Final Four: (1) Florida Gators get chance for revenge in rematch against (7) UConn Huskies

The only two teams to defeat the (1) Florida Gators (36-2) this season will join them in the Final Four as the (2) Wisconsin Badgers (30-7) advanced Saturday night and the (7) Connecticut Huskies (30-8) earned a seat at the table Sunday afternoon.

Florida will get a chance to avenge at least one of its two losses on Saturday at At&T Stadium in Arlington, TX as it is set to take on UConn at 6:09 p.m. for the opportunity to advance to championship game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Forty minutes after the game, Wisconsin and the (8) Kentucky Wildcats (28-10) – which UF has beat three times already this season – will square off for the other spot in the title game.

The Huskies and Gators fought down to the wire in their regular-season match-up on Dec. 2, 2013 with UConn taking down Florida 65-64 at home in Stoors, CT by outscoring UF 6-2 over the final 34 seconds with point guard Shabazz Napier draining a second-chance game-winner at the buzzer.

The shot may never have happened had UF senior PG Scottie Wilbekin, who injured his ankle with 3:01 to play and never returned, been on the court for the last possession. The team was also without its back-up floor general, freshman Kasey Hill, who missed the game with an ankle injury of his own.

Continue Reading » Final Four: (1) Florida Gators get chance for revenge in rematch against (7) UConn Huskies

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Florida-Dayton post-game – Final-ly Four: Gators exorcise Elite Eight demon on way to North Texas

Advancing to the Final Four for the fifth time in school history and first time since 2007, the (1) Florida Gators (36-2) pulled off a 62-52 victory over the (11) Dayton Flyers (26-11) in the Elite Eight round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan and some of his players met with the media to discuss the historic win.

POST-GAME CELEBRATION, NET CUTTING

DEMON, EXORCISED

Donovan and his players could not say it enough on Friday: Florida’s three-straight Elite Eight losses had nothing at all to do with Saturday’s game. Yet while the Gators’ roster is different, their chemistry is improved and they are currently in the midst of the most impressive single season in school history, it would have been a blemish had UF not overcome this obstacle.

Elite Eight demon, you have been exorcised.

“I’m not so sure that these four seniors, having gone through the experience in the previous Elite Eights, could have made the next step that they made,” Donovan said. “There were things we went through the last three years that enabled those guys to learn a lot to take the next step that they did this year.”

He continued: “They’re better players today by going through what they went through. If it would have been easier on them, I don’t think they’d be quite as good. I think the struggle they’ve had to go through has forced them to have perseverance, resiliency, mental and physical toughness to be able to battle and fight. More than anything else, as a coach, the thing you love about that is hopefully they can take those qualities to the next step in their life, because when they start a new career in their life, they’re going to go through some of that themselves.”

Continue Reading » Florida-Dayton post-game – Final-ly Four: Gators exorcise Elite Eight demon on way to North Texas

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Pictures, tweets, videos: Florida Gators former and current celebrate advancing to Final Four

Support for the (1) Florida Gators (36-2) has been strong throughout the season and especially the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

It continued on Saturday after the team advanced to the Final Four for the fifth time in school history and first time since 2007 with a 62-52 Elite Eight win over the (11) Dayton Flyers (26-11) at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN.

Check out the pictures, tweets and videos below for a comprehensive look at what former and current Gators had to say before, during and after the game. OnlyGators.com has also added a few other choice contributions that fit in with the overall theme.

Continue Reading » Pictures, tweets, videos: Florida Gators former and current celebrate advancing to Final Four

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FOUR BITS: swimming, WNIT, softball, lacrosse

1 » The Florida Gators swimming program won its second national title of the season on Friday when the men’s 800 Meter Freestyle Relay team took down the competition at the 2013 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Indianapolis, IN. Freshman Pawel Werner, redshirt junior Sebastien Rousseau, junior Marcin Cieslak and sophomore Dan Wallace swam the race in a school-record time of 6:13.27 to bring home the title for the second time in the last three seasons. A week earlier on March 22, junior Elizabeth Beisel captured the NCAA title in the 400 Meter Individual Medley in 4:00.49. It was her second individual national title (first in the event) as she previously won the 200 Meter Backstroke in 2012. The Gators men’s and women’s swimming programs each finished in sixth place overall.

2 » Florida women’s basketball certainly did not have a successful regular season, but head coach Amanda Butler’s squad has been playing with renewed intensity in the 2013 Women’s NIT and advanced to the Final Four of the event over the weekend with an 85-80 victory over the James Madison Dukes (25-11) in Harrisonburg, VA. The Gators (22-14), which trailed by one with 1:06 to play, jumped ahead on a jumper by freshman guard January Miller with 53 seconds remaining and never lost the lead again. Junior G Jaterra Bonds hit four free throws down the stretch to extend Florida’s lead and help the team move on in the tournament. Freshman forward Sidney Moss led the way for UF with a game-high 27 points, and Bonds added 20 of her own including the game-clinching free throws.

Florida is in the semifinals of a postseason tournament for just the second time in program history (first since 2000) and are two victories away from their first-ever title. The Gators will next take on Drexel on April 3 at 7 p.m. in Philadelphia, PA.

3 » No. 3 Florida softball (35-3, 10-2 SEC) concluded the month of March on Sunday by picking up a road series win over the Ole Miss Rebels (19-21, 1-11 SEC) in Oxford, MS and extending their winning streak to nine games. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (20-2) threw a pair of complete games on Friday and Sunday morning, giving up six hits and one earned run while striking out 11. Rogers also earned her second save of the season in the second half of Sunday’s double-header, pitching three innings in relief of sophomore RHP Alyssa Bache (6-0). The Gators’ hitting was well-rounded throughout the weekend with junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft, senior right fielder Kelsey Horton, sophomore left fielder Brianna Little, freshman first baseman Taylor Schwarz and sophomore second baseman Jessica Damico reach registering at least one multi-RBI outing.

4 » No. 2 Florida lacrosse (13-1, 1-1 ALC) is undefeated no longer as it suffered a tough upset loss at the hands of the No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions (7-3, 2-0 ALC) while on the road in State College, PA. The Gators fell 16-11 on Saturday as the Nittany Lions battled back from a three-goal first-half deficit to outscore the visitors 10-2 in the second half and pull off the victory. Florida will close out the regular season in April and next takes on Johns Hopkins on April 6 at noon in Gainesville, FL.

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(4) Wolverines overwhelm (3) Gators 79-59 as Florida drops third-straight Elite Eight

The third time was certainly not a charm for the three-seed Florida Gators, which trailed from wire-to-wire and watched the more athletic and determined four-seed Michigan Wolverines dominate their Elite Eight showdown on Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX.

Florida (29-8), which became the first team in NCAA Tournament history to lose in the Elite Eight in three-straight seasons since the field expanded to 64 teams, was taken down 79-59 by Michigan (30-7), which moved on to its first Final Four since 1994.

The Gators put together one of their worst offensive performances of the season, entering Sunday’s game with a game plan that simply did not work against a longer and stronger Wolverines team. UF also played lackluster defense most of the contest, allowing its opponent to do basically whatever it wanted in both halves.

In fact, two of Florida’s starters – senior forward Erik Murphy and junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin – combined to go 1-for-17 from the field and 0-for-2 from downtown with seven combined turnovers. The Gators simply never had a chance to blow its third-straight second-half lead in the round because they never had a lead to begin with.

Continue Reading » (4) Wolverines overwhelm (3) Gators 79-59 as Florida drops third-straight Elite Eight

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16 Gator Bites for Wednesday, March 20

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. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Though President Barack Obama‘s official 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket will be released on Wednesday at 9 a.m. on ESPN, the network released his Final Four late Tuesday night. President Obama chose the Florida Gators to win the South Region and also has Louisville, Indiana and Ohio State advancing to the Final Four.

» Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah had a hellacious experience during his team’s game on Monday evening. With 5.7 seconds left in overtime and Chicago trailing Denver by a single point, Noah got in perfect position underneath the basket and tipped in what otherwise would have been a missed shot. Though Noah scored the apparent game-winner and the referees did not call interference on the play, they checked the replay and eventually reversed their decision. The problem? Referees are only allowed to use replay to review on-court calls of interference, not to check on non-calls. Take a look at the video below to see what transpired on Monday.

Read 14 more interesting bites of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » 16 Gator Bites for Wednesday, March 20

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Top 12 for 2012: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2012 (check out Sunday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 On the Field Moments of the Year.

12 » MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH
If there was a theme to Gators athletics in the spring it was Florida teams falling short of their goals. In addition to men’s indoor track & field, women’s outdoor track & field and men’s swimming & diving all just coming up just short of winning major titles, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, lacrosse and softball all gave valiant efforts but faced immense disappointment in the end. It all started with the Gators basketball team, which advanced to the Elite Eight for the second-straight year and once again choked away a late lead and failed to advance to the Final Four. Up 11 points with 8:14 left in the game, Florida was outscored 18-3 down the stretch by Louisville, which held on for the 72-68 victory. The Gators hit just 1-of-12 shots over the final 8:14 while also going 1-for-4 from the charity stripe down the stretch and 0-for-9 from downtown over the final 20 minutes. Gymnastics did just about everything it could during the 2012 NCAA Super Six in late April but came just short of earning the first national title in program history, falling 197.850-197.775 to Alabama and losing by 0.075 points. Next up was softball, which looked primed to return to the championship game of the 2012 Women’s College World Series for the third time in the last four years. Instead, Florida got upended 10-1 by eventual national champion Alabama in the finals of the 2012 SEC Tournament and was eliminated in the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament due in part to suspensions levied against three key players. It was the first time since 2006 that UF did not at least advance to the Super Regional. A controversial finish led to another tough loss for lacrosse (see No. 9), leaving one sport to provide the ultimate disappointment to Gators fans in 2012.

Perhaps most heartbreaking for Gators fans was seeing a baseball team that was the national title favorite from the very start of the season fall fast and finish the campaign without a single title. Cruising along in the SEC Tournament with a one-run lead and three outs to go in the championship game, Florida baseball collapsed against Vanderbilt, allowing its opponents to score five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth and hold on for the title. Junior closer Austin Maddox imploded after coming on to get the final three outs, giving up a lead-off double to right and eventually allowing Vandy to tie the game after a sacrifice bunt, hit batter and suicide squeeze. It only got worse from there. The Commodores accomplished a double steal, hit an infield single, loaded the bases (intentional walk, double steal, intentional walk) and then pulled off a triple steal to score their third run of the inning. A two-run single put the nail in the coffin as the Gators allowed more stolen bases in a single frame (seven) than had ever been given up in an entire SEC Tournament game in the history of the event. With horrible memories of the SEC Tournament behind them and the NCAA Tournament upcoming, Florida hoped to use the experience to improve as a team. The Gators did advance to the College World Series but were swept right out of it with consecutive losses. Florida fell 7-3 to South Carolina in its first game before allowing an unranked Kent State team to register a 5-4 upset victory in the second game. The Gators coughed up four unearned runs, committed two errors and failed to plate runs despite having numerous opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. With so much talent on the roster and a track record of success – the team got to the championship series just one year earlier – Florida baseball legitimately blew a great national title chance.

[Read: The Silver Lining – “Failure” is not a dirty word]

11 » FLORIDA SWEEPS FSU IN FOOTBALL, BASKETBALL, BASEBALL

For the first time in school history, the Gators swept the Seminoles in football, basketball and baseball (5-0) in a calendar year. Florida State having a historically successful baseball team has stood in the way of Florida’s ability to accomplish this feat in the past, but Gators baseball completed its first regular-season sweep of the Seminoles since 1958 by earning a 9-2 victory in Gainesville, FL, 4-1 victory in Jacksonville, FL and a 6-3 win on the road in Tallahassee, FL. Florida football bounced back from consecutive losses to FSU with a 37-26 beat down in Tallahassee, and UF basketball matched the football team’s intensity with a 72-47 rout on the road.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: On the Field Moments of the Year

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Florida’s Billy Donovan at 2012 SEC Media Day

Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan joined the league’s other 13 coaches at 2012 SEC Media Day on Thursday in Birmingham, AL. Donovan participated in a number of interviews as he discussed his team heading into the upcoming 2012-13 season. Below are some choice notes and quotes from his appearances.

» On senior guard Kenny Boynton: “It’s hard to believe that he’s a senior. I remember recruiting him vividly. It just seems like yesterday. This is his last year. He’s come in and been a starter from day one. He’s made a great impact in our program. He’s helped us achieved a lot of success. And I’m going to enjoy coaching him because he’s a guy I’m going to miss coaching someday.”

» On his recruitment of Boynton, which included handing his family a Nerf gun and allowing them to shoot it at him: “I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to tell you exactly how you’re going to fit in, how I see you, what we feel about you. If I say anything that you think I’m totally lying through my teeth, you don’t have to sit there and call me a liar. If you feel embarrassed to do it, just shoot me with the Nerf gun.’ It was pretty funny. It was more of a joke or a sense-of-humor thing than anything else. Thank God I didn’t get shot.”

» Donovan was asked about the Gators taking the next step this season and earning their first trip to the Final Four since 2007 after flaming out in the Elite Eight in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments. While he does hope the team can advance that far in the tournament this year, he made it clear that it is not the objective at this point in time.

“Because the last two years we’ve been right there for a Final Four and have come up a little bit short, the normal tendency of anybody that’s returning would be to say, ‘OK, this is the year we’re going to try to break through and get to a Final Four.’ I think that is probably the worst kind of mentality we can have,” he said. “What we got to understand is that there is a process you have to go through as a basketball team and that process started two weeks ago. We got to go through this process of practice and games and get better and improve and deal with the ups and downs and the struggles and the challenges.

“Although last year was a successful year and you’re right there on the cusp of getting to a Final Four, we’ve got to be willing – as players and coaches – to start back all the way up because it’s a long journey up that mountain. We can’t just think we’re picking up on that mountain where last season ended. We’re starting all the way back down at the bottom of the mountain, and we got to be committed to making that journey back up the mountain again. You can play really, really well and still come up short. I thought in the two games we lost, we played pretty well. We just lost on some teams – Louisville and Butler – making more plays and better plays than we did. Overall as a game, I didn’t think that we performed poorly. I thought it was more of a credit to what those guys did.”

» A hot topic of conversation Thursday was the Kentucky Wildcats’ all-access program that has been airing on ESPNU the last few weeks. Donovan was asked about the show and gave an honest response that has since gotten the Kentucky faithful enraged after the team’s local media outlets spun the opening portion of the quote.

“I do think if you are using it as a recruiting tool, I don’t think that’s right,” said Donovan in general about all-access shows, according to The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway. “If you are using it in a way to maybe help young players out there, to see what a college practice, college environment is like … I did an all-access show for coaches to buy so to speak, drills, practices those kind of things.

“Whatever your philosophy is, we’re always selling our programs in one way or other, whether it’s all-access, whether it’s DVDs, whether it’s media days, we’re always selling our programs. For me if was doing something like that, I would want it to be done in a way to represent how we do things at Florida.”

Note: While ESPN’s past all-access shows have featured many facets of the teams covered in the program, none has gone in-depth on recruiting. Kentucky’s all-access show has featured three players committing to the team with in-depth looks at each.

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