Walker’s Senior Day, No. 1 Kentucky in town

Having lost back-to-back games, the No. 13/16 Florida Gators will play their regular season finale on Sunday at noon, hosting the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats on Senior Day for point guard Erving Walker. With Florida looking to bounce back from two tough losses and Walker looking to go out on a high note, he and head coach Billy Donovan spoke on Friday about the upcoming contest.

WALKER CELEBRATING SENIOR DAY

As the lone senior on the Gators’ basketball team, Walker will be trying to go out with a bang on Sunday against the Wildcats. There would be no greater send-off for him by his teammates than Florida knocking off the top-ranked team in the country on their home court to close out the regular season.

Walker – even with his mother, father and cousin in the stands – said he is not likely to be emotional on Sunday (“I’m not going to cry or anything”) and that the only thing he is thinking about is the match-up. “I just know it’s going to be a pretty tough game against Kentucky, so I’m just trying to get ready for that,” he said.

While speaking with the media on Friday, Donovan recounted a story about Walker’s recruitment, one that he said he will always remember to this day.

“The one thing that impressed me with him when he came here was when we lost Taurean Green to the draft, we didn’t necessarily have a backup point guard,” he said. “When I told Erving that we needed to go after another point guard, and obviously we signed Jai Lucas, a lot of people told Erving that this would be a bad fit, too much depth, too many guards, you need to reopen your recruitment. When he and I had that conversation, he was great, he just basically said, ‘You know what coach? Wherever I go I’m going to have to compete and I have no problem competing. I just want an opportunity.’”

Walker did exactly that with the Gators – he was given an opportunity and made the most of it. As Donovan eloquently summed it up: “He’s had an incredible career for a guy his size. It’s pretty impressive.”

He has played more minutes (4,133), handed out more assists (519) and taken more three-pointers (723) than any other player in school history. Walker is also No. 4 on the all-time scoring list (with the No. 3 spot in reach), No. 2 in threes made (with No. 1 in reach) and No. 6/8, respectively, in games played (137) and started (106). He has the opportunity to play more games than any other UF player except Walter Hodge (151) if Florida performs well in their two upcoming tournaments.

Walker said Friday that he wants to be remembered in a simple manner: “A tough kid that played his heart out for Florida.” Though he said that he would not change anything about his career with the Gators, one game in particular stood out to him as both the high and low point he experienced while wearing orange and blue.

“Actually making it all the way to the Elite Eight was a really high moment,” he said, “and actually losing that game was one of the lowest points in my career.”

He will graduate with a degree in sports management though his immediate future after school remains a mystery. Walker will obviously want to play in the NBA, but the likelihood of that is not necessarily high considering his size. As he put it on Friday, the unexpected is not something that bothers him now, just as it didn’t when he committed to Florida with two point guards in front of him on the roster.

“I really didn’t know what to expect so I just tried to come in and work my hardest and let the chips fall where they may,” he said. “I think it worked out pretty good for me but coming into college I really had no idea what to expect.”

CAN FLORIDA TAKE DOWN OF THE NATION’S NO. 1?

Outside of Michael Wilbon making a prediction of Pardon the Interruption, not many analysts are expecting the Gators to pull off an upset victory on Sunday. The Wildcats are undefeated in SEC play this season and their hosts have been finding more problems than solutions recently.

“With our team, our margin for error is not great. With that being said, whether or not perception-wise people feel like we got to make shots, not make shots or how that affects us, there are still a lot of things from a discipline standpoint that we have to be better at,” Donovan explained.

“Our guys need to continue to grow and mature. The effort of how hard [they played Tuesday] in relationship to how it was in Athens was night and day. Same kids, same team, totally different [effort] on a somewhat quick turnaround playing Saturday-Tuesday. That’s only part of it. Then there’s the discipline of doing collectively the right things. Sometimes we’ve done that and sometimes we haven’t.”

Donovan pointed to Florida not boxing out well against Kentucky the last time the teams squared off and failing defensively to contain a team with better size, length and speed than their own. He thinks the Gators have improved in some of those areas, especially recently, but whether or not that will be enough for an upset win remains a big unknown.

“There’s things we’re doing better now than maybe we were doing a week ago, but we still have some growth [to go] and need to learn to play with the personnel we have now,” he said.

Be sure to check OGGOA on Sunday before the contest begins for the Gameday Preview!

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2/11: Florida vs. Tennessee post-game notes

The No. 7/8 Florida Gators should expect the numbers in front of their team name to drop significantly on Monday after being outplayed in both of their games this past week. After being routed 78-58 by the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday, Florida was stunned at home by the unranked Tennessee Volunteers, which picked up a 75-70 win Saturday. Gators head coach Billy Donovan had plenty to talk about after the game as he looks to right the ship and finish out the 2011-12 regular season strong.

PUT UP OR SHUT UP TIME FOR THE GATORS

Florida has reached a point now where the team must decide how they want the rest of the season to play out. The Gators can either mature, learn from their mistakes, improve and fight their way to a high postseason ranking or falter like the 2007-08 team.

Like that squad, Donovan does not believe this year’s group has been “hardened” enough to understand what it takes to win game-in and game-out. He feels Florida struggles with some of the more minor things in games (getting fouled, missing shots) and instead should be worried about being consistently productive no matter what is happening around them.

“Our guys are not hardened enough right now. We have not been hardened. In a certain respect, there’s a lot of similarities – as much as I hate to say this – when Chandler Parsons was here as a freshman. There was not that hardening,” he said. “It took Chandler a couple of years. I’m using him [as an example], but I’d throw in Nick Calathes, [Marreese] Speights, that whole group. Those guys were not hardened.

“They followed two national champions and had no idea and no clue of what went into it. I think these guys are great guys, but we haven’t been hardened enough. Because of our limited depth there a little bit, we need to practice better. We need to be more on edge. We need to take everything to a different level, and we haven’t done that.”

Donovan let the Gators know just that after Saturday’s game by writing “NIT” in big letters on the board in the locker room, something he did mostly as a warning.

“My point on mentioning that to them was nothing more than the fact that there have been teams that have been here – Chandler and those guys started off the season 18-3,” he said. “We’re in a tough stretch for our team. I was using [2007-08] as an example. We’re 7-3 in our league after 10 games. We have six games left. There’s home games and the SEC Tournament.

“I don’t feel like we don’t have the opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament. I was using it as an example of don’t take for granted what you have in front of you. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We can’t come in and lose every game. I was using it as an example of: Have an understanding and a respect level of how good you think you are.”

How much is this Florida team like the 2007-08 group? Here are just a few figures to keep in mind going forward:

As of February 122007-082011-12
Overall Record:19-519-6
Record vs. SEC:6-37-3
National ranking (USA Today/AP):UR/URNo. 7/8
RPI:4425
Losses vs. Top 25:33
Wins vs. Top 25:12
Record vs. Tennessee (season):0-20-2
Seniors:01
Underclassmen:108
Regular season finish:2-5, NITTBD

YEGUETE OUT INDEFINITELY (CONCUSSION)

Gators sophomore forward Will Yeguete went down early in the first half when he hit his head on the corner of the basket stand after going up for a block. Yeguete laid motionless on the floor for a few minutes while trainers came over to check on him. Eventually he sat up and left the court with blood coming from the right side of his face, never returning to action.

After the game, Donovan said Yeguete suffered a “definite concussion” and is “out indefinitely” because he failed concussion tests in the locker room and had 8-10 stitches for the cut above his eye. It is Yeguete’s second concussion this season as he also suffered one early in the year at Ohio State.

“When I got over there he was knocked out. He wasn’t even conscious,” he said. “He wasn’t even awake when I was over there. I was a little bit concerned there. He finally woke up and didn’t know where he was at. And then when he rolled over, he had a lot of blood coming out of his eye.”

Donovan called Yeguete “doubtful” for Tuesday’s game and does not expect him to practice with the team on Sunday or Monday. Should he pass concussion tests mid-week, Florida could potentially have him active for Saturday’s game at Arkansas but could hold him out until next Tuesday’s game vs. Auburn.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on how to “harden” the team: “That’s one of the greatest challenges and dilemmas in coaching there is. Because Joakim Noah and Al Horford, those guys weren’t hardened either. There is a mentality and an understanding of what really goes into a preparation to really go out there and win. I’m spending too much time in practice dealing with stuff I shouldn’t be dealing with instead of dealing with preparation. A lot of it is our maturity level and us growing up and growing through some of those things. […] Some teams have to go through that.”

» Donovan on if senior point guard Erving Walker is “hardened”: “Chandler Parsons was a great outlet for Erving Walker. Because when Erving got into maybe taking some quick, ill-advised shots and over-penetrating, [we could put it] in Chandler’s hands and facilitate offense through him a little bit and get Erv off the ball. It’s hard to do that with Brad there. […] From a verbal leadership standpoint, I’m not so sure that’s Erving’s makeup to kind of take over the team like that. I’ve probably got to help him in that area a little bit. The hardening part, I’m not so sure how hardened Erving is because there was always somebody to kind of help him through. But now a lot of this is kind of falling on his shoulders in terms of running our team. I got to do a better job somehow getting through to these guys about what this is about.”

» Donovan on what is “wrong” with sophomore center Patric Young: “He may have some foot issues. It may be bothering hm. I don’t think it’s bothering him. I think the biggest challenge Patric is dealing with is playing at an intensity level on a continual basis. There was one point there in the first half he played 18 minutes with one rebound. It’s hard for him. He’s a guy right now that’s really trying to figure out how to really play with that intensity level all the time. He’s shown spurts of doing it, but he’s unable to sustain it. Last year we could really do it where you could throw him in for 2-3 minutes. He would come in there, knock some people around, pick up a couple fouls, offensive rebound, dunk and all of a sudden he’d be gassed. Now because he’s playing between 24-28 minutes, you can see the great explosions and you can see the laboring. He’s got to learn how to push through fatigue and deal with the mental duress and those kinds of things. He’s got to grow in that area.”

» Freshman guard Bradley Beal on Donovan not being happy in the locker room: “No, not happy at all. We didn’t compete at all really. Our defensive press was really bad again. We really weren’t focused. We didn’t get any offense at all. We were jacking up shots. Our mentality throughout the whole game, we weren’t focused mentally at all. It started in practice a couple days ago. We really weren’t focused and weren’t playing hard. It showed tonight.”

» Beal on if depth issues can be blamed: “It was difficult, but at the same time it’s not an excuse. We go through situations like this in practice. Guys get hurt in practice and other guys have to step in. everybody has to be ready to play and we just have to work with what we have.”

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No. 7 Florida outclassed by No. 1 Kentucky

Ending a stretch of three games in six days, the No. 7/8 Florida Gators (19-5, 7-2 SEC) fell in their third opportunity to defeat a top-three ranked opponent on the road this season, getting routed 78-58 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY on Tuesday evening by the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats (24-1, 10-0 SEC).

Kentucky extended their home winning streak to 49 games with the blowout of Florida, and the Gators fell to 0-8 all-time against the Wildcats in games when their opponent is ranked as the No. 1 team in the country.

UK outperformed UF on both ends of the court. Kentucky shot 52.7 percent from the field and 60.0 percent from downtown while holding Florida to 34.9 percent on field goals and 22.2 percent on tries from beyond the arc.

Wildcats forwards Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and guard Doron Lamb were dominant throughout the game, scoring 16, 13 and 18 points, respectively. Davis was 8-of-18 from the field with six rebounds, four blocks and two steals, while Kidd-Gilchrist added 13 rebounds and three assists. Lamb dominated the Gators on the perimeter by hitting 4-of-5 of his attempts from beyond the arc.

After three consecutive possessions without a shot being taken by either team, Florida scored six-straight points to open up with an early lead, but Kentucky quickly negated that in part by converting consecutive steals into field goals to even up the score.

The Wildcats started just 3-for-12 from the field but shot much better down the stretch while converting the Gators’ turnovers and miscues into quick points. With the game tied at 17 following a pair of Florida free throws, Kentucky took over and outscored the visitors 21-9 over the final 9:36 of the half to take a 12-point lead into the break thanks in part to a three-pointer by Lamb just before the buzzer.

UK ended the half hitting 12 of their final 17 shots while also going 4-of-8 from downtown compared to just 2-of-9 for UF from beyond the arc.

The Wildcats began the second half in similar fashion, hitting consecutive threes and going on an 11-0 run to pull away from the Gators 49-30 with 15 minutes left.

Florida never recovered from the onslaught, continuing to miss shots and allowing their poor offense to affect their effort and defensive intensity. Kentucky continued making baskets while taking it to the visitors defensively.

Gators junior G Kenny Boynton, who was just 2-for-5 in the first half, finished 6-for-12 (4-of-8 from downtown) with a team-high 18 points. Freshman G Bradley Beal was Florida’s most consistent player throughout the game, but he also struggled hitting just 5-of-15 shots (and 2-of-7 threes) for 14 points with six boards and three dimes.

Senior point guard Erving Walker, though he did his best to hold onto the ball, was irrelevant offensively, going 0-for-7 from the field (0-for-4 from deep) with just one assist and not a single free throw attempted.

The Wildcats registered 18 assists on 29 makes, blocked the Gators six times, scored 38 points in the paint and received 15 points from their bench. Florida only had nine assists on their 22 scores and was also outrebounded 38-31 over the course of the evening.

The Gators will have four days to recover from this difficult loss before hosting one of the four other teams they lost to this season. Florida will take on Tennessee on Saturday at 4 p.m. in a game set to air on SEC Network (check your local listings).

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No. 7 Florida Gators at No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats

Location: Rupp Arena – Lexington, KY [Capacity: 23,500]
Time: 7:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN/ESPNHD
SiriusXM: 91
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(7) FLORIDA GATORS (1) KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 19-4 (7-1) Record: 23-1 (9-0)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida +9; O/U 142.5

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Kentucky leads the all-time series against Florida 90-33, and the Gators are just 13-20 against the Wildcats since Donovan took over the team.
» Florida is 0-7 against Kentucky all-time when the Wildcats are ranked No. 1 in the country; however, all seven of those games were played before Donovan was coach with UK’s most recent victory in such a matchup coming in 1996. Since then the Gators are 2-0 against top-ranked opponents (both wins under Donovan), defeating Duke in 2000 and Ohio State in 2007 (for the national title).
» Kentucky is 65-2 all-time at home as the No. 1 ranked team in the AP poll.
» Calipari is one of three coaches (Frank McGuire) to lead three different schools to No. 1 rankings; he has accomplished that feat in five total seasons.
» UF’s seven-game winning streak is their longest since 2009-10 (eight games) and lengthiest in-conference streak since 2006-07 (13 games). UK, on the other hand, has a 16-game winning streak including a number of blowout victories.
» All five of Florida’s normal starters are averaging double figures in scoring.
» The Gators have made 10+ three-pointers in 16 of 23 games this year, a season-high mark under Donovan.
» Florida has made a three in 674 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» UF has posted a positive assist-to-turnover margin in 16-of-19 victories but has put forth a negative ratio in that category in all four of their losses.
» The Gators are 284-37 since 1988-89 when holding opponents under 70 points.
» Florida is one victory away from winning 20+ games for the 14th consecutive season, which is currently the longest active streak in the SEC and fifth-longest nationally.
» Kentucky holds a 48-game home winning streak at Rupp Arena, the longest such home winning streak in the nation.
» The Wildcats lead the SEC in rebounding margin (+7.8 per game).
» Kentucky has more wins (2,075) than any other NCAA team – ever.
» The Wildcats also have five players averaging double figures.
» Kentucky is 68-1 under Calipari when holding an opponent to 67 points or fewer.
» The Wildcats’ defense has been outstanding recently as UK has held their last four opponents to an average of 47.5 points per game.
» Florida is ranked No. 9 in scoring offense (80.1 points), No. 8 in scoring margin (14.1 points), No. 1 in three-pointers (10.5 per game), No. 12 in field goal percentage from three (40.2 percent), No. 16 in assists (16.3 per game) and No. 5 in assist/turnover ratio (1.48) nationally as of Feb. 5. The Gators are also 189th (out of 338 teams) in free throw shooting (68.4 percent).
» Kentucky is ranked No. 19 in scoring offense (78.2 points), No. 9 in scoring defense (57.5 points), No. 2 in scoring margin (20.5 points), No. 14 in field goal percentage (48.6 percent), No. 1 in field goal percentage defense (35.8 percent), No. 9 in rebound margin (+7.8) and No. 1 in blocked shots (9.4 per game) nationally as of Feb. 5. The Wildcats are No. 10 in fouling, committing 15.2 per game and No. 225 (out of 338 teams) in three-pointers (5.5 per game).

LAST TIME OUT

After splitting the regular season series 1-1 with each squad winning at home, Kentucky upended Florida 70-54 in the championship game of the 2011 SEC Tournament in the teams’ last meeting. Brandon Knight was one of four Wildcats in double figures and scored a game-high 17 points in the contest, while the Gators struggled offensively (38.6 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from the line) and saw Kenny Boynton lead the way with 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Florida lost both halves and Kentucky’s 42.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc kept UF at a distance the entire contest.

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

FLORIDA
» Senior point guard Erving Walker (#11)…who is the longest tenured player on the team having appeared in 127 consecutive games with 66-straight starts. A shoot-first player much of his career, Walker has been tasked with distributing the ball and managing the game this year. He is the SEC’s active leader in minutes (3,906) and treys (264) but also ranks second in points (1,620), assists (495), steals (149) and free throws made (400). Walker is No. 6 on the school’s all-time scoring list, No.23 in assists, No. 8 in free throws, No. 4 in threes made, No. 2 in treys attempted (687) and No. 4 in minutes. He is also hitting a team-best 80.9 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe while averaging 12.6 points and an SEC-best 5.1 assists per game.
» Junior guard Kenny Boynton (#1)…who is a dynamic scorer and just the second starter returning from a year ago. Boynton is working on his consistency this season and is already shooting better than he has throughout his career (47.3 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from downtown). He is the best defender on the Gators and is often put on the opponent’s best backcourt playmaker. Boynton currently ranks fifth in the SEC among active players in points (1,405) and third in three-pointers (229). He had hit a trey in 34-straight games and is the SEC’s second-leading scorer averaging 17.6 points per game. Boynton is No. 6 on UF’s list for threes made.
» Freshman G Bradley Beal (#23)…who is starting at the three for Florida fresh out of high school. Beal was the 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year and is arguably the most talented player to sign with the Gators since Donovan took over. He is averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 74.3 percent from the line while playing a team-high 33.4 minutes per game.
» Sophomore center Patric Young (#4)…who joined the starting lineup this year after being the primary frontcourt reserve as a freshman. Young saw action in all 37 games as a freshman, averaging 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in limited action. He has four double-doubles on the season and scored a career-high 25 points against Arizona. Young is posting averages of 10.7 points, 6.5 boards and 1.0 blocks per game.
» Forwards junior Erik Murphy (#33) and sophomore Will Yeguete (#15)…who are trying to be do-everything players for Florida. Murphy is averaging 10.2 points and 4.2 boards with team-highs of 1.3 blocks and 46.1 percent accuracy from three. Yeguete is netting 4.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 22.9 minutes per game.
» Redshirt junior G Mike Rosario (#3)…who is finally playing for Florida after transferring out of Rutgers and sitting out the 2010-11 season. Rosario scored more than 1,000 points in two seasons with his former team and averaged 16.7 points per game during his sophomore year. He is the Gators’ de facto sixth man and is seeing 15.8 minutes of court time each game, averaging 8.2 points while shooting 43.9 percent from the floor and 39.0 percent from beyond the arc.

KENTUCKY
» F Anthony Davis (#23)…who is leading his team in scoring (13.9 points) and rebounding (10.1 boards) while shooting a team-best 66.3 percent from the floor (third nationally). He is also the country’s leading defender with a NCAA-best 4.8 blocks per game and a team-high 1.5 steals (eighth in the SEC). Davis has set the SEC freshman blocks record with seven games left to play and is in consideration for a number of top conference and NCAA awards.
» G Doron Lamb (#20)…who is one of the Wildcats’ “veterans” as a sophomore and is the team’s second-leading scorer averaging 13.5 points per game. He shoots 47.0 percent from the field and team-highs of 47.8 percent from three and 82.4 percent from the charity stripe.
» F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (#14)…who is another dazzling freshman, averaging 12.6 points and 7.5 rebounds in 31.0 minutes per game, the second-most on the team.
» F Terrence Jones (#3)…who is the third member of the Wildcats’ big frontcourt, hauling in 12.5 points and 6.4 boards per game. Unlike Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones also has range and is netting 36.7 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc while still averaging 49.5 percent shooting all-around.

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2/6: No. 7 Florida set to face No. 1 Kentucky

Set to play their third game in six days and square off against their third top three-ranked opponent of the season on the road in the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats, the No. 7/8 Florida Gators and head coach Billy Donovan met with the media Monday to discuss a number of topics relevant to the upcoming game.

DIFFICULTIES IN TAKING ON A NO. 1 TEAM KENTUCKY

After Tuesday’s game is over, Florida will have faced all three teams currently ranked in the top three of both the USA Today/ESPN and Associated Press Top 25 Polls in road games. The Gators are hoping to come away with their first victory in such an environment and will attempt to do that by looking at the Wildcats not as the No. 1 team in the land but rather just another SEC opponent.

“We never really look at it as where a team is ranked or not ranked getting prepared for them. You always look at the team because rankings and things like that are going to change throughout the course of the year,” Donovan said. “Whether they’re ranked No. 1 or No. 5, clearly they’re one of the best teams in the country. There’s no doubt about that. It’s just more getting ready for how we got to defend, what we have to do on offense and what we got to do to prepare for them.”

His mentality has obviously been passed on to Florida’s players. “We don’t really view it as playing a No. 1 team. It’s just Kentucky,” freshman guard Bradley Beal said. “It’s a league game, so we’re just coming in with the mentality that we’re going to play our game and focus in on what we need to do.” Junior G Kenny Boynton added, “It’s just a ranking at the end of the day. We’re just going to go in there to compete and win.”

DON’T GIVE DAVIS ANY EXTRA OPPORTUNITIES
Continue Reading » 2/6: No. 7 Florida set to face No. 1 Kentucky

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Getting to know new Florida OC Brent Pease

Who is Brent Pease and how will he fit as the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the Florida Gators? While the second part remains to be seen, OGGOA attempted to get you some answers to the first question and four others by checking in with beat writer Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman, who has been covering the Boise State Broncos throughout Pease’s entire tenure on staff.

QUESTION: What kind of coach do you perceive Pease to be in terms of his manner on the field and the way in which he interacts with his players?
CHADD CRIPE: “The best I can tell he’s got a very good relationship with the players. He’s a fiery guy, particularly when he was the wide receivers coach. It’s pretty famous around here that he got into it pretty good with Titus Young on the sideline at Hawai’i when Titus [Young] had decided to fly the hang loose sign when he scored touchdowns that day. I think he did it two or three times, and the last time he got a penalty for it, so the coaches were not happy.

“He definitely has a fiery side to him. My understanding of the relationship with the players is that they have appreciated what he has done for them in terms of what he has taught them and the way he’s pushed them. I actually talked to Titus the other day and he mentioned sort of how Pease helped him get where he is. You look at the players he’s coached and the results they’ve gotten. He’s coached some of the best wide receivers in the history of Boise State and gotten their best years out of them. With Kellen [Moore] this year, he got Kellen’s best season out of him. The results are very good.”

Background: Pease has coached and developed four of the best wide receivers in school history including Young, Austin Pettis, Jeremy Childs and BSU single-season touchdown record holder Tyler Shoemaker (16, 2011).

Continue Reading » Getting to know new Florida OC Brent Pease

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Gators basketball in top 10 of preseason polls

The preseason Associated Press Top 25 Poll was released Friday and, like the USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25 Coaches Poll announced last Thursday, has the North Carolina Tar Heels slotted as the overwhelming No. 1 team in the country with 62 of 65 first-place votes. North Carolina, which received 30 of 31 first-place votes in the USA TODAY/ESPN poll and returns all five starters from 2010, is one spot ahead of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Four Southeastern Conference teams made the respective polls including Kentucky [No. 2-USA, No. 2-AP], Vanderbilt [No. 7, No. 7], the Florida Gators [No. 10, No. 8] and Alabama [No. 17, No. 19].

The 2010-11 Gators were ranked No. 11 and No. 13 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
2-1No. 18 (467)No. 16 (303)-
4L(OT) 65-66 vs. Georgetown
W 56-47 vs. UAB
L 64-75 vs. North Carolina
3-3NR (40)No. 24 (60)-

USA TODAY/ESPN COACHES POLL
Preseason 1-5: UNC (30), Kentucky (1), Ohio State, UConn, 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

ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL
Preseason 1-5: UNC (62), Kentucky, Ohio State (1), UConn (2), Syracuse
6-10: Duke, Vanderbilt, Florida, Louisville, Pittsburgh
11-15: Memphis, Baylor, Kansas, Xavier, Wisconsin
16-20: Arizona, UCLA, Michigan, Alabama, Texas A&M
21-25: Cincinnati, Marquette, Gonzaga, California, Missouri

*Numbers in parenthesis represent first-place votes.

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Demps, Rainey run wild as Gators rout Cats

It took the No. 15 Florida Gators a few drives to get their offense rolling, but after they did it was off to the races at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY on Saturday evening as Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC) dismantled the Kentucky Wildcats (2-2, 0-1 SEC) 48-10.

The Gators extended their winning streak against the Wildcats to 25 games by attacking their opponent on the ground, rushing for the sixth-most yards in school history (405) and most as a team since 1989. Senior running back Jeff Demps set a career-high with 157 yards on 10 carries and also scored twice, while redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey carried it 15 times for 106 yards and had the evening’s most awe-inspiring play.

After consecutive three-and-outs to start the game, the Gators got on the board rather quickly. On the Wildcats’ second possession of the game, running back Josh Clemons fumbled the ball. It was recovered by redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter, and Florida took over at Kentucky’s 45-yard-line. On the very next play, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley threw a strike down the middle of the field to redshirt freshman tight end Gerald Christian for an early touchdown.

With the ball back in their hands, the Gators again took advantage of great field position. Brantley hit redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. for 20 yards, and Demps – thanks in part to a great block Rainey – took Florida the rest of the way with a 20-yard stretch run for a touchdown.

The Wildcats’ miscues continued as, on third-and-10 at their own 29, QB Morgan Newton was picked off by Gators sophomore safety Matt Elam, who returned it 18 yards to Kentucky’s 28-yard-line, setting up another short field.

One play later, Rainey took a handoff to the left, stopped, reversed field and ran it 27 yards to UK’s one after being spurred by blocks from redshirt junior right guard Jon Halapio, redshirt freshman WR Quinton Dunbar and redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson. Florida sophomore RB Trey Burton scored on a touchdown run from one yard out, his seventh against Kentucky in his two-year career.

Kentucky answered back with a 29-yard pass to tight end Nick Melilo on their next possession. Three more first-downs later, the Wildcats kicked a 24-yard field goal to reduce their deficit to 21-3. The three points were the first scored against the Gators’ defense during the first quarter this season.

Following a Florida punt, Kentucky took over at their own seven. On second down, a sack by junior linebacker Jon Bostic forced the ball to pop out of Newton’s hand and into those of redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard, who ran it two yards into the end zone for another Gators touchdown, their first defensive score of the season.

After another Wildcats punt, UF decided to keep the ball on the ground, running it on nine-of-11 plays on their next drive to set-up a 46-yard field goal attempt, which redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis converted after clanging the ball off the uprights. Brantley got injured on the last play of the drive and headed to the locker room, resulting in freshman QB Jeff Driskel taking over for Florida’s next possession.

Driskel was hit as he threw incomplete on first down before being sacked and fumbling the ball on second down. Kentucky took advantage of the short field, scoring two plays later when Newton threw it to WR La’Rod King for a 19-yard touchdown.

With the first half winding down, Driskel again returned to the huddle and again turned the ball over. After Rainey ran the ball three times for 34 yards, Driskel threw to Hammond, who caught it on the goal line; unfortunately, the ball popped out of Hammond’s hands and into those of LB Avery Williamson to end the half.

Forcing the Wildcats to punt on the opening possession of the second half, the Gators found themselves backed up at the one-yard-line. Three consecutive rushes resulted in a Florida first down, and two plays later Demps hit a big hole on the left side and exploded for an 84-yard touchdown run to put UF ahead 38-10.

The Gators gained possession again when redshirt freshman LB Michael Taylor Taylor intercepted Newton at Florida’s 25 and returned it 30 yards across midfield to Kentucky’s 45. After stalling in the red zone, Sturgis connected on a 27-yard field goal for UF, giving his team a 31-point lead with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter. He remains perfect on the season with 11 field goals and 18 extra points.

With 11:40 left in the game, Florida junior RB Mike Gillislee took consecutive carries, fumbling the second one after bumping into the referee. Kentucky was unable to capitalize, however, and Gillislee got redemption on the Gators’ next drive, replicating Rainey’s run from earlier by rushing to the right, changing direction and taking off on a career-long 60-yard run down the field for a touchdown.

Demps’s 84-yard run was the sixth-longest in school history and the longest since Emmitt Smith’s 96-yard score in 1988. Florida now has four-straight games with a 100-yard rusher, the most since they had five-in-a-row in 1999. Additionally, the Gators had two players (Demps, Rainey) each run for at least 100 yards in the same game for the first time since Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin did so in the 2009 BCS Championship.

Florida has now scored 40 or more points against Kentucky 15 times during their 25-game winning streak dating back to 1986.

Brantley, who was in-and-out of the game after being hurt, finished 8/15 for 114 yards and a touchdown, his lowest total output of the season. Christian and Hammond were the only Gators to catch more than one pass, totaling five receptions for 98 yards including Christian’s first-quarter score.

Florida returns to the friendly confines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium next Saturday for a showdown with No. 2 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC). The game will air live on CBS at 8 p.m. UF has not defeated UA since 2008, falling in consecutive contests – the 2009 SEC Championship and during the 2010 regular season.

Photo Credit: Ed Reinke/Associated Press

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