Gator Bites for Monday, April 30

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. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Florida Gators baseball (33-12, 12-9 SEC) continued to falter over the weekend, dropping two of three games to the Arkansas Razorbacks (31-13, 11-10 SEC). Florida has now lost 10 of their last 20 games (including one each to North Florida and South Florida) while also struggling to put forth consistent performances at the plate and on the mound. For instance, the Gators scored just five runs in 27 innings over the weekend. Florida picked up a 3-2 victory on Friday before falling 5-1 on Saturday and 3-1 in 10 innings on Sunday. The Gators were supposed to get a reprieve with a nine-game homestand but instead went just 5-4 over that span of games. Florida will have three full days off before travelling to Kentucky for a three-game series on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. UF fell to No. 5 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ Top 25 and No. 7 in the Baseball America rankings on Monday.

» Gators softball (43-8, 20-5 SEC), also ranked No. 2 heading into the weekend, dropped their final home series of the regular season to the Kentucky Wildcats (26-27, 12-13 SEC) over the weekend. Florida fell 2-0 in the series opener (their second-straight shutout and fourth of the season) before picking up a 5-0 win on Senior Day Saturday and dropping the rubber match 5-1 on Sunday. Freshman right-handed pitcher Lauren Haeger picked up a win on Saturday and a loss on Sunday to bring her to 13-4 on the season while sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (25-4) added a loss Friday despite pitching quite well over the weekend. Senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, R) began her Senior Day with a big-time solo homer in her first at bat on Saturday, giving her another nice memory for her career. UF will conclude the regular season with a three-game road series at Alabama over the weekend.

» Florida five-star 2013 point guard commit Kasey Hill (Clermont, FL) threw down a strong dunk over the weekend and followed it up with a Gator Chomp while staring straight into the camera. Think he’s ready for the big time?

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Monday, April 30

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3/10: (4) Florida vs. (1) Kentucky post-game notes

The No. 19/22 Florida Gators dropped a 74-71 heart-breaker to the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament. Before Florida can advance to the 2012 NCAA Tournament, head coach Billy Donovan and a handful of players met with the media to discuss the loss.

FLORIDA PUTS FORTH A PRAISEWORTHY EFFORT

In what was a relatively even game offensively (both teams took 60 shots with Florida making two more than Kentucky), the final score was decided mostly by foul shooting. The Wildcats went 15-for-20 from the line while the Gators hit just two shots on their one trip to the charity stripe. Donovan was incensed at the disparity following the contest.

“I was proud of the way our guys competed today. I thought we had a two-minute stretch there where we gave up a few offensive rebounds. We had a couple turnovers that kind of allowed them to regain some momentum and take the lead,” he said. “But I really thought the difference in the game to me was the fact that we got to the free throw line two times and [in] by far the most physical game that we have played in all year. How we only got there two times is beyond me.

“That was a huge factor for us to be that close as we were with such a huge discrepancy. But we shot the ball well. I thought we moved the ball, made the extra pass. But I thought the offensive rebounding late in the second half and a few of our turnovers hurt us. But I give our guys credit. They battled and fought to get themselves back into the game to give themselves a chance.”

Donovan continued by discussing all of the things Florida was able to move past in the game – UK owning the offensive boards, UF turning the ball over at inopportune times – but remained fixated on the disparity from the free throw line.

“What we couldn’t overcome was 20 free throws to two,” he said. “And then what we couldn’t overcome was the rebounding margin, in particular the offensive rebounding. […] But when you see from our bench in the second half, Patric Young getting pushed in the back constantly, constantly, constantly, and there’s just no whistle. I mean, to me, it’s really hard to overcome 20 free throws to two.

“There’s no way in the game like that. I could see if Kentucky was playing two-three zone and didn’t touch anybody…but we were fouling them. I’m not saying that we didn’t foul them. There [were] times we fouled them. I thought Murphy, when [Terrence] Jones drove, we fouled him. I’m not saying that. But I mean, we got to the free throw line two times? I mean, we just had a hard time overcoming that. But I thought our guys battled as physically as best they could up front.”

Asked if he saw fouls that were not called, Donovan nodded his head in affirmation.

“Yeah. Patric Young’s going up on offensive rebound and he’s being pushed in the back. And we’re doing the same thing to them,” he said. “I’m not saying that we’re not doing it. We’re doing the same thing. It’s just I’ll deal with the office on it. It’s probably the best way to put it. And I’ll have a lot to say, too. And when I say that, it had nothing to do with us losing the game, so I don’t want to take anything away from Kentucky. They deserve the game. They won the game.”

Read the second half of the post-game news and notes…after the break!
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No. 1 Kentucky slides past No. 19 Florida 74-71, eliminates Gators from SEC Tournament

Playing in their second nail-biter in as many days, the No. 19/22 Florida Gators (23-10, 11-7 SEC) showed passion and tenacity despite being outlasted by the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats (32-1, 18-0 SEC) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday afternoon. Kentucky edged past Florida 74-71 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, LA, defeating their long-time rivals thrice in one season for the first time since 2003-04.

The Gators were led by sterling efforts from junior forward Erik Murphy and freshman guard Bradley Beal on both ends of the court. Murphy scored a career-high and game-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting while going 4-for-4 from long range and grabbing three rebounds. Beal added 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting (4-for-7 from downtown) with team-highs of eight boards and five assists. The duo combined to score 62 percent of UF’s points in the game.

The Wildcats had all five starters score in double figures. G Doron Lamb scored a team-high 16 points while three other players – F Anthony Davis, F Terrence Jones and G Marquis Teague – each added 15. Davis posted a double-double by adding 12 rebounds (five offensive) to go along with two blocks.

The contest started with a frantic pace as both teams scored early and often. Kentucky found success in the paint while Florida hit four of their first seven attempts from long range. The Gators used a 9-2 run including a blockbuster dunk by sophomore guard Casey Prather to take an early eight-point advantage, extending that lead to 10 points with 8:47 left in the half after Beal scored five-straight.

The Wildcats responded with a 9-2 run of their own to cut their deficit down to three, but UF found themselves back up seven on UK with under five minutes to play. However, Florida failed to make a field goal the final 4:24 of the half, and Kentucky concluded the first 20 minutes on an 8-0 run to take a 40-39 lead at the break, their first of the game.

The Gators maintained their intensity coming out of the locker rooms, taking a 54-49 lead as Beal and Murphy combined to score Florida’s first 12 points of the second half. The Wildcats matched their opponents shot for shot, and Kentucky used a 16-2 scoring stretch to take a 64-55 lead with seven minutes to play.

UF allowed UK to get back in the game by going scoreless for 6:32. In that span, the Gators coughed up four turnovers, committed six fouls and grabbed just two rebounds. However, Florida found a way to get back in the game as Murphy scored seven-straight points to reduce his team’s deficit to two with 2:42 remaining.

Both teams traded blows the rest of the way with the Wildcats maintaining a two-point advantage with 14.5 seconds left on the clock. Down four after two free throws, Gators junior G Kenny Boynton missed a contested three-pointer, allowing Kentucky to hang on for the hard-fought victory.

UK outrebounded UF 36-22 (15-6 offensive) and used those boards to take an equal number of attempts from the field as their opponent (60). The difference in the game for the Wildcats came from the free throw line. Kentucky made 15-of-20 tries while Florida was just 2-for-2 from the charity stripe.

While Beal and Murphy flourished, the Gators’ veteran backcourt faltered. Boynton and senior point guard Erving Walker combined to go 4-of-19 from the field (2-of-9 from three) with nine assists. Sophomore center Patric Young was Florida’s only other consistent scorer, posting 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting with five boards (three offensive).

The Gators, already assured of a berth in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, will now wait until Sunday to find out where they will be seeded in the event. Projections have Florida falling in as a No. 5 seed and playing their first game in Nashville, TN.

Photo Credit: Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

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2012 SEC Tournament: (4) Florida vs. (1) Kentucky

Location: New Orleans Arena [Capacity: 18,000]
Time: 1:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ABC/ABCHD
SiriusXM: 220/199
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(19) FLORIDA GATORS (1) KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 23-9 (11-6) Record: 31-1 (17-0)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida +9.5; O/U TBD

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Kentucky leads the all-time series against Florida 92-33, and the Gators are just 13-22 against the Wildcats since Donovan took over the team.
» Florida is 0-9 against Kentucky all-time when UK is ranked No. 1 in the country.
» UF has not lost thrice in a single season to their long-time rival since 2003-04.
» Donovan is the longest-tenured head coach in the SEC (16 years) and has five former assistants currently serving as head coaches across the country.
» Calipari is one of two coaches (Frank McGuire) to lead three different schools to No. 1 rankings; he has accomplished that feat in five total seasons.
» The Wildcats have a 23-game winning streak including a number of blowout victories.
» Florida is 36-43 all-time in 47 SEC Tournament appearances but boasts a 21-12 record since Donovan took over the program. The Gators have won three SEC Tournaments (2005-07) and finished as the runner-up five times.
» All five of the UF’s normal starters are averaging 10.0 points per game or more.
» Florida has made 10+ three-pointers in 20 of 32 games, a season-high mark under Donovan. UF has also made more treys this season (317) than any other in team history.
» Three Gators shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.
» Florida has made a three in 683 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» UF led the SEC this season in assists (14.9), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3) and free throw percentage (.764) in conference play.
» The Gators are 18-1 (loss to Kentucky) this year when posting a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and are just 5-8 when the margin is even or negative.
» Florida is 288-37 since 1988-89 when holding opponents under 70 points and 238-38 since 1998-99 when recording 15 or more assists in a game.
» The Gators have won 20+ games for the 14th consecutive season. That mark is currently the longest active streak in the SEC and fifth-longest nationally
» Kentucky has more wins (2,083) than any other NCAA team – ever.
» The Wildcats have five players averaging double figures.
» UK is 74-1 under Calipari when holding an opponent to 67 points or fewer.
» Florida is ranked No. 1 in three-pointers (9.9 per game) nationally as of March 8. The Gators are also ranked No. 1 in the SEC in assists (14.9 per game), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3), free-throw shooting (.764) and No. 2 in scoring offense (76.8 points).
» Kentucky is ranked No. 1 in scoring margin (19.2 points per game), field goal percentage defense (.365), blocked shots (9.0 per game) and No.9 in rebounding margin (7.4 per game) nationally as of March 8. The Wildcats are also ranked No. 1 in the SEC in scoring offense (77.7 points), field goal percentage (.490), rebounding (39.1 per game) and No. 2 in free-throw percentage (.723).

GAME NOTES

» UK is shooting 52.6 percent from the field and 51.2 percent from beyond the arc in two victories over UF this season.
» The Wildcats have held the Gators to 36.4 percent shooting (24.5 percent from three), nearly 10 percent below their season-long averages in both categories.
» Florida senior point guard Erving Walker and freshman guard Bradley Beal have struggled against Kentucky in the two match-ups. Walker is a combined 3-for-18 from the field in the two contests, while Beal is just 6-of-25 from the floor.
» The one player doing well for the Gators against the Wildcats is sophomore center Patric Young. He’s combined to go 15-for-25 in the two games for a total of 33 points including 21 in Gainesville, FL.
» Kentucky’s Anthony Davis – recently named the SEC Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year – has had his way with Florida when the two teams have squared off. Davis has gone 17-of-26 with 38 points, 18 rebounds and 10 blocks in the two games.
» The Gators and Wildcats are squaring off in the semifinals after both being tested mightily in second-round action. Florida defeated Alabama 66-63 just hours after Kentucky beat LSU 60-51 in the early afternoon game.

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Mental focus helping Young step his game up

A dominant force for the Florida Gators early in the season, sophomore center Patric Young’s production began to tail off as Southeastern Conference play began.

Not only was he facing tougher competition, Young was also dealing with tendinitis in his ankle that limited him in practice and some games. The biggest body on Florida’s team, he has been noticeably less aggressive getting himself in position offensively and has only grabbed double-digit rebounds twice against SEC opponents.

Head coach Billy Donovan, as he has mentioned previously, said after Sunday’s 74-59 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats that Young’s recent struggles are all in his head and have little to do with any injury.

“It’s all mental for Patric. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him physically. I don’t think there has been anything wrong with him physically for a while except for the normal bumps and bruises, tendinitis and things like that,” he said. “I do think there is a growth and a maturity that Patric is going through right now, there really is – the length of the season, the wear and tear physically, the expectations that he places on himself.”

Young scored 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting Sunday with nine rebounds and just one foul. He was also a solid presence on the defensive end, doing his best to hold Kentucky’s Anthony Davis off the block

“He took a step forward, in my opinion,” Donovan said.

Though Young posted a career-high 25 points on an even more efficient 12-of-15 shooting performance against Arizona earlier in the season, his game Sunday may very well have been the best he has played during his sophomore campaign.

“He played phenomenal tonight and hopefully he can continue that for the rest of the season,” said senior point guard Erving Walker, who was honored before the game as part of the Senior Day celebration. “When Pat plays like that I think it can take our team to another level. His mindset – he was ready to go against Anthony Davis, who is supposed to be the No. 1 pick. Pat just wanted to prove that he can play against him.”

Young recognized his improved performance even though he saw some areas in which he can improve as the team heads into the postseason tournaments.

“It was really encouraging,” he said. “I thought I gave it everything I had tonight. I had a few mistakes but overall I thought I played well. I think I could have done a better job communicating with our team and trying to lead the guys out there. We were so close when they had a four-point lead and there was a lot of time left in the game.”

He was not the only one on the court to take note of his impressive game. Kentucky head coach John Calipari had some words for Young following the contest, too.

“Patric Young was a beast,” he said after the game. “[If] Patric Young plays like that they’re fine in postseason, they’re fine. Patric, whatever you had for breakfast this morning, eat it [again], because he dominated us. He was really, really good.”

Donovan noted that “trying to get Patric to understand that he can control his mindset in getting him prepared to play” has been an experience that has been rewarding, frustrating and “scratch-my-head” confusing at times this season. It is an aspect of his game that Donovan has discussed all season long, though he thinks that a corner may very well have been turned on Sunday.

“Sometimes mentally when you convince yourself of something, you basically deal with it as truth,” he said. “‘My knee is really bothering me today so we’re going to focus on that the whole entire day.’ His growth and maturing of going through some of that stuff, I don’t know if Patric ever understood how challenging it was going to necessarily be for him. He just figured, ‘OK Vernon [Macklin] and Alex [Tyus] are gone, I’m going to step right in and this is what I’m going to do. I’m big, I’m strong and everything is going to be fine.’

“He got challenged in a lot of different ways by me, by himself, by the competition. There’s been a level of inconsistency because of that. I’m hoping that basically some of the adversity he has gone through and he has had to deal with this year, that there is a growth and maturity for him going forward.

“I thought he was a really big, bright spot for us [on Sunday].”

Young specifically recognized and noted that his improved mental focus was one of the main reasons for his success against the Wildcats.

“I think it was mostly just my mentality coming into the game, asking God if I could have fun out there [Sunday] because I haven’t been having too much fun out there,” he said. “I had an opportunity. He took my pain away. I didn’t feel my knee, didn’t feel my ankle or anything like that. My team was able to find me and I was able to finish.”

Whether or not he can maintain that strong mentality focus for the two upcoming tournaments is something that remains to be seen and will undoubtedly play a major role in determining how far the Gators can go in the postseason.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on one major difference between Florida and Kentucky: “Their talent and ability to make a difficult shot was much, much better than our ability to do that.”

» Donovan on what kind of team can beat UK: “It would have to be a real physical team where somebody would have to constantly – there would have to be pressure at the basket constantly. Duck-ins, post-ups and a physical game that is played three-out, two-in, smash mouth basketball. […] I don’t think a finesse team, so to speak, [could win]. I think it would have to be a real physical game.”

» Donovan on where his team goes from here after losing three-straight games: “I’m just hopeful that, at the right time, our guys can understand what is to be taken from the experiences they’ve gone through up to this point in time and if they really buy into and are committed. That’s the biggest thing, being committed to working hard and knowing this is what needs to be done collectively as a group in every situation – approaching practice, being on time, maturity-wise, handling adversity, handling set-backs, handling when things don’t go your way in practice or in a game. Those kind of things now, there needs to be a maturing process to be able to handle the difficulties, the adversities and the challenges.”

» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton did not earn the start Sunday due to being late for a team meeting earlier in the week. He entered the contest following the first media timeout.

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Kentucky bests Florida 74-59 on Senior Day

Despite a valiant effort that kept the score close most of the game, the No. 13/16 Florida Gators (22-9, 10-6 SEC) were unable to hold off the top-ranked team in the country, dropping their third-straight game to end the 2011-12 regular season and falling 74-59 to the No. 1/1 Kentucky Wildcats (30-1, 16-0 SEC) on Senior Day at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Florida senior point guard Erving Walker was honored before the contest but was one of three Gators backcourt members to struggle mightily during the game, scoring just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting in his final appearance in the O’Dome. Guards junior Kenny Boynton and freshman Bradley Beal were also ineffective shooters, combining to hit just 3-of-18 shots from the field and 2-of-10 from beyond the arc.

Sophomore center Patric Young led the way for the Gators with team-highs of 21 points (on 10-of-15 shooting) and nine rebounds. He was matched by Wildcats forward Anthony Davis, who posted game-highs of 22 points and 12 boards for the visitors.

Kentucky started the game on fire from the floor, hitting five of their first six shots (including eight points from G Terrance Jones) to jump ahead 11-4. However, three-pointers by Walker and junior F Erik Murphy on consecutive possessions were part of a quick 10-2 run that gave Florida their first lead of the game at 14-13.

The Wildcats would not be down long, answering the Gators with a 15-2 scoring stretch that earned UK a 28-16 advantage with 7:41 remaining until the break. Kentucky extended that lead to 16 points with 4:08 left, but Florida cut their deficit to eight, ending the half on a 10-2 run including back-to-back threes by Walker and Boynton.

UF maintained their energy coming out of the break, outscoring UK 12-6 and capping their stretch with a powerful dunk by Young to cut the Wildcats’ lead to two with 16:25 left in the game. However, the Gators found themselves down double digits just minutes later as Kentucky responded yet again by scoring eight-straight points.

Florida quickly found some rhythm again and rebounded with another impressive stretch to get within four, but the Wildcats answered back immediately by using a 9-0 run to jump ahead 13 points with 6:09 left in the game.

UK played strong and maintained their double-digit lead the rest of the way, holding UF to just one field goal over the final 9:03 of the contest.

Kentucky bested Florida scoring from the field (52.5-38.2%), downtown (41.7-27.3%), in the paint (40-28), off turnovers (8-2) and on second-chance opportunities (16-10). The Wildcats also outrebounded the Gators 36-30 and 11-9 on the offensive glass and forced seven turnovers on as many steals.

With the loss, Florida retained their bye but will drop to the No. 4 seed in the upcoming 2012 SEC Tournament, facing the winner of five-seed Alabama and 12-seed South Carolina in second-round action on Friday at 3:30 p.m. The game will air live on SEC Network (check your local listings for availability).

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Florida Gators vs. Kentucky Wildcats Gameday & Honoring Erving Walker on Senior Day

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

TV: CBS/CBSHD
SiriusXM: 91
Online Video: CBSSports.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(13) FLORIDA GATORS (1) KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 22-8 (10-5) Record: 29-1 (15-0)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida +4; O/U TBD

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Kentucky leads the all-time series against Florida 91-33, and the Gators are just 13-21 against the Wildcats since Donovan took over the team.
» UF is 9-6 against UK under Donovan in Gainesville and defeated Sunday’s visitors 70-68 in the last meeting in the O’Dome on Feb. 5, 2001.
» Florida is 0-8 against Kentucky all-time when UK is ranked No. 1 in the country.
» Calipari is one of two coaches (Frank McGuire) to lead three different schools to No. 1 rankings; he has accomplished that feat in five total seasons.
» The Wildcats have a 21-game winning streak including a number of blowout victories.
» All five of the Gators’ normal starters are averaging 9.9 points per game or more.
» Florida has made 10+ three-pointers in 19 of 30 games, a season-high mark under Donovan. UF has also made more treys this season (301) than any other in team history.
» Four Gators shoot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.
» Florida has made a three in 681 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» The Gators are undefeated (17-0) this year when posting a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and are just 5-8 when the margin is even or negative.
» Florida is 287-37 since 1988-89 when holding opponents under 70 points and 237-38 since 1998-99 when recording 15 or more assists in a game.
» The Gators have won 20+ games for the 14th consecutive season. That mark is currently the longest active streak in the SEC and fifth-longest nationally.
» Kentucky has more wins (2,081) than any other NCAA team – ever.
» The Wildcats have five players averaging double figures.
» Kentucky is 73-1 under Calipari when holding an opponent to 67 points or fewer.
» Florida is ranked No. 1 in three-pointers (10.0 per game) nationally as of March 1. The Gators are also ranked No. 1 in the SEC in assists (14.9 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3) and No. 2 in scoring offense (77.4 points per game).
» Kentucky is ranked No. 1 in scoring margin (19.4 points per game), No. 1 in field goal percentage defense (.364), No. 1 in blocked shots (9.0 per game) and No. 10 in rebounding margin (7.4 per game) nationally as of March 1. The Wildcats are also ranked No. 1 in the SEC in scoring offense (77.8 points per game), free throw percentage (.724), field goal percentage (.489) and rebounding (39.2 per game).

SENIOR DAY – ERVING WALKER

Point guard Erving Walker will be the lone senior participating in Senior Day ceremonies prior to Florida’s tip-off against Kentucky on Sunday at noon. A four-year player who will graduate with a degree in sports management, Walker has made a major mark and lasting imprint on the Gators basketball program despite being undersized for his position. Below are some of the notable accomplishments and distinctions that Walker carries heading into the final home game of his collegiate career along with some highlights to help fans relive some of his most memorable moments in orange and blue.

All-time marks in Florida history:
» No. 1 in minutes played (4,133)
» No. 1 in assists (519)
» No. 1 in three-point field goals attempts (723) and No. 2 in makes (276)
» No. 4 in scoring (1,707 points)
» No. 6 in games played (137) and No. 8 in games started (106)
» No. 7 in free throws made (419) and attempts (528)
» No. 8 in field goal attempts (1,281)

Career honors and awards:
» Two-time All-SEC Second Team (2009-10, 2010-11)
» SEC All-Freshman Team (2008-09)

Career accomplishments:
» Led Florida in points (539) and steals (41) as a junior; assists (166) and steals (45) as a sophomore; and three-point shooting percentage (.419) as a freshman. Currently leading UF in assists (142) and free throw percentage (.820).
» Started 106 of 137 games he has played for the Gators including 100 of 101 over the last three seasons.
» Scored a career-high 31 points this season in his fifth-to-last regular season game.
» Leads the SEC as a senior with a 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio.
» Current active SEC leader in minutes; second in points, threes, assists and free throws made; third in steals.
» One of three active players nationally with at least 1,700 points and 500 assists.

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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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