One night, two late game-winners for Gators

Florida women’s basketball was facing elimination from the 2013 Women’s NIT while Gators softball was about to fall to a heated rival when a late-game swish of the net and an extra-inning crack of the bat turned the fortunes of the respective teams in a pair of nail-biter situations Wednesday evening.

Though Florida women’s basketball did not receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, the Gators have been fighting for their lives on the road. After taking down Florida International 75-68 in first-round action last Thursday, UF earned a dominant 85-53 victory over Winthrop on Monday to advance to the WNIT round of 16.

On Wednesday, the Gators (21-14) took on the Charlotte 49ers (26-6) and were engaged in an absolute dogfight. Florida coughed up its lead with less than six minutes to play and found itself in a four-point hole with possession and 1:05 remaining.

Just 13 seconds into the possession, freshman guard January Miller drained a three-pointer with 52 seconds left to cut the Gators’ deficit to one. On the ensuing possession, freshman forward Christin Mercer swiped the ball from Charlotte’s Ny Hammonds and junior G Jaterra Bonds got fouled on a shot attempt.

At the line with a chance to go ahead by a point with 20 seconds remaining, Bonds made the first free throw but missed the second. Suddenly, senior F Jennifer George swooped in for the rebound and head coach Amanda Butler called a 30-second timeout with 15.6 seconds remaining.

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FOUR BITS: softball, tennis, baseball, basketball

1 » No. 4 Florida Gators softball (23-1) continued its stellar start to the 2013 season by upending the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (22-1) on Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, AL. Florida handed Alabama its first loss of the season in the non-conference showdown (the game was scheduled outside of league play) by scoring six runs in the final two innings to turn a 4-2 deficit into an 8-4 victory. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (11-1, 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R [2 ER], 3 BB, 5 K) threw well but was victimized by a pair of untimely errors before leaving the contest. Sophomore RHP Lauren Haeger (1.0 IP, 2 BB, 4 K) replaced her in relief and ensured that the Gators maintained the advantage they gained early in the top of the seventh. A two-RBI double by freshman pinch hitter Taylore Fuller (1/2, 2 RBI) put Florida ahead in the seventh. Haeger (2/3, RBI, R, BB), senior right fielder Kelsey Horton (2/4, RBI, R) and junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft (2/4, RBI, R) each knocked in runs for the Gators.

2 » No. 5 Florida women’s tennis (8-2) bounced back from its tough loss on Sunday with a 4-0 sweep of the No. 16 Florida State Seminoles (8-3) on Wednesday in Tallahassee, FL. The Gators debuted some new doubles pairings in the contest after struggling to win the doubles point in recent matches. The switch worked out for Florida on Wednesday as it took the doubles point before running through singles action as No. 11 junior Sofie Oyen earned a 6-0, 6-1 victory, No. 1 Lauren Embree picked up a 6-1, 6-1 win, and No. 53 junior Alex Cercone took her match 6-4, 6-3. UF improved to 53-1 all-time against FSU, according to the school.

3 » Gators baseball (7-7) has fought hard over the last four games to get its record back to .500 after losing six-straight games from Feb. 20 to March 1. In a home-and-home series against the Jacksonville Dolphins (4-9) on Tuesday and Wednesday, Florida came from behind twice to pick up a pair of victories. On Tuesday, the Gators trailed 5-4 heading into the top of the seventh but scored four runs over the final three innings to pick up the 8-5 victory in Jacksonville, FL. Back at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, Florida rallied to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth including a walk-off RBI single by sophomore PH Connor Mitchell (1/1, RBI) that brought home senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (3/4, 2 R, BB), who was intentionally walked earlier in the wild frame. UF looks to extend its four-game winning streak this weekend when it hosts Indiana for a three-game series from Friday-Sunday.

4 » Nine-seed Gators women’s basketball (18-13) delivered in the first round of the 2013 SEC Tournament on Thursday, taking down the eight-seed Arkansas Razorbacks (18-12) to advance to the quarterfinals against one-seed Tennessee on Friday at noon. Florida pulled off the 64-59 victory by going on a game-ending 10-2 run to erase a three-point deficit late in the contest. Junior guard Jaterra Bonds scored a game-high 17 points (12 in the second half) by hitting 10-of-12 free throws; she made just 3-of-10 field goals. Freshman G Sydney Moss also struggled from the field (3-of-11) but was just as solid from the line, draining 7-of-8 attempts to finish with 13 points.

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14 Gator Bites for Tuesday, February 19

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.

» Rather than doubling down on disappointment while stuck playing in the state North Carolina, No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (4-1) came from behind on Monday to pick up a huge victory over the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels (9-1) in Chapel Hill, NC. UNC, which took over for UF as the No. 1 team in the country last week, held a 2-0 advantage over its visitors after winning the doubles point and a singles match to start the contest. The Gators answered by rallying with four consecutive singles match victories to pick up the 4-2 win. First, junior Olivia Janowicz took down No. 79 Tessa Lyons 6-2, 6-1. Freshman Brianna Morgan then picked up a 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 122 Lauren McHale, leaving the match in the hands of Florida’s two best players. No. 4 senior Lauren Embree came through in the clutch once again with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 victory against No. 7 Gina Suarez-Malaguti, and No. 9 junior Sofie Oyen fought hard on court two to defeat No. 30 Zoe De Bruycker 3-6, 6-1, 6-3. UF’s loss on Sunday at No. 4 Duke was its first in over a year’s time. By taking down the Tar Heels on Monday, the Gators avoided falling in consecutive matches for the first time in three years.

» Former Florida guard Matt Walsh, who signed a deal with Spirou Charleroi of Belgium in August 2012, told OGGOA on Monday that his contract has been purchased by Brose Baskets of Bamberg, Germany. The three-time defending German champions play in the Euroleague and are hoping Walsh helps push them to a fourth-straight title.

» Despite multiple reports pointing to the contrary, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman on Friday said he has “no intent” of trading wide receiver Percy Harvin, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Harvin raised concerns about Minnesota’s offense (and how he was not utilized much) prior to the 2012 season and reportedly got into an explosive verbal argument with head coach Leslie Frazier during the season. While it does look like he and the Vikings will split ways, multiple players have come out in his defense and expressed their desire to see him return to the team. The latest to do so is quarterback Christian Ponder, who said he “obviously” wants Harvin to return because “he’s a tremendous player” and “a heck of a part of this offense and this team in general.” Ponder told KFAN in Minneapolis, MN that he and Harvin have a good relationship and “spent some extra time together” working on their on-field chemistry during the last offseason.

Read 11 more bites of Florida Gators news…after the break!
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Media honors Florida basketball in preseason

Three Florida Gators were selected by the media this week to represent the school on the Southeastern Conference’s preseason All-SEC teams.

In men’s basketball, senior guard Kenny Boynton was named to the First Team All-SEC and junior center Patric Young joined him with a spot on the Second Team All-SEC. On the women’s side, senior forward Jennifer George also earned a First Team All-SEC nod and was the only UF player to be honored.

Florida’s men’s program (five first-place votes) was picked to finish second in the entire league to Kentucky (17); the Wildcats (20) were also chosen to win the women’s title with the Gators finishing ninth in that poll.

One week ago, USA Today released its 2012-13 preseason coaches’ poll and placed Florida at No. 10 in the preliminary rankings.

Despite coming within minutes of the Final Four last season and returning a number of key starters, the Gators did not receive any first-place votes and were the second-highest SEC team ranked behind Kentucky (five first-place votes) at No. 3.

Indiana (21) checked in at No. 1 with Louisville (5), UK, Ohio State and Michigan rounding out the top five. North Carolina State, Kansas, Duke and Syracuse also check in ahead of Florida. Missouri (No. 17) is the only other ranked SEC team.

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Florida Gators at the 2012 London Olympics

The 2012 London Olympics concluded on Sunday with the Florida Gators bringing home 16 event medals including four gold, six silver and six bronze over the course of 19 days worth of action across the pond.

In an effort to highlight the Gators’ praiseworthy accomplishments while simultaneously recapping over two weeks worth of athletic action, OGGOA presents this wrap up of the presence that Florida’s athletes made at the Olympics. Below you will find facts, figures and highlights of what the Gators accomplished from July 25 through Aug. 12.

You can check out the Olympic results as they happened as well as the official Gator Nation vs. The World medal count and plenty of other information by checking out OGGOA’s Live Coverage of the 2012 London Olympics.

FACTS AND FIGURES

» If Gator Nation was its own country, it would have been ranked 17th overall in the final Olympic medal both in weighted and grand total calculations. The Gators won as many gold medals (four) as Jamaica and Czech Republic and captured one more than Spain, Brazil and South Africa (among others).

» Twelve Florida athletes won a grand total of 18 individual medals (16 event medals) for three countries. Fourteen of the 16 medals won were captured for the United States.

» 35.3 percent of the Gators that competed in the Olympics (12-of-34) won at least one medal. 50 percent (17-of-34) at least reached a final or competed for a medal.

» Ryan Lochte (swimming, United States) led the way with five medals including two golds (one shared in a relay with Conor Dwyer), two silvers and a bronze. Following Lochte with two each were Elizabeth Beisel (swimming, United States) and Will Claye (athletics, United States), who both brought home a silver and a bronze.

» Three other Florida athletes won gold including Christian Taylor (athletics, United States), Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts (football, United States). The rest of the medals included a silver each from Tony McQuay and Jeff Demps (athletics, United States) as well as a bronze each from Lisa Raymond (tennis, United States), Melanie Booth (football, Canada) and Novlene Williams-Mills (athletics, Jamaica).

» Beisel is the only current UF student-athlete that medaled in the Olympics. She will be entering her junior year in 2012.

» Seventeen countries were represented by Gators including the United States (11), Great Britain (6), Cayman Islands and Iceland (two each) and Australia, Barbados, Canada, Colombia, Haiti, Hungary, Jamaica, Poland, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Spain and Tunisia (one each). Florida athletes also competed in five sports categories including swimming (19), athletics (10), football (three), basketball and tennis (one each).

Read the rest of “Florida Gators at the 2012 London Olympics” after the break…

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Horford, Dominican Republic do not qualify

Three Florida Gators entered the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament on Monday hoping to earn the opportunity to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. By the time the event concluded on Sunday with the Dominican Republic falling 88-73 to Nigera for the third and final qualifying spot, none of the three saw their dreams realized.

Florida had the opportunity to see up to four players compete in the Olympics – center Joakim Noah (France), C Al Horford (Dominican Republic), point guard Nick Calathes (Greece) and redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario (Puerto Rico). Noah, whose team had already qualified for the games, was forced to withdraw from the event as he continues to nurse a severely sprained ankle suffered on May 4; the other three all lost their spots by falling in the tournament this week.

Greece’s run came to an end at the hands of Nigeria in an 80-79 stunner on Friday. Puerto Rico was also sent packing Friday as Lithuania took them down 76-72. The Dominican Republic had two chances to earn a berth but fell in both opportunities, losing 109-83 to Lithuania on Saturday and again to Nigeria on Sunday.

Horford dominated his team’s first two games of the tournament, registering 30 points (10-of-14) and 12 boards against Korea as well as 22 points (10-of-13) and nine rebounds against Russia. He was less overpowering in the final three games, scoring 14 points (5-of-17) and adding 15 rebounds in a victory over Macedonia, notching 12 points (4-of-14) and four boards in the loss to Lithuania, and leaving the court due to frustration with 15 seconds left after scoring just 12 points against Nigeria.

Center Azania Stewart of the Great Britain women’s basketball team will be the only Gators representative competing in the sport during the Olympics.

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FOUR BITS: Milton-Jones, James, Walker, MLB

1 » Former Florida Gators forward DeLisha Milton-Jones – a two-time WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA All-Star – became just the ninth player in league history to eclipse 5,000 career points after scoring seven in the Los Angeles Sparks 91-75 loss to Tulsa on Tuesday. Currently participating in her 14th WNBA season, Milton-Jones has spent most of her career with Los Angeles after coming out of Florida in 1999. She is a member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame and was also named the SEC Player of the Year in 1997.

2 » It was a tough decision for him to make but former Gators running back/returner Brandon James eventually decided to hang up his cleats a few months ago and become a high school football coach. James got the opportunity to serve as an assistant coach for St. Joseph’s High School in St. Augustine, FL when his former youth baseball coach Bernie Packo hired him to join his new staff on April 4. However, following an unforeseen change of events, Packo was fired just 22 days later and James was promoted to head coach by the school administration last Thursday. In an exclusive interview with me published as a feature story on InsidetheGators.com (which you can read for FREE by clicking here), James discussed his decision to turn in his helmet for a whistle and give back to the community that once did so much for him.

3 » The No. 6 player in the country according to Rivals.com and the top remaining target on Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s radar as it pertains to the 2013 recruiting class, five-star power forward Chris Walker had some positive things to say about the Gators when interviewed Tuesday about his recruitment. Walker told Rivals ($) that his top five as of right now is Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville but that one team stands out at this point in time. “I guess you could say that [the Gators] are in the driver’s seat,” he said when asked if UF leads for his services. “I’m still open of course and maybe a few visits could change my mind.” Though he listed a top five, Walker is believed by many to eventually choose Florida and Kansas as his final two schools.

4 » A pair of Gators juniors – left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson and shortstop Nolan Fontana – officially signed their MLB rookie contracts on Tuesday, forgoing their final season of collegiate eligibility to turn pro. The final selection in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox (No. 31 overall), Johnson signed a deal Tuesday worth more than $1.5 million. Fontana, the first pick in the second round of the draft (No. 61 overall), signed his contract with the Houston Astros and reportedly received a little more than his slot value of $875,000. Houston decided that he will report directly to Lexington (Class A), skipping all three short-season leagues that many rookies play in before joining the minors. WEEI Sportsradio out of Boston, MA also reports that Florida junior right-hander and third-round selection Austin Maddox is set to sign with the Red Sox for $350,000, which is $50,000 under his slot allotment of $400,000. It is unknown as of press time where Johnson and Maddox will begin their careers.

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FOUR BITS: Rainey, Butler, Tebow, Hernandez

1 » Now a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, running back Chris Rainey expressed on Tuesday how smooth the transition has been already to the NFL – and it is not because he has two former Florida Gators teammates and friends on the squad in center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Marcus Gilbert. “Well, this isn’t a new offense,” Rainey told WPXI in Pittsburgh, PA. “I’ve been in this offense at Florida because Charlie Weis and Coach [Todd] Haley coached together. It’s the same offense so it’s easy to me. It’s definitely an advantage. I can just go in here, see what it is and be like: I know this. I don’t even have to study. I’m right there. I’m ahead of everybody.” He is similarly not concerned about the speed of the NFL because of his five years in the Southeastern Conference. “I don’t think there’s a transition because I came from the SEC, so it’s basically the same thing the work wise,” Rainey told the station. “The hard work and all that kind of stuff [is the same]. Offense and everything [is the same], so I’m just out there doing my job.”

2 » Florida announced Wednesday that head women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler had her contract extended through the 2016-17 season after five years at the helm of the Gators. “I like the direction our program is headed,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a school release. “We know Amanda will be our coach for a long time. We’re excited about the future of the Gator women’s basketball program.” Butler is 98-67 in her five years at Florida, where she played as a guard from 1990-94 and served as an assistant coach from 1994-97.

3 » Panini America announced on May 31 that, as part of the company’s 2012 Prestige Football series, they will be including a 15-card insert devoted to now-New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. The cards will be released on June 20 and numbered to a maximum of 1,500; there will also be 15 special versions of the 15th card (featuring him in a Jets uniform) that are autographed by Tebow. Below are small previews put together by OGGOA of the fronts of the 15 cards (each back includes a paragraph on Tebow):

4 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was scheduled to attend one of his teammates’ and fellow Connecticuter’s youth football clinic on Sunday but was delayed and showed up late for the event. When he did arrive, however, Hernandez was peppered with questions by the kids in attendance (the first of which was about the Gators); he also signed “roughly 100 autographs and [took] nearly as many pictures,” according to the New Britain Herald, before ending his appearance. In unrelated team news, recently signed wide receiver Jabar Gaffney may not wind up on New England’s final roster if he cannot beat out fellow veterans Deion Branch and Donte’ Stallworth. The three are all competing likely for a pair of roster spots, which is strange for each of the players consider all three joined the league together when selected in the 2002 NFL Draft by different teams.

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