Florida-Mississippi State preview: Donovan praises Gators short-rest success

Location: Humphrey Coliseum – Starkville, MS [Capacity: 15,383]
Date/Time: Thursday at 7:00 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN2 (Rece Davis, Bob Knight)
SiriusXM: 85 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

(3) FLORIDA GATORS MISSISSIPPI ST. BULLDOGS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Rick Ray
Record: 17-2 (6-0 SEC) Record: 13-6 (3-3 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -13.5 | O/U: 131.5

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Florida leads Mississippi State 60-49 in the all-time series with a 13-8 record under Donovan. However, the Bulldogs hold a 34-21 edge in Starkville with Donovan going 5-4 in nine road contests against MSU.
» UF has won three-straight games against Mississippi State, outscoring MSU by an average of 30 points in two meetings during the 2012-13 season.
» Florida is on an 11-game winning streak and has won 16 of its last 17 games.
» The Gators are 69-9 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding an opponent under 71 points in a game.
» Florida is 8-2 this season in single-digit decisions after going 0-6 in such contests during the 2012-13 campaign. UF is also 1-0 in overtime games.
» The Gators defeated top-15 teams in consecutive games for the fourth time in program history and first time ever in non-conference regular season play.
» Florida is 2-2 against ranked opponents this season with both losses coming in true road games and the victories occurring in a home contest and neutral-site game.
» The Gators are 4-2 in true road games this season.
» This is the second-straight Thursday-Saturday turnaround for Florida. UF’s senior class is now 11-1 overall in its last six Thursday-Saturday situations and has swept five-straight instances when playing two games in that three-day period.

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SIX BITS: top 25, tennis, Muschamp, PIT, Tebow

1 » Despite ending their 2013 NCAA Tournament run in the Elite Eight for the third-straight year, Florida Gators basketball was placed at No. 9 in the final USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 poll of the 2012-13 season. Florida was not the only Elite Eight team to fall outside the top eight of the poll, however, as Marquette checked in at No. 11 in the final rankings. Indiana (Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse) and Kansas (Sweet 16 loss to Michigan) took the two other spots in the top eight. The Gators also checked in at No. 9 and No. 10 in 2011-12 and 2010-11, respectively, after losing in the Elite Eight. Florida will likely enter the 2013-14 campaign ranked in the preseason top-10.

2 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (17-2, 10-1 SEC) ran through its competition over the weekend, extending their winning streaks to 10 consecutive team matches and 30-straight individual matches. Florida swept the Ole Miss Rebels (10-10, 4-6 SEC) and Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-12, 1-10 SEC) in a pair of home showdowns over the weekend at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The Gators won all 11 matches and had the opportunity to celebrate Senior Day against the Bulldogs on Sunday. Seniors No. 1 Lauren Embree and No. 125 Caroline Hitimana were each unable to finish their singles matches due to Florida registering a quick 4-0 victory but both won their doubles contests. The No. 20 duo of Embree and junior Sofie Oyen picked up an 8-2 win, while Hitimana and junior Alex Cercone won 8-0.

On Monday, head coach Roland Thornqvist praised Embree at his press conference, making note of her incredible career and tremendous work ethic. “You want to know why Lauren Embree is the best college player to ever play the game?” he asked rhetorically. “It was Monday morning at 8:30, and after a weekend full of matches and practices, she runs to the courts, hits serves for 30 minutes, then I show up and we go at it [on the court] for an hour and 15 minutes. By 10:00, she’s done with two workouts already while the rest of tennis America is still sleeping. That’s why we’re good and that’s why she’s good. She sets the tone, the bar is high, and I think everybody feeds off of it. We’ve just been blessed to have that for four years. Frankly, it’s just amazing.” The Gators women’s tennis program is hoping to win its third-straight national title.

Read four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: top 25, tennis, Muschamp, PIT, Tebow

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Florida back to trouncing SEC foes with 83-58 win

Rebounding from an embarrassing loss at Arkansas on Tuesday, No. 2/2 Florida Gators basketball (19-3, 9-1 SEC) beat down the Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-15, 2-8 SEC) for the second time this season with an 83-58 victory at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Saturday.

Redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario led the way for the Gators with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting (2-of-4 from downtown). Shooting equally as well was junior forward Erik Murphy, who posted 17 points while going 7-for-10 from the field and 3-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Florida, playing its first game without junior F Will Yeguete (knee), also switched up its starting lineup with freshman G Michael Frazier II taking the place of junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who was benched as a punishment by head coach Billy Donovan.

After starting the game 0-for-5 from downtown, UF quickly got hot from long range and netted four-straight triples. Rosario hit the first trey and Frazier followed by draining three in a row to spot the Gators an early 18-10 lead.

Florida used Frazier’s hot shooting to kick start an 11-0 run and soon followed that up with a 13-2 scoring stretch to double-up Mississippi State 36-18 with 4:27 left in the opening half. UF held on to a 16-point advantage over MSU at the break.

The Gators pulled away at the start of the second half as a 10-0 run extended their lead to 52-26. Florida maintained a comfortable lead from that point forward, and Donovan was able to clear his bench with less than four minutes left in the contest.

Frazier (11 points), junior G/F Casey Prather (12) and senior guard Kenny Boynton (10) joined Rosario and Murphy as five Gators scored in double figures.

Florida shot 52.5 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from downtown while winning the rebounding battle 37-34 and registering 21 assists on 31 made baskets. The Gators also scored 32 points in the paint despite not having a size advantage.

Florida will have little time to rest as Kentucky rolls into Gainesville on Tuesday for a 7 p.m. showdown on ESPN. The Wildcats will be looking to overtake the Gators for first-place in the Southeastern Conference standings.

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Florida-Mississippi State, replacing Yeguete

No. 2/2 FLORIDA GATORS MISS. STATE BULLDOGS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Rick Ray
Record: 18-3 (8-1 SEC) Record: 7-14 (2-7 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 5:00 p.m. EST

TV: Sun Sports/Fox Sports Network (Dave Neal, Larry Conley) [Channel Finder]
SiriusXM: 93/199 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: ESPN3.com [Blackout Map] | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter and SportsYapper app

Odds: Florida -26.5 | O/U 128

REPLACING THE IRREPLACEABLE

For the second-straight year, one of Florida’s most important players is having his season cut due to injury. Junior forward Will Yeguete, who broke his foot toward the end of the 2012 regular season and never returned, had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Friday and is out for at least the rest of the regular season.

Yegeute’s loss hits the Gators hard, but Donovan is more focused on how to attempt to replace some of his production rather than worry about all of the negatives. Junior forward Casey Prather and freshman guard Michael Frazier will undoubtedly see more time on the court, but freshman G/F DeVon Walker – who has already spent time working in the post during practice due to the team’s thin frontcourt – will also be in the mix to fill in off the bench. The problem? Donovan is not necessarily sure that he’s prepared to contribute on an every-game basis.

“I don’t know if he’s ready. We don’t have a whole lot of choices right now,” he said Thursday. “I would say this about DeVon Walker, which I like, is he’s highly competitive. He’s a tough kid. I think he’ll step in there and give us everything he has. That’s a comforting [thing]. I think at this point of time in the season, you need someone to come in that has energy, has toughness.

“Is he going to be in the right spot all the time? Probably not. Is he going to make some mistakes? Absolutely. Has he absorbed enough minutes to have any level of experience to probably handle that? Probably not. But I think for him, I do have confidence in his competitiveness and his willingness to do whatever is necessary to help our team. I feel good about that, but he obviously has a long way to go to continue to improve and get better. We’ll see what he does when he gets out there.”

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Florida thrashes Mississippi State 82-47

Making a legitimate case to be viewed as one of the top teams in the country, No. 7/8 Florida Gators basketball (16-2, 6-0 SEC) remained undefeated in Southeastern Conference play with a dominant 82-47 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-11, 2-4 SEC) on Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, MS.

Florida continued its trend of wiping out league opponents with its 35-point rout of Mississippi State. The Gators have now defeated all six of their SEC adversaries by at least 17 points and are averaging a 26.5-point margin of victory in conference play.

Trailing 4-3 early in the contest, Florida put its foot on the gas and rattled off a 28-4 scoring stretch to jump ahead of Mississippi State by 23 points midway through the first half.

The Bulldogs answered by scoring seven-straight points to cut into the Gators’ advantage, but UF quickly got a handle on the situation and built its lead back up to 41-19 by the time the halftime buzzer sounded.

Just minutes into the second half, Florida had already put together another impressive scoring stretch – this time a 15-0 run – to take a 56-21 lead with 15 minutes left to play.

The Gators cruised from that point forward with their primary rotation players remaining in the game until there were five minutes left.

Florida had the four leading scorers in the game with seniors guard Kenny Boynton (7-of-11, 4-of-8 from three) and forward Erik Murphy (6-of-8, 4-of-6 from downtown) each scoring 18 points and juniors center Patric Young (6-for-6) and point guard Scottie Wilbekin (5-of-9, 3-of-5 from beyond the arc) each registering 13 points.

Murphy and Young both added six rebounds, and Wilbekin dished a game-high nine assists. Freshman G Michael Frazier and junior F Will Yeguete led the way with eight boards each; Yeguete added four dimes and two steals to his line.

The Gators outshot the Bulldogs from the field (.564-.327) and downtown (.452-.200) while dominating the rebounding battle with a 44-20 advantage on the boards.

Florida registered 23 assists on 31 made baskets and blocked four shots but did commit 14 turnovers while forcing just nine from Mississippi State.

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Gators more mature; Prather working way back

No. 7/8 FLORIDA GATORS MISS. STATE BULLDOGS
Head Coach: Billy Donovan Head Coach: Rick Ray
Record: 15-2 (5-0 SEC) Record: 7-10 (2-3 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern

Location: Humphrey Coliseum – Starkville, MS [Capacity: 10,575]
Time: 8:00 p.m. EST

TV: ESPN2/ESPN2HD (Dave Lamont, Kara Lawson)
SiriusXM: 123/199 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter and SportsYapper app

Odds: Florida -20.5 | O/U 123.5

NOT LAST YEAR’S TEAM

Behind most of the first half on Wednesday in Athens, GA, Florida fought back to trail by just three at the break before doubling up Georgia 40-20 in the second half and cruising to a 64-47 victory. During a media availability on Thursday, Donovan noted that the team is much more mature this season and the 2011-12 Gators likely would have dropped Wednesday’s contest.

“With a group of guys you’re always looking for improvement. You’re looking for improvement not only on a daily basis but even maybe from one year to the next,” he said. “We were in a similar situation last year against Georgia where we beat them pretty handily at home and then we go on the road to their place and we don’t get off to a great start and we don’t play well the entire game and we end up losing by double figures.”

“The positive was – from a year ago to now – I’m not so sure last year’s team wins the game they won [on Wednesday]. I see some growth in that area where things were not going well. I knew Georgia was going to come out [strong]. … We knew that they were going to do that. … I thought our guys were pretty resilient and they battled through and played a much, much better second half. I thought that was encouraging to me.”

STILL WORKING HIS WAY BACK

No one on Florida’s roster has had a more frustrating season than junior forward Casey Prather. After missing the first four games of the season due to concussions he suffered in practice and eventually working his way back into the lineup, he played quite well and proved that he is an essential reserve for the Gators.

Playing in his 10th game of the season on Jan. 12, Prather suffered what has been deemed a high-ankle sprain and has missed the last three games. He is also expected to sit out Saturday’s contest but may be in line to return before Florida’s next big game against Ole Miss on Feb. 2 as his recovery is “going well,” according to Donovan.

“Our trainer just feels like the high-ankle sprain is a different kind of injury. It’s a slower-healing injury,” he said Thursday. “Through past experiences [with players], our trainer has learned a lot about the injury. They’ve been diagnosed of late a lot differently in terms of treatment and putting guys back out there.

“The first week what we wanted to do was to really just let him stay in a boot and no movement, no walking, no nothing. … This kind of injury, the more you do, the more it causes problems. Right now, we gave him a week. He’s out of the boot now and he’s walking around. He’s doing some rehab. He still has some discomfort when he’s tried to run. We’ll then probably reevaluate him after this weekend.

“My feeling would be that it would not be until the end of next week; that would probably be a point that we’d expect him back. We don’t feel like it’s a severe high-ankle sprain, but it’s enough where if he comes back too early or too soon, this is something that is going to linger. With this injury, we don’t want that to happen, so we’re probably cautioning on the more conservative side in terms of pushing him back into getting to practice and those things.”

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Zunino’s bomb powers Gators to series victory

A solo home run by junior catcher Mike Zunino in the eighth inning on Sunday powered No. 5 Florida Gators baseball past the No. 25 Mississippi State Bulldogs 2-1 and delivered the team’s second series victory in as many weekends.

Florida (38-14, 16-11 SEC) took down Mississippi State (31-20, 13-14 SEC) on Friday (4-1) before being shutout for only the second time this season on Saturday (2-0). Sunday’s 2-1 triumph marked UF’s fifth win in the last seven games and a victory in their final home series of the regular season.

The Bulldogs and Gators each posted zeroes in the first two innings before both scoring a single run in their respective frame in the third inning. MSU’s came via a solo shot while UF’s crossed the plate thanks to a rally concluded by a RBI groundout by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (0/4, RBI).

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson got the start for Florida but lasted just 3.1 innings. He struck out four and allowed just two hits and an earned run but coughed up five walks, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch as well.

Five Gators relievers closed out the contest for Whitson with juniors lefty Steven Rodriguez and RHP Austin Maddox doing most of the heavy lifting. Rodriguez struck out three and walked two in 2.0 innings while Maddox (3-2) pitched the final 2.1 innings and struck out two. He received the victory thanks to the game-winning bomb by Zunino (1/2, HR, RBI, R, 2 BB) in the eighth.

Florida committed three errors in the contest but none led to runs.

UF will take on Samford on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and will remain in the state of Alabama to conclude the regular season with a three-game series against Auburn.

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TWO BITS: Gators baseball, softball win three

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (12-1) won their 10th consecutive game with a 15-2 thrashing of the Florida A&M Rattlers (1-12) on Wednesday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Freshman outfielder Justin Shafer (1/2) notched a career-high six RBIs on a double and three sacrifice flies. He also pitched the final frame of the game, striking out the side on 14 pitches. Freshman right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi (3.0 IP, 6 H, K) got the start but gave up two earned runs in his outing, giving senior RHP Greg Larson (2-0, 3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K) the opportunity to supplant him and pick up the victory. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1/1, 2 RBI, 3 R, 3 BB) was also stellar at the plate, and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, 2 RBI, R, BB) picked up the 274th hit of his career on a double in the fifth, tying Jeff Corsaletti (2002-05) for fourth on the school’s all-time list. Florida remains undefeated (17-0) against Florida A&M and will have one day off before hosting Florida Gulf Coast for a three-game series on Friday (7 p.m.), Saturday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m. on Sun Sports).

2 » No. 3 Gators softball (21-1, 2-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to 11 games with a doubleheader sweep of the Mississippi State Bulldogs (14-7, 0-2 SEC) to open Southeastern Conference play on the road in Starkville, MS. Florida defeated Mississippi State 1-0 behind a complete game one-hit shutout by sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (11-0) in the first game and earned an equally hard-fought 8-5 win in the second contest with freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (4-0) earning the victory and Rogers (S1) picking up the save. Rogers struck out eight in the opening contest but was only supported by three hits from the Gators including what would be a game-winning RBI by freshman left fielder Jessica Damico (1-3) in the fifth. Freshman RHP Lauren Haeger started the second game but was roughed up for five runs (two earned) on three hits with three walks in just 1.2 innings. Bache (2.1 IP, 2 H, BB, K) and Rogers (3.0 IP, H, 3 K) closed the game out as sophomore RF Kasey Fagan (2-3, 3 RBI, BB) led the way at the plate. Haeger (1-3, R, 2 BB) and sophomore SS Cheyenne Coyle (0-1, R, 2 BB) added a RBI each, and junior catcher Kelsey Horton (1-4) drove in two runs with yet another homer. Florida will close out the week by playing a three-game weekend road series at Tennessee on Friday (6 p.m.), Saturday (2 p.m.) and Sunday (noon).

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