, UCLA
21-25: Marquette, Cincinnati, Gonzaga, California, Missouri

*Numbers in parenthesis represent first-place votes.

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Milton-Jones: “What’s the point in playing if you’re not playing for a championship?”

By Nicole Boyett – OGGOA Student Correspondent

The WNBA may not be a professional sport followed by many Florida Gators fans, but it is time for them to start taking notice if they haven’t already as the only woman representing the Orange & Blue in the league, DeLisha Milton-Jones, has been nominated as one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All Time.

During her time at Florida, Milton-Jones led the Gators to four NCAA Tournament appearances (including the 1997 Elite Eight) while earning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and Associated Press All-American honors her senior year. She followed up her stellar collegiate career by playing in the ABL for two years before being was drafted with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1999 WNBA Draft by the Los Angeles Sparks. Now in her 13th WNBA season, Milton-Jones is one of the most accomplished players to step on the hardwood.

She has won two Olympic gold medals for Team USA (2000, 2008), back-to-back WNBA titles with Los Angeles (2001, 2002) and a pair of Euroleague Championships (2003, 2006) while also having been named a WNBA All-Star twice (2000, 2007).

At of the end of the 2010 season, she was 11th in the WNBA in total points, 10th in total rebounds, ninth in field goals made, 14th in free throws made, sixth in total steals, 13th in total blocks, 11th in minutes per game, and seventh in total minutes played. Despite her impressive career and overwhelming talent on the court, Milton-Jones continues to be overlooked as one of the greatest female basketball players to ever lace up her shoes. The hope is that her talent is recognized on July 23 when the WNBA announces the league’s all-time Top 15 players at the 15th annual All-Star Game in San Antonio, TX.

Milton-Jones sat down with OGGOA’s Nicole Boyett for an exclusive interview just a handful of games into her 13th WNBA season. Averaging 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, she continues to lead the Sparks and hopes to be recognized for the impact she has made on women’s basketball in the United States.

NICOLE BOYETT: What does it mean to you to be the only Gator in the WNBA and to have had such a long and successful career?
DELISHA MILTON-JONES: “I am proud that I’m the lone standing Gator in the league, but I’m also sad because I feel like there should definitely be more of us in the league. When [former Florida star] Murriel Page* decided to leave after her achilles injury, that was pretty much it for us, and I think that her and I both did a great job of representing the Gators all these years.”
*Page was selected No. 3 overall in the 1998 WNBA Draft by the Washington Mystics. She is now an assistant coach under Amanda Butler at UF.

NB: As a Gator, you won SEC Player of the Year, were an All-American and went to the NCAA Tournament every year. With all of your accomplishments at Florida, do you get the opportunity to come back and talk to the team or head coach Amanda Butler?
DMJ: “It is difficult to support the team the way I would like to because, in the off-season during their season, is when I leave for Europe. After the WNBA season, I usually have a week, maybe less, to prepare myself for the next eight months in Europe, so there’s really no downtime for me. For the past 11 years, I’ve been playing in Europe as well as the WNBA year-round, so it is very difficult to get back. I wasn’t even able to come back when I was inducted into the WNBA Hall of Fame because it was during an important time in the season in Europe and the team wouldn’t allow me to come back, so I had to miss it. My mother had to go in my place. I’m hoping that – when it’s all said and done and I decide to retire – that they allow me to come back and be able to participate in the ceremony in a different way.”

NB: You’ve won two gold medals with Team USA, two WNBA Championships and two Euroleague titles. How do those compare to each other and how does winning a gold medal compare to winning a championship?
DMJ: “A championship is a championship, but they all feel good. I think the difference is that the gold medals probably have more value to me because it’s on the largest stage possible and I won. I consider myself to be so blessed, lucky, and privileged to have been a participant in several Olympics. That’s just a dream come true and it lets you know that you are in a category that many people would give their arm for just to be able to participate in. To be able to walk into the opening ceremonies and participate in the game is something that was so special that if I hadn’t gotten the gold medal, it wouldn’t matter because the memories will last a lifetime. Any time I think of that feeling, it just sends chills down my spine.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Milton-Jones…after the break!
Continue Reading » Milton-Jones: “What’s the point in playing if you’re not playing for a championship?”

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Florida women’s tennis shuts out UCLA 4-0, will face Stanford for 2011 NCAA Championship

Competing in the Final Four for the second-straight season and 21st time in the last 25 years, No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (30-1) shut out the No. 6 UCLA Bruins (22-6) 4-0 to advance to the 2011 NCAA Championship taking place on Tuesday at Taube Tennis Stadium in Stanford, CA.

Florida got the evening started by winning two of three doubles contests and picking up the first point of the match. The No. 45 pairing of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen won their set 8-6, and the duo of sophomore Caroline Hitimana and junior Joanna Mather closed out their opponents 8-4.

Embree/Oyen and Hitimana/Mather have been on fire for UF, also winning the doubles point for the Gators in their Elite Eight match-up on Sunday.

No. 17 Embree captured the first singles point with a dominant 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 42 Noelle Hickey and was followed by No. 54 Cercone, who outlasted No. 77 Courtney Dolehide 7-5, 6-3 to give Florida a 3-0 advantage. With the sun setting and the courts becoming much colder, No. 7 sophomore Allie Will – UF’s ace all season – clinched the win for the Gators with a 7-6, 6-2 triumph over No. 57 McCall Jones on court one.

Florida will face the No. 1 Stanford Cardinal (28-0) for the title for the second consecutive year and ninth time since 1988. The Cardinal defeated the Gators 4-3 for the 2010 NCAA Championship and is 6-2 all-time against UF when competing for the national title. Stanford is 16-11 all-time against Florida.

Tuesday’s championship game, where the Gators will look to break the Cardinal’s 184 consecutive match home winning streak, will air live on ESPNU at 7 p.m.

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Florida women’s tennis defeats Miami 4-1 in Elite Eight, advances to 2011 NCAA Final Four

Advancing to the Final Four for the second-straight season and 21st time in the last 25 years, No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (29-1) won a nail-biter against the No. 7 Miami Hurricanes (21-7), beating them 4-1 in the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament at Taube Tennis Stadium in Stanford, CA on Sunday.

With the No. 2 pairing of sophomore Allie Will and freshman Alex Cercone down 7-5 to Miami’s No. 5 duo, Florida wound up winning the other two doubles matches to take the doubles point. The No. 45 team of sophomore Lauren Embree and freshman Sofie Oyen won their match 8-4, and the pair of sophomore Caroline Hitimana and junior Joanna Mather took their contest 8-5 to clinch the point for the Gators.

No. 53 freshman Olivia Janowicz captured the first singles point (6-4, 6-2) for Florida, but Miami answered when Gabriela Mejia beat No. 91 Oyen 7-6(1), 6-1. No. 7 Will defeated No. 6 Bianca Eichkorn in straight sets (6-2, 6-1) to give the Gators a 3-1 advantage with three matches remaining in the contest.

Two of the final three matches entered in the third set and both were within a game of each other; UF was well behind in the third. No. 54 Cercone wound up finishing first, clinching the victory for Florida with a 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 win. No. 42 Mather led her opponent, but No. 17 Embree was trailing in her match as the day came to a close.

The Gators will participate in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament on Monday evening; Florida is set to take on No. 6 UCLA (22-5) at 7 p.m. in Stanford.

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