FOUR BITS: baseball, softball, NBA, Tebow

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (1-0) played like the top team in the country during their season opener on Friday, fighting back every time they were down and eventually toppling the No. 16 Cal State Fullerton Titans (0-1) 7-3 at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Down a run after a throwing error in the top of the second, the Gators tied the game when freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (1-4) turned on his first collegiate pitch and belted a homer to left field. Behind 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Florida used another solo shot – this time from senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1-3) – to even things up again. The Gators’ clutch hitting continued as a four-run seventh inning – including to pair of RBI singles by juniors catcher Mike Zunino (1-4) and first baseman Brian Johnson (2-4) – to jump ahead 7-3 and hold on for the victory. Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall got the start for UF but gave up three earned runs on five hits with only one strikeout in 5.2 innings for the no decision. Coming on in relief with his team down a run, junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez (1-0) struck out three and gave up just one hit in 2.1 innings before senior RHP Greg Larson tossed the final inning to clinch the victory. Florida’s series with Cal State Fullerton continues Saturday and Sunday though neither game is being televised.

2 » No. 1 Florida softball (7-0) continued its hot start to the 2012 season with yet another run-rule victory as the Gators shut out the Michigan State Spartans (1-5) 8-0 in five innings Friday night at Pressly Softball Stadium in Gainesville. Florida took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth but crossed the plate five times in the inning to take a 7-0 lead. A RBI single by sophomore left fielder Kasey Fagan (1-2) in the bottom of the fifth wound up being a walk-off hit as it became the game-deciding run. Freshman 1B Lauren Haeger (2-2) led the way for the Gators with four RBIs, and junior C Brittany Schutte supported her with a 3-3 performance and a RBI of her own. Freshman third baseman Sami Fagan (2-3) also plated two runs and crossed home once herself. Continuing to prove her dominance on the mound, sophomore pitcher Hannah Rogers (5-0) tossed a complete game one-hitter with four strikeouts and a walk in 5.0 innings. UF will take on Michigan State twice more before the weekend concludes.

3 » It was a big night in the NBA for four former Gators stars. Friday night’s standout performance came from Denver Nuggets guard/forward Corey Brewer, who scored a team-high 26 points (10-of-14 shooting) with five rebounds, a steal and a block in 32 minutes. Joining him at the top of their team’s respective box scores were Golden State Warriors forward/center David Lee with a team-high 23 points (8-of-17 shooting) and eight boards in a team-high 30 minutes; Houston Rockets F Chandler Parsons with a team-high 18 points (8-of-15 shooting), a team-high six rebounds and three assists in a team-high 40 minutes; and Memphis Grizzlies C Marreese Speights with a double-double of 12 points (5-of-8 shooting) and 10 boards with two blocks in 35 minutes.

Parsons also learned Friday that he will be participating in the NBA’s All-Star Weekend as one of three players representing Houston in the Shooting Stars competition.

4 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has officially scheduled his “experience” event at the new D1 Sports Training and Therapy facility in Citrus Park, FL. Tebow will hold a special training session at D1 on March 10 where members and special guests will have the opportunity to train alongside him while checking out the new workout center. For more information on D1 and Tebow’s involvement with the company (he’s a part-owner of two facilities), check out OGGOA‘s post from Jan. 17.

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Donovan has no regrets, empathizes with Izzo

Returning to Orlando, FL, for a press conference would not have been a big deal for Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan…if his last media event in the city was anything other than him accepting the top job with the Orlando Magic three years ago after winning back-to-back National Championships.

Ironically, the Gators will play the Central Florida Knights on Dec. 1 in the Florida Citrus Sports Shootout – the first college basketball game in the brand new Amway Center (the future home of the Magic). And if he had not decided to return to Florida merely days after accepting the Orlando job, Donovan very well may have been coaching the Magic at the new arena – rather than the Gators.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t replay the decision in my mind a few times,” Donovan said Thursday, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“[After you leave], you don’t always get the same college job and the same situation you had before,” he added. “I look at someone like Steve Spurrier. He left Florida and he’s back coaching in college at South Carolina. Certainly, South Carolina is not the same as Florida. When you leave a place, there’s a feeling like you can never go back again. So you better be sure when you leave.”

Donovan’s struggle mirrored the situation Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo faced over the last two weeks – trying to decide whether to take a large sum of money and potential to succeed in the NBA or continue to build his program on the college level. No one can empathize with this better than Donovan.

“I understand completely what Tom went through,” he said. “It’s such a hard decision because you know it’s a great opportunity in the NBA, but you have a situation in college where you have had an incredible personal investment into building something great. The amount of time and energy it takes to get a program to a certain level and then, to suddenly leave it, is extremely difficult.”

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TWO BITS: Rainey sticking around, basketball falls

1 » Amid speculation that he was considering entry into the 2010 NFL Draft, Florida Gators redshirt sophomore running back Chris Rainey told the Orlando Sentinel that he will stay in Gainesville, FL, for “at least another year.” With Rainey, sophomore Jeff Demps and redshirt junior transfer Emmanuel Moody all coming back next season, the Gators’ running back unit may be the deepest it has been in years. Also on the roster will be sophomore Mike Gillislee, redshirt junior walk-on Christopher Scott and four-star 2010 commitment Mack Brown (Lithonia, GA).

2 » After starting the 2009 campaign 8-0 including wins over the Florida State Seminoles and then-No. 2 Michigan State Spartans, the Florida basketball team rose to No. 10/11 in the AP and USA Today/ESPN Top 25 polls, respectively. Consecutive losses to the No. 5/5 Syracuse Orange and unranked Richmond Spiders (both at neutral sites) have since dropped the Gators down to a No. 18 ranking in both polls. Florida has returned home to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center and will take on the South Alabama Jaguars Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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FOUR BITS: Strong, SEC title, Syracuse, baseball

1 » Louisville Cardinals athletic director Tom Jurich spoke with the Louisville Courier-Journal on Monday about his continuing talks with Florida Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to become his school’s next head football coach. Jurich he is “further along today than I was yesterday, so that’s good,” but that he would have another conversation with Strong on Tuesday. “I don’t really have a status update, it’s on-going,” Jurich said. “I tell you what though, he’s very impressive, a very impressive guy, he’d be great for our community.” An official contract offer has not yet been made, and the Gators are expected to make Strong a counter offer to stay on board.

2 » Two days after their heartbreaking loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 SEC Championship, Florida players put the blame on themselves for not playing like they practiced throughout the week. “We thought we would have won the game with the way we practiced,” senior linebacker Ryan Stamper said. “It was just like any other practice — probably one of our better practices. We had juice in the locker room; we had juice when we went out on the field. We just couldn’t get the job done.”

3 » Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan told reporters on Monday that the team may be without sophomores guard/forward Ray Shipman (mid-foot sprain) and sophomore center Kenny Kadji (lower back) for Thursday’s game against the No. 7 Syracuse Orange (8-0) in the SEC/Big East Invitational from the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, FL. Both players received MRIs and are considered questionable for the game. “We’re down to eight right now,” Donovan said. Speaking of Florida basketball, the team moved up to No. 10 and No. 11, respectively, in this week’s AP Top 25 and ESPN/USA Today coaches’ polls. Beginning the season unranked, the Gators are an undefeated 8-0 including a win over the then-No. 2 Michigan State Spartans.

4 » Shortstop recruit Casey Turgeon (Dunedin, FL), one of the best players in the state, committed to the Florida baseball program before his junior high school season.

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Florida Gators basketball returns to Top 25 polls

Winning the 2009 Legends Classic over the weekend, which included a defeat over the (at the time) No. 2 Michigan State Spartans, Florida Gators basketball (6-0) returned to the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN Coaches Top 25 polls on Monday for the first time since Jan. 19. The Gators are in the No. 13 and No. 17 spots, respectively.

In other news: ESPN College GameDay will be on-site at the 2009 SEC Championship game between the No. 1 Florida Gators and No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide.

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Basketball defeats Rutgers, wins Legends Classic

One day after taking down the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans, Florida Gators basketball (6-0) defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-2) to win the 2009 Legends Classic in Atlantic City, NJ. Earning instant credibility and a championship trophy to match, the Gators look to be back in the Top 25 on Monday for the first time since Jan. 19 and are in the conversation as a possible NCAA tournament team.

Freshman guard Kenny Boynton led Florida with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting while redshirt junior transfer center Vernon Macklin added 14 points of his own on 7-of-9 shooting with a team-high eight rebounds. Sophomore point guard Erving Walker scored 11 points on .500 shooting from beyond the arc with five assists, but senior forward Dan Werner led the team with six dishes. Macklin’s effort was his most impressive of the season while junior Fs Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons had their least effective games. Both still went 3-6 on their own with six and seven points, respectively.

“Even through fatigue and dealing with the emotion of last night, I thought our guys came out and grinded the game out and found a way to win the game,” Gators head coach Billy Donovan said. Walker concurred. “We knew that we could compete with these teams, but to come out and actually beat them shows us that we could play with anybody in the country and we just want to keep it going,” he said. Walker was also named the tournament MVP partially due to his winning three-pointer against the Spartans.

“We came out and we wanted to show everyone that last night’s game wasn’t a fluke,” Boynton said. “We heard people were saying we were soft. We basically wanted to put pressure on both of these teams early and get the win.” There was nothing soft about either Florida performance over the weekend, as the team continues to use stiffing defense and efficient shooting to defeat its opponents.

Florida basketball takes on the Florida A&M Rattlers on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center as part of a double-header with the women’s teams. The Gators’ following three games will be against the Jacksonville Dolphins, No. 10/9 Syracuse Orange and Richmond Spiders at three neutral sites in the state of Florida.

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Gators take down No. 2/2 Spartans 77-74

Florida Gators basketball (5-0) entered the 2009 Legends Classic looking to make a name for themselves after finishing the past two seasons with invites to the NIT. The Gators accomplished their goal, taking down the No. 2/2 Michigan State Spartans (4-1) 77-74 in Atlantic City, NJ.

Five Florida players scored in double digits as junior forward Chandler Parsons led the team with 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Classmate F Alex Tyus and redshirt junior transfer center Vernon Macklin recorded a team-high five boards each while sophomore point guard Erving Walker led the way with seven assists. Walker nailed a long-range go-ahead three-pointer with 1:56 left as the Gators hung on for the win. Florida also went 22-of-25 from the free throw line and combined for a season-high 11 steals in the contest.

The Gators forced 22 turnovers in the game, continuing their defensive dominance that has become a theme throughout the first five games of the 2009 season. The Spartans had multiple chances to tie the game in the waning minutes, including two missed three-point attempts by Durrell Summers in the final minute.

“I’m just so happy these guys could experience a night like tonight against a terrific team,” Gators head coach Billy Donovan said. “I think we found out a lot more about us. We have a chance to really improve and grow from this. The guys in the locker rooms are the ones who really did all the work. At this point, I think that these guys have put the work in. You feel like there’s a commitment and a focus that they’re doing that. I think that was something that was really missing from our team the last two years, really understanding what it was about maturity-wise.” Walker agreed. “We just wanted to prove to people we could be mentioned in the same breath as them,” he said.

Florida advances to the championship game of the Legends Classic and will face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday at 8 p.m.

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Gators take on No. 2 Spartans in Legends Classic

Facing their toughest test on the court since the 2006-2007 season, the Florida Gators basketball team (4-0) will take on the No. 2/2 Michigan State Spartans (4-0) in the opening game of the 2009 Legends Classic on Friday at 8 p.m. in Atlantic City, NJ. Florida will then face either the UMass Minutemen or Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday at either 5:30 p.m. or 8 p.m.

This is the sixth meeting between the Gators and Spartans, with Michigan State holding a 3-2 lead in the series. The Spartans won the last meeting 68-56 in Tampa in the second round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament and also defeated the Gators 89-76 in the 2000 National Championship. Florida head coach Billy Donovan and Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo are contemporaries, having known each other since the early 1990s.

Much more on the Florida vs. Michigan State game as well as some notes on women’s basketball and volleyball after the jump…
Continue Reading » Gators take on No. 2 Spartans in Legends Classic

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