Gators clinch share of SEC regular-season title

No. 6/8 Florida Gators basketball (23-5, 13-3 SEC) has its sights set on the outright league championship but took the first step toward that goal on Saturday by clinching at least a share of the Southeastern Conference regular season title with a little help from a team that handed them a devastating defeat, the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Just a few hours after Florida ousted the Alabama Crimson Tide (19-10, 11-5 SEC) from the title race with a 64-52 come-from-behind victory at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL, the Kentucky Wildcats (20-9, 11-5 SEC) fell 73-60 on the road at Arkansas (18-11, 9-7 SEC) and dropped two games back in the SEC standings.

UF led both UA and UK by a single game at the start of play on Saturday.

The Gators, which now have six SEC regular season titles in program history, captured at least a share of the championship in two of the last three seasons (2011).

Florida can win the title outright with one victory in its next two games. UF hosts Vanderbilt (12-15, 6-9 SEC) on Wednesday evening in the O’Dome before concluding the regular season at Kentucky on Saturday, March 9.

Discussing the possibility of winning the SEC regular season title after his team’s victory on Saturday, Gators head coach Billy Donovan said he would be proud of the accomplishment though he would see it as the result of something much larger overall.

“That to me is always a byproduct of doing the right things,” he said.

Florida also clinched a bye in the 2013 SEC Tournament on Saturday as it solidified its standing as a top-four seed in the event. UF will not play until Friday, March 15.

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

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Young’s effort, Prather’s energy fueled Florida

If there is one area of concern for the No. 6/7 Florida Gators at this point, it is the team’s severe lack of depth in the frontcourt now that junior forward Will Yegeute (knee) is out for at least the duration of the regular season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery last Friday.

That issue moved to the forefront on Tuesday night when, early in what was ultimately a big 69-52 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats, junior center Patric Young picked up a foul 1:38 into the game and senior F Erik Murphy was sent to the bench after being called for two with 8:06 left in the first half.

Last year, Florida getting in early foul trouble might have been an issue the team would struggle rebounding from against an opponent with the length and post presence that Kentucky possesses. However, a pair of outstanding performances from Young and junior F Casey Prather ensured that Yeguete’s absence and Murphy’s move to the bench in the first half were not hindrances to the team.

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No. 6/7 Florida clobbers No. 25 Kentucky 69-52

The No. 6/7 Florida Gators (20-3, 10-1 SEC) loudly answered many of their critics on Tuesday evening with a sound and complete 69-52 takedown of the No. 25 Kentucky Wildcats (17-7, 8-3 SEC) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Florida, which was 1-7 in its last eight games against Kentucky heading into Tuesday night’s contest, earned its first victory over its rivals since Feb. 5, 2011 to remain undefeated at home this season (12-0) and end the visitors’ five-game winning streak. The 17-point margin of victory over UK was the second-largest in program history and most for UF since it earned a 70-53 win on March 13, 2005.

The Gators also took a two-game lead in the Southeastern Conference standings and improved to 4-1 against top-25 opponents during the 2012-13 campaign.

UF was led by stellar performances from its junior class including great showings by point guard Scottie Wilbekin, center Patric Young and forward Casey Prather. Wilbekin registered game-highs of 14 points and eight assists, Young posted a double-double of 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, and Prather scored 12 points. All three gave superb efforts on the defensive end as well.

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Florida Gators hire Joker Phillips as new wide receivers coach, recruiting coordinator

The Florida Gators on Monday afternoon officially announced that former Kentucky Wildcats head coach Joker Phillips has been hired as the team’s new wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator.

News of Phillips’s hiring first broke Monday morning. Florida confirmed hours later that he has agreed to join the program and will officially begin working for the team on Friday. The Gators coaching staff is currently out recruiting. It is expected to return to Gainesville, FL to begin practice on Dec. 14-15.

“We are excited to have Joker join our staff,” said head coach Will Muschamp in a school release. “His background as a head coach and the number of years he has coached wide receivers will be a tremendous asset to our coaching staff and players. Joker is obviously very familiar with the Southeastern Conference and has always done a great job in recruiting. Obviously I had a number of experiences with Joker both on and off the field, as our paths have crossed often, but I’ve been really impressed with Joker Phillips as a man during this hiring process.”

At 49 years old with 25 years of coaching experience, Phillips spent time coaching for five different teams with two separate stints at Kentucky.

After playing wide receiver for four years with the Wildcats (1981-84), two years with the NFL’s Washington Redskins (1985, 1987) and one year with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts (1986), he decided to get into coaching.

He began his career at UK as a graduate assistant from 1988-89 and became the assistant recruiting coordinator in 1990 before taking over the job of receivers coach from 1991-96. He then went to Cincinnati and coached receivers in 1997 and defensive backs in 1998. Phillips followed that gig up by coaching receivers at Minnesota (1999-2000), Notre Dame (2001) and South Carolina (2002) before returning to his alma mater and adding the job of recruiting coordinator, which he held from 2003-04.

Phillips was promoted to offensive coordinator and held that position from 2005-08. In 2009, his job title was reclassified as “head coach of offense” as the school determined that he would be the successor for Rich Brooks. He took over as head coach in 2010 and led the team to a 13-24 record over the last three seasons.

The second African-American head football coach in Southeastern Conference history, Phillips took the Wildcats to a bowl in 2010 but saw his win totals decrease each of the last two seasons. He was fired after the first 10 games of the 2012 campaign but agreed to stay on and coach the team for the duration of the season.

Though Phillips and Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease both coached at Kentucky, they did not do so together. The two seasons Pease spent at UK (2001-02) occurred while Phillips was coaching elsewhere. Muschamp coached against Phillips once in 2002; the former was defensive coordinator for LSU while the latter was coaching at South Carolina. The two were also on opposing staffs when Muschamp was a graduate assistant at Auburn in 1995.

“I’m thrilled to become part of the Gator family,” said Phillips in the same release. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to compete and win at the highest level. I believe in Coach Muschamp’s philosophy and what he has done in his short time here at Florida is phenomenal. I’m looking forward to contributing to the long-term vision that he has for this program. In addition, it will be very rewarding to be involved in the hands-on development of the players I will coach.”

Phillips has had a hand in developing a number of extremely talented receivers including current NFL stars Stevie Johnson, Randall Cobb and tight end Jacob Tamme, former NFL pass catcher Troy Williamson, and SEC career receptions standouts Craig Yeast (No. 2), Derek Abney (No. 5) and Keenan Burton (No. 7).

He replaces Aubrey Hill, who served as the Gators’ wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator during Muschamp’s first season but resigned prior to the 2012 campaign. Florida’s pass catchers were coached by Pease and graduate assistant Bush Hamdan this past year.

Photo Credit: Kentucky.com

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Report: Florida to hire Joker Phillips as WR coach

UPDATED STORY: Hire of Joker Phillips made official

A report Monday morning from FootballScoop.com notes that Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp has decided to hire former Kentucky Wildcats head coach Joker Phillips as the team’s new wide receivers coach.

According to the website, Phillips will coach receivers while also handling “additional duties.” His hiring will be announced later in the week and he will officially begin working for Florida on Thursday.

The Gators coaching staff is currently out recruiting. It is expected to return to Gainesville, FL to restart practice on Dec. 14-15.

Read the rest of this post…after the break!
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11/6: Pease on Kentucky, Brissett, offense

With the team preparing for its 10th game of the season, a 12:21 p.m. game at home in Gainesville, FL against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, No. 6 Florida Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media Tuesday to discuss his the team’s latest victory and how his unit can improve on the field.

AN OPTION TO LEAD KENTUCKY?

Pease, also a former offensive coordinator with the Kentucky Wildcats, is one of a number of coaches who has been named as a possibility for the team’s vacant head coaching job. Asked about that opportunity on Tuesday, Pease said he “can’t comment to a ghost story right now” but did discuss how he would handle an interview request.

“I’m not going to approach it in-season at all,” he said. “If the opportunity comes up afterwards, I’ll do whatever is appropriate at that time. I think you always visit with people. That’s what we’re in the profession for, yeah.”

He continued, “That situation is out of the question right now because I haven’t heard anything. I wouldn’t do that; I’m focused on here. I’ve only been here one year, and I’ve made a commitment to be here, especially with my family. I’ll move on if that situation arises.”

Pease did, however, discuss the Wildcats program in general. “I think it’s a good program. I’ve been there. They got great people. They got a great program and the faculties are good,” he said. “I think they’re committed to winning and they have won. They won when we were there, when I was there on staff; they won when Rich Brooks was there. And you can get good kids there.”

WILL THE OTHER QUARTERBACK STAY?

Once it became obvious that sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett would be the second-stringer for the Gators, the question of what he would decide to do career-wise became of paramount importance to fans. Now nine games into the 2012 season, Brisset has barely played and likely lost an opportunity to redshirt when head coach Will Muschamp inserted him in the South Carolina game to hand the ball off.

Though Muschamp said Monday that he expects Brissett to remain with Florida after the season and continue his career in Gainesville, FL, Pease was not so sure. “I don’t know. It depends, I guess, on his commitment to Florida,” he said. “Whatever he decides to do, I support the kid.”

Pease did agree with Muschamp in noting that Brissett has been a model teammate who continues to work hard each and every week in practice.

“I’m telling you, the kid has been a pure professional about it. He’s had a good attitude. Even at halftimes, he has suggestions. He’s into the game. At practice, he’s into practice. When he takes reps, he does a good job. I appreciate his support, and I support him and have confidence in him,” he said.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On the development of sophomore QB Jeff Driskel: “I think in some areas its gone quicker. In some it’s probably about on pace. Every game is a growing process no matter if it’s a quarterback or o-lineman. If you really think about the situations that he’s probably grown up with, his experience prior to this season was really in high school. He was a great athlete, and I think they beat people pretty bad.”

» On going up-tempo to start the Missouri game: “I liked it. We’ve always worked on it. We’ve always had it. I think it loosened them up, got some energy in our kids. It helped us for what we tried to get out of it. I wish we would have been a little bit more consistent with it so we could have had a couple more completions. It was effective for what we wanted.”

» On senior running back Mike Gillislee playing at the next level: “He’s got good hands. He’s willing to block. He has all the phases that he can do at the next level – catching, running, blocking. I think those are what they’re looking for first. They all want to know if you’re coachable and how smart [you are, if] you can pick up. Even in the NFL, they have way more protections than we have because they’re constantly changing. And then physically if you match up against the linebackers you’re going to have to block at that level with their strength and speed.”

» On what went wrong on Saturday: “Catch the ball. We had some drops that we shouldn’t have. … The one thing that’s glaring that could have kept us on the field a lot longer was our third-down opportunities, and we were in pretty manageable situations.”

» On not being aggressive sometimes during games: “It’s just a matter of putting it all together, which I’m not saying that’s going to happen either. Being in my position, you kind of get to a point where not everything is going to be perfect through the whole scheme of the game. You kind of play based off of field position, the timing of the game, the flow of how it’s going. You’re always trying to put the kids in a good position.”

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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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FOUR BITS: Donovan, Spikes, volleyball, soccer

1 » The Florida Gators announced on Tuesday that head coach Billy Donovan’s son of the same name has decided to transfer to Florida and walk on to the team to play for and learn from his father. Billy Donovan , who spent his last two years playing for the Catholic Cardinals (Division III) in Washington, D.C., has already joined the team and will don the No. 42 though fans will not see him on the court this year as he will be forced to ride the bench during games due to NCAA transfer rules. As was noted a year ago when Catholic traveled to Gainesville, FL to play the Gators in an exhibition game, the younger Donovan originally chose to attend that university in order to further his passion for politics. A change of career path – he is now interested in a coaching or administrative role in a basketball organization – led him right back to where he grew up. “I never wanted it to be like I was telling him what to do career-wise,” Donovan told UF’s GatorZone.com. “I think he needs to figure that out on his own. My job, my wife’s job, is to be supportive and help put him in the best situation for him to pursue what he wants to pursue.” There is probably no better spot for the younger Donovan to learn how to coach or run a basketball team than under the wing of a future hall of fame coach.

2 » New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes received some bad news on Friday when he learned that the NFL decided to fine him $21,000 for an illegal blindside block he threw in a game on Sept. 30. Spikes, who leveled Buffalo tight end Scott Chandler during an interception return for his team, told the team’s website earlier in the week that he did not believe that he did anything wrong. “A lot of guys, they know the new rules. I don’t think I’ve done anything illegal,” he said. “I’ve tried to keep it legal, but I just want to kind of try to make a point – when I hit a guy, I want him [to say], ‘Oh, that was Spikes that hit me. I know that already.”

3 » No. 11 Florida volleyball (13-2, 7-0 SEC) has been on a roll as of late, wrapping up their ninth- and 10th-straight regular season wins over the weekend while hosting a pair of Southeastern Conference opponents in Gainesville. UF registered a 3-0 sweep (25-23, 25-18, 25-15) the Arkansas Razorbacks (13-4, 4-2 SEC) on Friday before coming from two sets down to win 3-2 (22-25, 20-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-8) against the Kentucky Wildcats (10-7, 4-3 SEC) on Sunday. Freshman outside hitter Ziva Recek of Slovenia was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week on Monday for her efforts over the weekend. She registered a total of 32 kills and 14 digs combined over the two matches. Impressive in her own right was junior middle back Chloe Mann, who notched a combined 22 kills and 30.0 points on the weekend.

4 » No. 12 Gators soccer (10-3-1, 7-1 SEC) is on a roll of their own, shaking off early season disappointment to rebound with a seven-match winning streak including two big road victories over the last weekend. Florida won 2-0 over the LSU Tigers (5-5-4, 1-4-2 SEC) on Friday before, like volleyball, coming back from a deficit to take down the No. 5 Texas A&M Aggies (12-2-1, 6-1-1 SEC) 2-1 on Sunday. Four different players scored goals for the Gators over the weekend with senior midfielder/forward Erika Tymrak and sophomore MF Havana Solaun finding the back of the net on Friday and senior defender Jo Dragotta and junior F Adriana Leon scoring on Sunday. Tymrak, who garnered SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors on Monday, also notched an assist on Leon’s game-winning goal.

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