Florida Gators to host West Virginia on Jan. 30 in 2016 SEC/Big 12 Challenge

Florida Gators basketball’s 2015-16 non-conference schedule is taking shape after information was released on Thursday about its opponent for the third annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge. It was announced that Florida will host the West Virginia Mountaineers at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida, on Jan. 30, 2016.

Florida went head-to-head with Kansas during the first two incarnations of the challenge, going 1-1 against the Jayhawks. The Gators are 4-3 all-time against the Mountaineers with the teams not having played since the 2003-04 campaign.

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SIX BITS: awards, softball, lax, swimming, tennis

1 » There are plenty of spring sports underway right now, and the Florida Gators have gotten off to a fast start earning weekly conference honors. For the second-straight week, senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (softball) won the SEC Pitcher of the Week award; she tossed three shutouts in the last seven days and has a 0.00 ERA with 35 strikeouts through her first 31 innings of the season. Joining her is sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (baseball), who picked up the SEC Player of the Week award after going 9-for-12 and scoring five runs in his team’s season-opening series. Also making an impact was sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen (lacrosse), who brought home the first ALC Offensive Player of the Week award in school history. She has scored 14 goals in only three games and tied a school record with six on Sunday alone.

2 » Undefeated going into the weekend, No. 5 Florida softball (9-0) completed a shutout sweep of the No. 22 North Carolina Tar Heels (4-4) from Saturday to Sunday. UF took down UNC 3-0 and 9-0 in two games Saturday and concluded their first three-game homestand of the season with a 10-0 win on Sunday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Brombacher (6-0) tossed seven scoreless innings on Saturday and five more on Sunday, only giving up a total of nine hits and two walks over the contests. Freshman P Hannah Rogers (3-0) spelled her in between, allowing only two hits in her five shutout innings.

The Gators hit four home runs on Saturday alone; senior first baseman Megan Bush (4-7, HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB) and junior center fielder Michelle Moultrie (5-7, HR, 2 RBI) connected in the first game, while senior second baseman Aja Paculba (3-8, 3 RBI) and sophomore right fielder Kelsey Horton (1-5, 3 RBI) teed-off in the second contest. Florida’s scoring Sunday came from all over the place with senior left fielder Kelsey Bruder (2-8, 2 RBI, 4 R) leading the way with a homer, two RBI and three runs scored.

3 » Cullen’s six amazing goals on Sunday helped No. 17 Gators lacrosse (2-1) top the No. 20 Denver Pioneers (0-2) 15-7 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville. Assisting her was sophomore attacker Ashley Bruns who scored three goals and notched a career-high four assists on her way to seven points and a hat trick.

Read the rest of this SIX BITS post…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: awards, softball, lax, swimming, tennis

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FOUR BITS: Parsons, Gillespie, basketball praise

1 » Just a day after being named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week, Florida Gators senior forward Chandler Parsons was honored with the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week award by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. Parsons averaged 17.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals in back-to-back wins last week against No. 24 Vanderbilt and No. 11 Kentucky, Florida’s first consecutive wins against ranked opponents since 2007. He is the first Gators player to ever pick up the honor, which was instituted last season, and earns an automatic nomination to the Oscar Robertson Trophy watch list.

2 » If you think Florida head coach Will Muschamp’s first choice to replace former running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton was to simply change tight ends coach Brian White’s responsibilities and hire someone in his place, that would be an incorrect assumption. In fact, the Gators initially reached out to former Florida running back Robert Gillespie, who accepted the same position with the West Virginia Mountaineers one month earlier. For Gillespie, not returning to his alma mater was possibly the toughest choice he has had to face as a coach. “I’m a man of my word,” Gillespie told The Daily Athenaeum. “I left a good job at Oklahoma State to come [to West Virginia], and I gave [offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen] my word that I would help him build this program. [Florida’s] a place that holds a special place in my heart, but I didn’t make a decision based off of emotions.”

3 » Looking at No. 17/19 Gators basketball’s status for the 2011 NCAA Tournament, ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan considers them an absolute lock to make a second-straight appearance in March Madness…this year with a much better seed.

How impressive is Florida’s NCAA tourney profile at this point in the season? Let’s count the ways: The Gators have the benefit of high RPI and strength of schedule numbers, as well as a 6-1 record against the RPI top 50 and an 11-2 record against the top 100. They’re also 7-2 in conference play, which puts them alone atop the jumbled SEC East standings. They added notches to all three of the aforementioned belts Saturday night with their huge home win over Kentucky. After that win, few teams in the nation can boast a more impressive résumé against top competition than the Gators. Welcome to lock territory, Florida fans. It’s all smooth sailing from here.

4 » Similarly complimentary is Sports Illustrated, which pegs Florida as an elite program who suffered a downturn but is quickly gaining steam once again.

Florida took a step back to respectability last season by winning 21 games and reaching the NCAA tournament, and had expectations ratcheted up this season with all five starters back to go with a talented freshman class. The Gators opened the season at No. 9 and moved to No. 17 this week after dropping out of the polls. Florida (18-5) bumped off No. 10 Kentucky over the weekend and No. 23 Vanderbilt before that to take control of the SEC East at 7-2 – and another step back toward notability.

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TWO BITS: Tebow’s ad, McCartney’s decision

1 » Along with his mechanics and future as an NFL quarterback, former Florida Gators star Tim Tebow and his decision-making have come into question over recent weeks in regard to his Focus on the Family advertisement which will run during Super Bowl XLIV. Sally Jenkins, a sports columnist with the Washington Post, believes the problem is not with the message of Tebow’s ad but rather those criticizing it. Jenkins, who Is pro-choice, writes: “As statements at Super Bowls go, I prefer the idea of Tebow’s pro-life ad to, say, Jim McMahon dropping his pants. […] We’re always harping on athletes to be more responsible and engaged in the issues of their day, and less concerned with just cashing checks. It therefore seems more than a little hypocritical to insist on it only if it means criticizing sneaker companies, and to stifle them when they take a stance that might make us uncomfortable.”

2 » Four-star wide receiver recruit Ivan McCartney (Miramar, FL) has yet to declare where he intends to play college football in 2010. For a while, he has been down to the Gators, Miami Hurricanes and West Virginia Mountaineers. Though four-star defensive end commit Lynden Trail (Miami, FL) has tried to convince him to join Florida’s class, McCartney is believed to be heading elsewhere. However, he did give this sterling quote about his experience with the Gators to the Miami Herald: “There’s something about Florida I don’t feel for the other schools, a very strong, loving feeling. The atmosphere is wild. The campus is outrageous. They have swagger, too. And it’s an awesome place, no matter who is coaching there.”

Extra Bit » Good stuff from The Gainesville Sun on Florida senior swimmers and two-time Olympians Omar Pinzon and Shaune Fraser, who are looking to leave a mark.

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Holliday helps Gators land three-star recruit Clark

For some high school football players, a college team losing its recruiting coordinator can change their mind on what school they wish to attend after graduation. Florida Gators fans know this well, especially considering the recent news about the departure of wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales has been met with some interesting reactions from recruits across the country. However, it seems like the West Virginia Mountaineers losing associate head coach and top recruiter Doc Holliday to the Marshall Thundering Herd may have done a lot to help the Gators land three-star DB/WR/KR Robert Clark (West Palm Beach, FL) from Dwyer High School. Clark, who committed to head coach Urban Meyer on Wednesday while the coach was visiting Dwyer’s practice, had previously been committed to the Mountaineers and was also considering the Tennessee Volunteers.

“[Holliday] was my recruiting coordinator,” Clark told the Palm Beach Post. “We were really close. It changed my decision a lot.” Also affecting Clark’s decision was his official visit to Gainesville, FL, last weekend and the commitment status of his teammates five-star safety Matt Elam and four-star tight end Gerald Christian. “[Meyer] asked me how much I love Florida,” Clark said. “I told him I’m going to end up committing. I love Florida. Gerald and Matt are there and I already know them.”

OGGOA reported Tuesday that Clark seemed to be all Orange and Blue when he donned a No. 4 Gators jersey in the team’s locker room this past weekend. He plans to enroll at the University of Florida in January for the spring semester, along with Elam and Christian, in order to get a leg up on 2010. Clark is expected to officially announce his commitment to Florida before the Class 4A championship game on Saturday.

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TWO BITS: Holliday to Marshall, volleyball awards

1 » West Virginia Mountaineers associate head coach Doc Holliday will become the next head coach of the Marshall Thundering Herd, according to a report from The Reigster Herald. Holliday, who was an associate head coach, safeties coach and recruiting coordinator during his time with the Florida Gators from 2005-07, will be accepting his first head job after almost three decades as an assistant coach. Holliday’s contract is said to be a five-year deal worth $650,000 (plus incentives) annually.

2 » Volleyball’s sophomore right-side setter Kelly Murphy and senior libero Elyse Cusack have earned 2009 All-America honors from the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Murphy, already a second-team All-SEC selection for 2009 and AVCA National Freshman of the Year in 2008, was named a second-team All-American while Cusack earned an All-American honorable mention for the third straight season. The Gators volleyball team finished the 2009 season 25-6, losing to the No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions in the 2009 NCAA Tournament round of 16.

Extra Bit » Sophomore first baseman Preston Tucker was named to the 2010 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Pro-Line Athletic Preseason All-America Team on Wednesday. Tucker, who batted .364 with 15 home runs and 85 RBI as a freshman to capture the Gators’ Triple Crown, is the first player in University of Florida history to win the NCBWA Freshman Hitter of the Year Award. He was also co-SEC Freshman of the Year, a unanimous selection to the SEC’s All-Freshman Team, invited to the 2009 USA Baseball National Team trials and was selected as a Freshman All-American by Baseball America, Louisville Slugger, Rivals and the NCBWA. He also led the Florida baseball team with a .628 slugging percentage, 152 total bases, 27 multi-hit games and 23 multiple-RBI outings. His 85 RBI broke the single-season school record.

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Robert Clark also captured wearing Gators gear

Three-star cornerback recruit Robert Clark, who had been committed to the West Virginia Mountaineers since July, recently opened up his recruitment and named the Florida Gators the second of his final two schools. Teammates at Dwyer High School with Florida commits five-star safety Matt Elam and four-star tight end Gerald Christian, Clark had the press put on him to join the Gators’ 2010 recruiting class when he visited Gainesville, FL, with Elam and Christian last weekend. Christian has been a solid commit for a while, and Elam all but signed on the dotted line over the weekend by donning a blue No. 22 Florida jersey and declaring his recruitment over. OGGOA has now uncovered a similar picture of Clark presumably from last weekend, also in the Gators locker room wearing his high school No. 4 on a blue Florida jersey. Clark plans to enroll at the university of his choosing in January for the spring semester in order to get a leg up on next season. As OGGOA reported early Monday, he has decided to officially announce his commitment decision before the Class 4A championship game on Saturday.

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TWO BITS: Gators in the NFL, Clark back in fold?

1 » Two former Florida Gators players had strong showings in the NFL on Sunday, and both are recent alumni from the defensive side of the ball. Second-year defensive end Derrick Harvey of the Jacksonville Jaguars recorded a sack in his second straight game even though his team fell to the Miami Dolphins while third-year linebacker Brandon Siler dominated the middle for the San Diego Chargers against the Dallas Cowboys. Siler recorded five tackles on the day (two for a loss) and one sack. He was also instrumental on a number of goal-line and fourth-down stands. Other Gators who contributed this weekend were LB Mike Peterson of the Atlanta Falcons (eight tackles), wide receiver Jabar Gaffney of the Denver Broncos (three receptions for 48 yards) and Andre “Bubba” Caldwell of the Cincinnati Bengals (four catches for 25 yards).

2 » Looking to nab a trifecta of players from Dwyer High School in West Palm Beach, FL, Florida set their sights on bringing three-star cornerback Robert Clark into the fold during his official visit this weekend. Clark, who said prior to his visit that he was leaning towards the Gators until the loss of recruiting coordinator Billy Gonzales had him open up the process again, met new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni and came away impressed. “[Azzanni] was great,” Clark told Rivals. “I already knew him from camp because he worked the camp [in Gainesville]. He’s a great guy. He taught me a lot of things so it was good to meet him again. [The coaches] didn’t really talk about [Gonzales] much [this weekend]. It was kind of sad that he left but at the same time they had to move on and stuff and get a new coach. He’s pretty energetic. He likes to hop around a lot. He was hyped up.” Though he is not considered “solid,” Clark is currently committed to the West Virginia Mountaineers; even so, he has decided to make his decision official before the Class 4A championship game this Saturday.

UPDATE: “Florida[‘s visit] is the best visit I’ve been on by far. I’m not gonna lie,” Clark told The Gainesville Sun. “It’s hard because I’m kind of committed to West Virginia, right now, but I love Florida more than I love West Virginia.” Clark also told The Sun that the shorter distance and better weather are much more appealing to him.

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