16 Gator Bites for Wednesday, March 20

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

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

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

Read 14 more interesting bites of Florida Gators news…after the break!
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Kentucky upsets Florida as Gators go ice cold

What may have been an aberration entering Saturday’s game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY became a calling card for the No. 9/11 Florida Gators, which once again faltered down the stretch on the road and fell 61-57 to the Kentucky Wildcats.

Florida (24-6, 14-4 SEC) had a seven-point lead with under eight minutes to play but collapsed late. The Gators went scoreless over the final 7:36 of the game (0-for-11 from the field), committed five costly turnovers and allowed Kentucky (21-10, 12-6 SEC) to end the contest on an 11-0 run.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, won what head coach John Calipari termed a “one-game season” and may have put themselves back in the NCAA Tournament conversation.

UF is now just 8-48 all-time in Rupp Arena including 3-14 under head coach Billy Donovan, having not won in Lexington since Feb. 10, 2007.

The raucous Lexington crowd was in full effect at the start of the game as Kentucky scored six-straight points out of the gate and forced Donovan to call an early timeout just 48 seconds into the contest. The Wildcats concentrated on putting the ball in the paint, scoring five-straight field goals from the paint to take an early 11-2 lead.

“I was really, really annoyed to start both halves to be honest with you. I think our team knew that Kentucky was going to come in and be aggressive to start the game,” Donovan said. “We were just too loose.”

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Gameday: No. 9/11 Florida Gators at Kentucky

Location: Rupp Arena – Lexington, KY [Capacity: 23,000]
Time: 12:00 p.m. EST

TV: CBS/CBSHD (Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel)
SiriusXM: 91 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: CBSSports.com | Mobile Video: CBSSports app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter and SportsYapper app

No. 9/11 FLORIDA GATORS KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: John Calipari
Record: 24-5 (14-3 SEC) Record: 20-10 (11-6 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -6 | O/U 132

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Kentucky is 93-34 (.732) in the all-time series with Florida though its advantage dips to 22-14 (.611) in games under Donovan’s stewardship. The Wildcats are 7-2 against the Gators under Calipari (since 2009).
» UF is 8-47 (.145) all-time in Rupp Arena including just 3-13 (.188) under Donovan, not having pulled off a victory in Lexington since Feb. 10, 2007.
» Florida is coming off winning three of its last four games while Kentucky has dropped consecutive contests and fallen in four of its last seven games.
» The Wildcats have only held one opponent (7-20 Mississippi State) under 70 points since losing center Nerlens Noel to a knee injury. The Gators are 17-0 this season when scoring at least 70 points.
» Florida is 49-5 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding opponents under 71 points in a game (23-4 in 2012-13).
» Four starters from each team average double figures in scoring.
» The Gators are 4-1 against top-25 opponents this season after going 3-5 against ranked adversaries last season with all five losses coming to top-three teams.
» Florida is 0-4 this season in single-digit decisions.
» The Gators are first nationally in scoring margin (+19.6), third in scoring defense (53.0), fourth in field goal defense (.373), eighth in field goal percentage (.488), 14th in assist-turnover ratio (1.39), 15th in three-point defense (.293) and 21st in turnover margin (3.3). Florida is also sixth nationally in fouling, committing 14.0 per game.
» The Wildcats are second nationally in blocks (6.9), 14th in field goal percentage (.481) and 23rd in field goal defense (.388).

Read the rest of the Florida-Kentucky gameday preview…after the break!
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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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