Florida holds on to top Kentucky 70-68 in thriller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

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No. 23 Florida vs. No. 11 Kentucky Gameday

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

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

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

Odds: Kentucky -1; O/U 134

HISTORY and STREAKS

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

KEEP AN EYE ON…

» Junior point guard Erving Walker…who is leading his team in scoring with 14.5 points per game and leading the backcourt in both field goal percentage (.425) and three-point percentage (.383). Walker also leads the Gators in turnovers (57) and became the 47th player in school history to score 1,000 points earlier this season.
» Senior forward Chandler Parsons…who is back to averaging double-digit points (10.7) while leading the Gators with 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Parsons ranks No. 1 among active SEC players in rebounds (741), No. 3 in points (1,280) and No. 4 in assists (279) and steals (117).
» Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin…who is shooting a team-best 57.8 percent as a starter this season with most of his buckets coming inside the paint. He averages 11.1 points and 6.3 rebounds a game while being a major presence for Florida.
» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton…who is arguably UF’s most talented player but is struggling with consistency in his field goal percentage. Boynton is only shooting 35.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from beyond the arc; however, he is second on the team in scoring with 13.0 points per game and hits 82.5 percent of his free throws.
» Senior F Alex Tyus…who is averaging career-lows in points, rebounds and field goal percentage as a starter. Tyus became just the fifth player under Donovan to reach 500 career field goals, accomplishing the feat Tuesday against Vanderbilt.
» Freshmen PG Scottie Wilbekin and C Patric Young…who are the Gators primary reserves each averaging 17.1. Wilbekin, in relief of Walker, leads Florida in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5:1), while Young averages 3.4 points and 3.4 boards off the bench.
» Kentucky G Brandon Knight…who plays a team-high 35.0 minutes as a freshman, averages 17.2 points per game and picks up nearly four rebounds and assists per contest, too. Knight and Boynton are friends who grew up and played both against each other and together in South Florida.
» Wildcats F Jeffrey Taylor …who leads his team in scoring and rebounding with 17.9 points and 9.0 boards per game.

ESPN COLLEGE GAMEDAY

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

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2/3: Donovan on struggling starters, experience

No. 23 Florida Gators (17-5, 6-2 SEC) head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes from his media availability on Thursday.

STRUGGLING STARTERS

Though redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, senior forward Chandler Parsons and junior point guard Erving Walker have by all accounts had solid seasons up to this point, Florida’s other two starters have yet to find a consistent groove. Donovan is not overly concerned with that fact, pointing out a few nuances to each player’s game.

“He really made a great jump in my opinion coming out of the Mississippi State game,” he said of sophomore guard Kenny Boynton. “In the Mississippi State game, he had some really, really good looks – open looks – and the ball didn’t go in the basket for him. And I really thought that affected him on the defensive end and his energy. He did a phenomenal job on [John] Jenkins. I know he scored 22 points, but it wasn’t from the three-point line, it wasn’t wide-open looks. I think we made him work for it. He got to the free throw line. He had some drives. Even though he was not having a prolific scoring night, he really was locked in defensively to try to do the best job he could on Jenkins.”

For his part, Boynton is getting the message Donovan is sending. “I just try to put the last play behind me,” Boynton said of his attitude when he’s struggling to knock down shots. “Coach Donovan, he doesn’t want anybody out there frustrated or thinking about the last play, he just wants us to play whether or not our shots are falling. Last year was pretty hard for me to do because I wasn’t used to it. This year is easier; [I] just go back and play defense the next possession.”

With senior F Alex Tyus, Donovan thinks the guys he has had to go one-on-one with have caused the biggest problem. “The one thing that’s been hard for Alex is he’s had a lot of very, very difficult match-ups at the power forward spot,” he said. “He’s had some really, really difficult match-ups. Alex has really been trying to focus on defending. Because when you’re going against those kind of guys, and we’re trying to provide some help for him, you probably have a tendency to focus a little bit less on your offense. […] You look at the match-ups he’s had to go against, there’s going to be a dip in offensive production because he’s had to focus so much on playing defense.”

EXPERIENCE DOESN’T WIN GAMES

Asked how the team’s veteran leadership and experience of playing four overtime games (and winning three) this season will help in the future, Donovan simply said it will not by noting that age and “being there” before don’t matter nearly as much as performing to the best of your abilities.

“I don’t think so,” he said of the notion. “Last year’s Kentucky team with all those young guys did pull out close games. There was a thought when I had [Joakim] Noah, [Al] Horford and [Corey] Brewer and they were all sophomores that there was no NCAA Tournament experience … and you have to have an experienced team to go deep into the tournament … and they proved that wrong.

“Just because we’ve won some close games does not ensure the fact that we’re going to win all of them going forward. Anything that’s happened in the past has no bearing on the next time you’re in that situation other than the fact that there’s a level of familiarity. You still have to make the plays that are necessary [to win the game]. You still have to execute, perform and do those things in those situations. Just because you did it last time doesn’t mean you’re going to do it [another] time. You got to execute, focus and do the right things at that time to the best of your ability.”

Parsons neither agreed nor disagreed with Donovan but did point out that the team’s three overtime victories have given the Gators more confidence as a unit. “Having four overtime games and winning three of them really shows something about our team and how we keep playing,” he said. “It’s all about effort, executing our offense, playing defense and getting those big stops when we need them. And then obviously our guys coming up with some big shots.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 2/3: Donovan on struggling starters, experience

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Urban Meyer, Gators mutually sever financial ties

Announced as ESPN’s newest college football analyst on Monday, former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer said at the time he would continue working with the University of Florida in a to be determined capacity. Just two days later, Meyer and Florida have mutually agreed to end their financial agreement..

Fueled by concerns over potential NCAA recruiting violations (and likely a perceived bias on his part), Meyer will no longer be paid by UF; it is unknown if he will be allowed to retain his office inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“The University of Florida has been a big part of my personal and professional life for the past six years and while I will no longer be able to continue a professional relationship with the University, I will continue to support the many friends I made during my time there,” Meyer said in a statement released by the university.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley also shared his thoughts on the decision.

“We are happy for Coach Meyer that he is getting a chance to stay involved with college football – he has so much passion for the game and the players. He will provide great insight and background for ESPN’s audiences,” he said. “We were pleased to provide Coach Meyer with an opportunity within our athletic department, but the chance to work for ESPN was a perfect fit for him and his family. He will always be welcome here and we are forever indebted for what he accomplished and how he represented the University of Florida. He gave every ounce of energy to this program for six years and we certainly share a special bond with him. We will always remain close friends and I look forward to seeing him enjoy the next chapter in his life. Coach Meyer will always be a Gator.”

Meyer’s agent and former Gators star Trace Armstrong went more in-depth with the Orlando Sentinel on the mutual decision.

“Jeremy did it as a favor; he wanted Urban to understand that he was still a part of the program,” Armstrong told Mike Bianchi. “Nobody anticipated this would a problem with the NCAA. Usually, when a former coach is on ESPN, he has been fired and has broken ties with the school. This was a unique situation. In the end, we just thought this was the best resolution and the cleanest way to do it. This way, it removes any questions.”

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Urban Meyer signs up for on-air gig with ESPN

Less than a month after he officially ceased being the head coach of the Florida Gators, Urban Meyer has agreed to begin a new form of employment. He will start working as an on-air college football analyst with ESPN beginning Wednesday, the company announced on a conference call Monday.

“Football has played an extremely important role in my life for the past 25 years and ESPN has given me an incredible opportunity to join its world-class team and share my passion, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the game with fans across the country,” said Meyer in a press release.

Meyer, who joined ESPN‘s coverage of the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl and 2011 BCS National Championship and did on-air work for FOX during the 2008 BCS National Championship, has never been a prominently featured television personality before.

“Coach Meyer brings a fresh voice and a contemporary knowledge of the game,” ESPN executive vice president of production Norby Williamson said. “As he showed during BCS coverage, his ability to communicate the strategic aspects of the game and his incredible track record for success will serve college football fans everywhere.”

From ESPN’s press release:

Former University of Florida head football coach Urban Meyer, who won two BCS National Championships in six years, will join ESPN as a college football game and studio analyst. He will make his debut Wednesday, Feb. 2 as a studio analyst during ESPNU’s 10-hour ESPNU National Signing Day Special.

As part of the agreement, Meyer will work a weekly regular-season game (specific assignment to be determined) and select post-season bowl games. He will also provide studio analysis throughout the year on ESPN’s daily College Football Live program; NFL Draft, spring games; and bowl games, including during the network’s on-site BCS coverage.

In addition, Meyer will contribute to ESPN’s popular Saturday morning College GameDay Built by The Home Depot series (from his game site), make weekly appearances on ESPN Radio, and provide analysis on SportsCenter and additional ESPN outlets.

Meyer cited spending time with his family as the main reason he stepped away from his job with Florida. He explained Monday that his duties, though they might sound broad, will only keep him away from home for short periods of time each week.

“In the offseason it’s going to be minimal. During the season it’s going to be the weekend – Friday and Saturday,” he said. “It’s going to be different than what I’m used to the past 25 years.”

Even though he resigned from his job as the Gators head coach, Meyer was given an office inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium by athletic director Jeremy Foley and is expected to continue working with Florida while holding this television job. He shed a bit of light on those responsibilities Monday.

“I’m going to work directly with Jeremy in the foundation and help in that aspect,” he said. “The depth I will assist Florida has not been finalized yet. It will have no impact on what I do with ESPN.”

When it all comes down to it, Meyer will have to analyze the Gators at times on television. However, his new responsibilities will not change his passion for the program.

“I will be very respectful of Florida, very respectful of the game,” he said when asked how it will feel to comment on his old school. “I think we have a great coach. I’m a Florida fan. And I’m not going to be ashamed of that.”

CONFERENCE CALL QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » Urban Meyer signs up for on-air gig with ESPN

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ESPN College GameDay in Gainesville on Feb. 5

As reported by OGGOA in December, ESPN College GameDay will emanate from the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Feb. 5 prior to the No. 23/24 Florida Gators taking on the No. 16/14 Kentucky Wildcats later that evening at 9 p.m.

The University of Florida announced on Friday that the show will air live from Gainesville, FL next week, noting that it is the first time since 2008 and third time overall that the television program will be broadcast from inside the arena.

In addition to the two hours College GameDay airs in the morning (beginning at 10 a.m. on ESPNU and 11 a.m. on ESPN), there will be a one-hour pre-game show live from the O’Connell Center at 8 p.m. The program features host Rece Davis and analysts Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis and Bob Knight. Feature reporter and former Gators dazzler Erin Andrews will not be in attendance. However, head coach Billy Donovan will likely be interviewed at some point during the second hour of the show.

The first 500 students in attendance will receive complimentary breakfast, the first 3,000 fans will be given rollbannas courtesy of State Farm, and one lucky student will shoot a half-court shot for a chance at $17,500. College GameDay also wants to see more “big heads” in the crowd. Every student who brings one will win a prize with one being awarded a “VIP prize pack.”

Photo Credit: ESPN

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FOUR BITS: Crowder, Gonzales, Fox, Andrews

You can view the rest of the pictures from this photoshoot right here.

1 » Before returning to coach in college, new Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp spent a season coordinating the defense under Nick Saban in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. As a rookie third-round draft choice, former Gators linebacker Channing Crowder played for Muschamp and was thrilled to learn he was hired to lead his alma mater. “He’s an energetic dude. I’m excited for him,’’ Crowder told MiamiDolphins.com writer Andy Kent, who related his thoughts to the University of Florida senior writer Scott Carter. “He’s a proven defensive coordinator and he knows defense. When he was here I want to say we were the No. 3 or No. 4 defense in the league. He’s just a smart dude and he’s going to be a young head coach. He’s going to bring energy to the team. Urban [Meyer] was a great coach but he was more of that laid-back, dictator type. Will’s going to get in there and get dirty with the guys and I think he’s going to be great for Florida. […] Now he’s going to be in the spotlight at Florida, especially coming into the situation he’s coming into with a proven program. I think it was a great hire and I think he’ll bring a lot of excitement.’’

2 » Passed over for Steve Addazio for the open offensive coordinator position with the Gators, Billy Gonzales left his post as wide receivers coach under Meyer to join the LSU Tigers staff for the same position with the enhanced title of “passing game coordinator.” Though the Tigers are now searching for a new offensive coordinator, ESPN‘s Bruce Feldman reports that head coach Les Miles will be looking to fill the position with someone outside the program. It should be noted that, contrary to Feldman’s report, there are rumors that Gonzales is the frontrunner for the position. Those have not yet been confirmed.

3 » Denver Broncos president John Elway announced Thursday afternoon that he and the organization have decided to hire veteran John Fox as the team’s next head coach. Fox, who will be faced with a number of important decisions in his first year including deciding whether or not Tim Tebow is his starting quarterback, had glowing things to say about the Heisman Trophy winner before the 2010 NFL Draft. “[Tebow] had a very, very good workout,” Fox said last March at Florida’s Pro Day. “He doesn’t lack in the work ethic department, so whatever needs to be done, he’ll do. I definitely saw some adjustment and I thought he executed very well.” He said later that Tebow is “a guy that has a great work ethic … that if there’s something that needs to be fixed, he can fix it.” Asked about his talent compared to his intangibles, Fox referenced another quarterback who was overlooked by some. “Did you ever watch Bernie Kosar play?” Fox said at a league meeting last year. “Bernie might not appreciate it, but I call it as I see it. He won a lot of games. So it’s not all just how pretty they are [or] how big.”

4 » Former Florida dazzler and current ESPN reporter Erin Andrews has signed an endorsement deal with Reebok to promote the company’s ZigTech brand. Joining names like Peyton Manning, Chad Ochocinco, John Wall and Sidney Crosby, Andrews will pitch the company’s footwear and apparel while helping to expand the ZigTech brand’s reach to a female audience. “I’m very excited to be the first female to become part of Reebok’s ZigTech campaign,” she said in an official statement. “I have been athletic all my life, and I’m thrilled to be working out in the same footwear and apparel that helps these athletes perform at the top of their game.”

Photo Credit: Reebok

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TWO BITS: Tebow and Meyer all over ESPN

1 » Doing promotion for his documentary Tim Tebow: Everything in Between, Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow was everywhere you looked if you turned on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS or ESPN Radio on Thursday. Below are just a few clips and quotes from his appearances.

Tebow on SportsCenter:

Tebow on the Colin Cowherd radio show:
On changing his game for the NFL; running quarterbacks don’t survive: “I’m going to always try to improve my game. Yes, I want to be that guy that sits in the pocket and throws darts. At the same time, if I have to, to be able to also be a football player and make a play, I think that just adds to be able to help. If it’s an added dimension, if it’s another attribute, then I don’t see how it hurts. But I definitely do want to focus on being a pocket passer and just throwing from the pocket. Throwing those darts.”

On if he is too “collegiate” and his positive attitude rubbing people the wrong way: “To be honest, I don’t necessarily think so. I think I got a great relationship with a lot of my teammates, especially the veterans. When they understand that you’re not about college anymore, you’re about trying to make it this league and trying to help the broncos, when you’re able to earn that respect and they see your work ethic and then they see your passion and love for the game very day and they say its real and not fake and not a show you put on and it’s the actual person you are…then I think they respect you and then they look up to you and begin to like you.”

On whether he is worried about the new head coach not liking him as a player: “To be honest I’m not really apprehensive or anxious right now. I still consider myself extremely blessed to be a Bronco and to be in this great Broncos organization. I also consider myself very blessed that John Elway has taken the position that he has. It’s a great opportunity and a great situation for me. I’m not apprehensive or anxious about anything right now.”

On Cowherd’s opinion of Tebow: “I’m going to try to prove you wrong for what you think of me in the NFL. I don’t think you’re a bad guy at all, but I appreciate you having me on.”

Tebow and Michelle Beadle talking behind the scenes:

2 » Though OGGOA has previously reported this news item, ESPN confirmed in an official release Thursday that former Florida head coach Urban Meyer will be joining the network for coverage of the 2011 BCS National Championship. Along with Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban, Meyer will be an on-site analyst leading up to and through the contest. He will provide his thoughts and opinions on SportsCenter, College GameDay, ESPNEWS, College Football Live and during the pre-game, half-time and post-game coverage for the event.

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