FOUR BITS: Noah, Foley, Mizzou, Donovan

1 » You will be seeing plenty of center Joakim Noah on ESPN during the 2013-14 NBA season and not just because the Chicago Bulls are expected to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Noah was chosen to star in one of ESPN‘s comical NBA on ESPN tour bus television advertisements, which you can check out below.

Though Noah has recovered from the plantar fasciitis that forced him to miss large chunks of the last two seasons, he was recently shut down for the remainder of the preseason due to a groin injury. According to the Chicago Tribune, he is in “serious jeopardy” of not being available for the Bulls’ season opener, though the player is not concerned. “I want to be out there,” Noah said. “We’re looking good. But I have to be healthy. It sucks, especially this early in the season. … Of course I would rather be playing right now. But we have to do the right thing. This is the right thing to do. Just move forward and let it heal. I’ll be back in no time.”

Read three more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
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FOUR BITS: track, tennis, lacrosse, softball

1 » Neither the top-ranked men nor the third-ranked women were able to bring home a team title in the 2013 Southeastern Conference Outdoor Championship for the Florida Gators, but the track & field program did conclude the four-day event with five individual titles. Sophomore Kyle Strawn started things off on Thursday by winning the SEC title in the men’s hammer throw; his championship toss went 66.90m/219-6 and also marked a personal best. Florida added a second individual SEC crown on Friday when redshirt freshman Jimmy Clark gutted out a tough 10,000 meters in 29:44.54 to win the Gators’ first title in the event since 1987. Though Florida went title-less on Saturday, the Gators added three on Sunday to close the event. UF swept the triple jump with senior Omar Craddock (16.46m/54-0) and sophomore Ciarra Brewer (13.85m/45-5.25) defending their 2012 titles by winning the men’s and women’s championships, respectively. Freshman Marija Vucenovic also got in on the fun by winning the women’s javelin with a throw of 51.30m/168-4.

The Florida men (123.00) finished second to Arkansas (152.50), while the UF women (106.00) placed fourth. The Gators were hoping to win the athletic program’s ninth SEC team title of the season but must instead settle for a school record-tying eight as the league’s 2012-13 season has officially come to a close.

2 » No. 1 Florida women’s tennis began competing in the 2013 NCAA Tournament over the weekend and swept both of its opponents, defeating the Marist Red Foxes and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 4-0 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The Gators ran through the Red Foxes without dropping a single game, winning both doubles matches 8-0 and all three singles contests 6-0, 6-0. Georgia Tech was a tougher out for Florida but still went down rather easily as UF won the doubles point with 8-6 and 8-2 victories and took singles in short order. No. 1 senior Lauren Embree beat No. 98 Elizabeth Kilborn 6-0, 6-0 in her last home match, and No. 116 senior Caroline Hitimana led 6-1, 3-3 in her match but did not finish; both players were involved in victories that led to the doubles point. Embree received a standing ovation after he victory; she and Hitimana leave UF never having lost a team match (55-0) at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex. Action continues for Florida on Friday when it takes on Duke in a round of 16 match in Urbania, IL.

Read two more Gators news BITS (with an extra)…after the break!
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Gators rout Yellow Jackets 15-3 in Gainesville Regional final, advance to Super Regional

The rout was on at McKethan Stadium on Sunday evening in the finals of the Gainesville Regional as No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (45-18) scored in four of the first five innings and advanced to the Super Regionals for the fourth-straight season with a 15-3 demolition of the No. 24 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (38-26).

In addition to a 15-run performance from the Gators’ offense that included a pair of homers and multiple two-out RBIs, UF received a solid outing from junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson, who only had to pitch five innings but gave up just one earned run on three hits with four strikeouts.

Florida immediately got on board in a big way, using a pair of two-RBI hits to take an early 4-0 lead on Georgia Tech in the first. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker and junior Mike Zunino got on via one-out walks and were brought home on a double down the right field line by senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott. Freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon was walked and joined Pigott on the bags; the duo each advanced a base when a pick-off attempt rolled into center and came around to score on a single up the middle by freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (1/4, 2 RBI).

The Gators wasted no time in increasing their already substantial lead, using a three-run homer by Zunino to jump ahead 7-0 in the bottom of the second. Florida once again had men on first and second with one out after Fontana singled up the middle and Tucker followed suit through the right side. Zunino then crushed the second pitch he saw to left-center, smacking his second bomb in as many games.

GT put a small dent in their deficit as LF Evan Martin hit a solo shot to left in the third, but Zunino quickly got UF’s seven-run advantage back with his school record-tying 17th career sacrifice fly to score Fontana from third base in the fourth inning.

It did not take long for the Gators to start piling on the runs again as Florida plated seven more in the fifth. After Turgeon doubled with one out and junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (0/3, R, BB) joined him on base via a four-pitch walk, freshman third baseman Josh Tobias (1/3, 2 RBI, R) smacked a two-out, two-RBI double to clear the bags. He was brought home one batter later as Fontana (2/4, RBI, 3 R, BB, SB) singled through the left side to put the Gators ahead 11-1.

The onslaught did not stop there for Florida’s bats, however, as a single by Tucker (2/4, 3 R, BB) and wild pitch on a third strike to Zunino 1/3, HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, BB) loaded the bags for Johnson, who was walked to score another run for the Gators. Pigott (2/4, 4 RBI, R, BB) followed with a two-RBI single, and Turgeon (2/3, RBI, 2 R, BB) joined the party with a single through the right side to plate Johnson (0/3, RBI, R, BB) and increase UF’s advantage to 15-1 through five innings.

Johnson’s outing came to an end after five innings. He was replaced in the sixth by freshman LHP Bobby Poyner (1.0 IP, H, ER, K), who gave up a solo homer to the second batter he faced, 3B Sam Dove, that reduced Florida’s lead to 15-2. The Gators used a combination of sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (1.0 IP, 2 K), freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi (0.2 IP, H, ER), senior LHP Greg Larson (0.1 IP) and junior RHP Austin Maddox (1.0 IP, H, K) to close out the contest.

Florida will begin Super Regional action on Friday or Saturday at McKethan Stadium against the winner of the Raleigh Regional. Two-seed Vanderbilt has the upper hand with a 2-0 record in the double-elimination event and is in the process of playing one-seed North Carolina State (2-1) in the finals (as of press time).

Gators on the 2012 Gainesville All-Regional Team: Zunino, Tucker, Fontana, Crawford, Turgeon (most outstanding player)

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Florida advances to Gainesville Regional finals with 6-2 victory over Georgia Tech

A complete team effort including clutch hitting and solid defense led No. 1 Florida Gators (44-18) to a 6-2 victory over the No. 24 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (37-25) on Saturday at McKethan Stadium and into the finals of the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament set for Sunday at 6 p.m.

Four players drove in runs for the Gators over two innings, and junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall stayed composed and efficient despite being knocked around a bit in his outing. Randall only gave up one earned run but allowed eight hits and walked one batter while striking out five in 5.2 innings.

Florida fell behind early after Randall gave up three-straight singles in the bottom of the second; luckily for UF he was able to induce a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning with just one run being scored. The Gators did not stay down for long, however, as junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit doubled to lead off the third, moved over on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by junior shortstop Nolan Fontana to tie the game 1-1.

A strange situation then occurred in the bottom of the third when Randall struck out Georgia Tech 1B Jake Davies and UF retired to their dugout. Instead of ending the inning, umpires reversed the strikeout call by pointing out that the ball was tipped by Davies’s bat and hit the ground. Randall returned to the mound and struck out Davies anyway as a raucous home crowd cheered his effort.

Perhaps fueled by what they deemed to be an unfair decision, Florida got right back on the board in the fourth as junior catcher Mike Zunino (1/4, HR, RBI, R) stepped up to the plate and hit a solo homer to center on the second pitch he saw. The Gators extended their newfound lead to 4-1 thanks to a quick rally including an RBI single by freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (1/4, RBI) to score senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (0/2, R, BB, SB) and sacrifice fly to left by Ramjit (2/3, RBI, R) to score freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/3, R, BB).

Another odd incident went down in the bottom of the fifth when Yellow Jackets head coach Danny Hall began arguing with the umpires after Fontana (2/3, RBI, R, BB, SB) slid into second on a double. Hall aggressively argued that the umpires gave Fontana a time out too quickly and was tossed for apparently using explicit language.

Randall remained in the contest until the sixth when he was pulled after registering an important strikeout with runners on the corners and one out. Junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez relieved him and forced a fly out to right on his first pitch to end the inning.

Still on in the eighth, Rodriguez gave up a run that may have been prevented had his defense played better but nonetheless allowed Georgia Tech to reduce their deficit to 4-2. He was tagged for a lead-off single that advanced to second on a groundout before allowing an RBI single with two outs. Instead of having a close play at the plate, Florida gave up an easy run as Shafer’s throw from left field was quite short of home.

UF’s offense quickly negated that run by adding a pair of insurance runs in the top of the ninth as senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/5, HR, 2 RBI, R, SB), previously hitless on the evening, smacked a two-run bomb out of the park.

Rodriguez (3.1 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 K) stayed on for the ninth and retained the four-run lead by retiring the side for the Gators.

Florida will wait to learn their opponent for Sunday night’s regional final as Georgia Tech and College of Charleston must first play an elimination game at noon with the winner advancing in the double-elimination tournament and the loser going home.

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SIX BITS: Golf, tennis, softball, track, Harrell

1 » After three days of action, the No. 4 Florida Gators men’s golf team led the 33rd annual SunTrust Gator Invitational with a total score of 562 (283-279, +2) after 36 holes at the Mark Bostick Golf Course. Senior Tyson Alexander shot a two-round 141 (71-70, +1), good for a first-place tie going into the final round. That will take place Sunday beginning at 9:10 a.m.

News on tennis, softball, track and former LB James Harrell after the jump!
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SIX BITS: Dungy on Tebow, Jaguars, weekend

1 » Former Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and current NFL analyst for NBC Tony Dungy continues to stand behind former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and believes he will succeed at the next level. “I know a lot of people are saying he will play another position and he might, but I think he’s going to be a great leader, a winner, and I think some team is going to take him and tailor their offense to the special qualities he has,” Dungy told George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel. “I think he’s going to be a fantastic player in the NFL. If I am a coach, I say to myself: ‘I’ve got a special, unique talent and I am going to structure my team a little differently to take advantage of that.’ People are starting to do that. Tennessee did that with Vince Young and was very successful. I think somebody is going to do it. [...] Tim won a lot of games in high school, a lot of games at the University of Florida and my belief is that he will win if he gets with the right team in the NFL.”

2 » Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith told The Florida Times-Union that his team’s experiment with the 3-4 defense is over. Part of the reason for the change is a belief of Smith in former Gators defensive end Derrick Harvey, who only had two sacks in 2009. “The third year is usually a defining year for what you’re going to become,” Smith said as he indicated that Harvey will begin camp as the starting left end. Former Florida safety Reggie Nelson, who had an outstanding rookie campaign but has since floundered with the Jaguars, may be cut if he does not show significant improvement throughout training camp.

Women’s basketball, lacrosse and men’s & women’s tennis after the jump!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Dungy on Tebow, Jaguars, weekend

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FOUR BITS: Big Board update, Vandy’s QB out, more I-form, Spikes’ image tarnished

1 » Junior defensive end Carlos Dunlap has moved up a spot from No. 8 to No. 7 in ESPN analyst Mel Kiper’s latest Big Board. Kiper says Dunlap’s “physical tools are off the charts” and claims he has “unlimited upside potential.” I still believe Dunlap has the opportunity to be a top five (if not No. 1 overall) pick in the NFL Draft this year. Also on Kiper’s big board are junior cornerback Joe Haden (who entered at the No. 11 spot) and senior linebacker Brandon Spikes (who dropped four spots to No. 24). Kiper says Haden is a “polished cover corner with tackling ability to match,” while Spikes is a “complete MLB, solid in all areas.” Interesting praise for Haden considering he was unranked all season on Kiper’s board up until this point. On a similar note, senior linebacker Ryan Stamper has been named a “riser” by Sports Illustrated because he is “efficient stuffing the run or covering the pass” and has the “discipline and ability to be in the right place at the right time.”

2 » Completing a 35-yard run against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Saturday night, Vanderbilt Commodores sophomore starting quarterback Larry Smith came up lame. What would be diagnosed by an MRI on Monday as a left hamstring tear will sideline Smith for the remainder of the season. Senior Mackenzi Adams replaced Smith against Georgia Tech, going 12-for-22 for 152 yards, and will finish the season as Vanderbilt’s starter. He is 21-of-37 for 239 yards and no touchdowns on the season.

3 » More cowbell I-form! Florida Gators fans should expect the I-formation to be a regular part of the team’s game plan from this point forward. For two consecutive weeks, Florida has found success out of it – first a touchdown run by redshirt sophomore running back Chris Rainey against the Mississippi State Bulldogs and then another one on an option run by senior quarterback Tim Tebow against the Georgia Bulldogs after two consecutive I-formation runs by sophomore Jeff Demps with Tebow under center. “It’s not the most thrilling, exciting style, but it’s a mindset,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “We need to be able to do that. With our personnel, we should be able to do that. I’m very pleased with what we’ve done (with Tebow under center). You might see more.” It sounds OK with Tebow, too. “I think it gives us a different look,” Tebow said. “It’s something team’s don’t prepare for a lot against us.”

4 » Half because we needed a fourth “BIT” and half because the column is written quite well, we point you over to Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun, who believes that Spikes’ real punishment (whether or not you agree with the half-game suspension) is to his image. “Not only will he miss half a game,” Dooley said, “his reputation has been changed around the country. People will see his name and think ‘dirty player.’ That’s his real punishment.”

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Milestone reached as volleyball sweeps Arkansas

Friday night, senior libero Elyse Cusack registered 11 digs and became the first player in school history and just the third in Southeastern Conference history to achieve 1,900 digs for her career. Combine that achievement with an outstanding performance from sophomore outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel – who had a team-high 10 kills – and you can understand how the No. 10/11 Florida Gators volleyball team 15-3, 9-2 SEC) swept the Arkansas Razorbacks (10-12, 4-7 SEC) 3-0 (25-12, 25-18, 25-16) in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Jaeckel’s had 12 digs of her own along with 10 kills on .500 efficiency to record her sixth double-double of the season. Florida is next in action on Oct. 25 when the Ole Miss Rebels come to Gainesville, FL, for a match set to begin at 1:30 p.m.

In other news… The University of Florida men’s swimming and diving team defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 161-123 at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center. The Gators improved to 2-0 this season in dual meets after being led to victory by strong freestyle performances. Florida is 2-0 against the Atlantic Coast Conference this season and will open SEC competition against the Georgia Bulldogs at home on Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. from the O’Connell Center Natatorium.

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