Thursday March 13, 2014 Missouri playing for its NCAA Tournament life vs. Gators
Updated: 6:14pm, March 13
Welcome to Carter's Corner!
Updated: 6:14pm, March 13
ATLANTA -- It's understandable why Missouri coach Frank Haith and Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy viewed Missouri's 91-83 win in double overtime here differently Thursday.
Haith's Tigers advanced to face the No. 1-ranked Gators on Friday (1 p.m./ESPNU) while the Aggies' were sent packing from the SEC Tournament.
Two huge differences jumped out immediately on the stat sheet: Missouri outrebounded Texas A&M 48-28, and the Tigers shot 53 free throws.
"I'm all for the new rules, but you've got to be kidding me,'' Kennedy said of Missouri's 53 trips to the line. "Their guys get into the lane and they make it hard for you. Your post guys have to rotate. Missouri is a dangerous team because they can score."
By the end of Thursday's loss, Kennedy had four players, including three starters, on the bench because they fouled out.
Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson is a player the Gators will keep a close eye on Friday.
Meanwhile, Haith was optimistic after his team spread the floor and drove to the basket when they had scoring lanes. That's the way the Tigers play when at their best like during a 10-game win streak to open the season.
"It was great to see. We spent a lot of time talking about that,'' Haith said. "I thought we were back on track offensively."
In Missouri's first meeting against Florida -- a 68-58 loss at the O'Dome on Feb. 4 -- the Tigers got it done for a while. The game was tied 12 times, the last at 45-45 with a little over nine minutes left.
Then Florida's defense clamped down.
Missouri led 28-25 at halftime before the Gators exploded for 43 second-half points. The Gators won behind their disruptive defense, four 3-pointers from Michael Frazier and 19 points from Scottie Wilbekin (13 of 16 free throws).
"If we continue to score, we could have made it interesting,'' Haith said Thursday. "We've got to have a 40-minute game plan against them. They are the best team in the country. We are the only team in the country that has this opportunity tomorrow, so we've got to look forward to it."
If concerned about needing two overtimes to knock off the Aggies, Haith wasn't going there. Asked how that might impact his team Friday, Haith used the well-worn "nobody is going to feel sorry for us."
He's right. The Gators are fresh off becoming the only SEC team in history to finish 18-0 in the conference and are chasing their first SEC Tournament title in seven years.
The biggest challenge the Tigers present is the guard trio of Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross. Brown scored 26 points Thursday, Ross scored 24 and Clarkson added 12.
If the Tigers are going to pull an upset and get off the NCAA bubble -- most project Missouri as one of the first teams out of the NCAA Tournament if they don't beat the Gators -- Brown, Clarkson and Ross will need to produce points.
"That's why Missouri is a tough out,'' Kennedy said. "They've got three guys who can get you 20 any time."
Ross is the only senior in Missouri's starting lineup. He had a miserable game in Gainesville, shooting 1-for-8 with four points and two turnovers.
He wants to make the NCAA Tournament his final season and understands how a win over the nation's No. 1 team would provide a huge push in the right direction.
"I think we gave everything we had in the first half [in our first meeting],'' Ross said. "In the second half we came out a little slower than normal, but for us to be able to get a second chance at them in the SEC Tournament, at a neutral site, is a good chance for us to showcase what we do."
Added Brown: "Everybody is playing for their lives,'' he said.
Record: 22-10, 9-9 SEC regular season
Player to watch: Junior G Jabari Brown, a first-team All-SEC selection. Brown averaged 19.7 points and 4.5 rebounds and failed to score in double-figures just once all season -- a 72-45 loss at Tennessee in the regular-season finale Saturday.
Worth noting: Brown, G Jordan Clarkson (18.1) and G Earnest Ross (13.5) are the nation's second-leading trio behind VMI's QJ Peterson (19.4), D.J. Covington (18.7) and Rodney Glasgow (18.4).
History: Missouri has won 20 or more games for six consecutive seasons, a school record.
Updated: 4:35pm, March 10
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – March Madness has arrived.
The No. 1-ranked Gators head to Atlanta later this week for the SEC Tournament and will learn their NCAA Tournament destination on Sunday night.
The Gators capped a memorable regular season with Saturday’s 84-65 win over Kentucky, becoming the first SEC team in history to go 18-0 on SEC play.
Let’s take at some of the buzz generated by Billy Donovan’s team and other stories of interest to Florida fans:
--The New York Times paid a visit to the O’Connell Center on Saturday for Florida’s historic win over Kentucky. Click here for a story by Tom Spousta.
--Tampa Tribune columnist Martin Fennelly asks ‘Why not the Gators?’
--Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi is probably not a popular person on Kentucky message boards after writing this column on Billy Donovan off Florida’s win over the Wildcats on Saturday.
--John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader writes that Kentucky is on wrong side of history as postseason beckons.
--Florida seniors Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete were featured in Sports Illustrated last week. SI writer Andy Staples wrote a longer version for SI.com than appeared in the magazine.
--Gators icon Steve Spurrier is no fan of columnist Ron Morris of The State newspaper in South Carolina, but Morris is a fan of the Gators basketball team.
--Florida’s four seniors have sparked a lot of debate this year in college basketball about the importance of experience over hyped youth. Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy throws out an interesting question: In a game pitting the top freshmen against the top seniors this season, which team would you go with?
--Gators freshman point guard Kasey Hill played like a veteran Saturday writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.
--GatorCountry.com writer Richard Johnson braved the cool night to camp with the Rowdy Reptiles prior to Saturday’s game.
--ESPN.com’s college basketball writers hand out some awards, with Gators coach Billy Donovan getting tabbed as National Coach of the Year by more than one panelist.
--The NCAA Tournament schedule via ESPN.com.
--How does Gators vs. Wright State in first round in Orlando sound? That is latest forecast from Bracketology with Joe Lunardi.
--Gators cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III doesn’t need to be pushed to be motivated writes Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com.
--UF spring predictions: Whole new attitude via Jeff Barlis of ESPN.com.
--The Sporting News looks at its top 25 players to watch in spring football and two Gators make the grade.
--Former UF standout Joakim Noah continues to play the best of his career – had dad approved of Sunday’s win over the Bulls writes K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune.
--The Florida baseball team pulled off three extra-inning wins over UConn and CollegeBaseballCentral.com’s Josh Vadeboncoeur steps up with a series review.
--AlligatorArmy.com’s Andy Hutchins writes about the UF gymnastics team’s memorable Senior Night on Friday at the O’Dome.
--Five months ago a couple of former Gators – Walter Pitchford and Cody Larson – squared off in a preseason scrimmage. Pitchford moved a step closer to an NCAA Tourney bid with the Huskers’ win over Wisconsin Sunday.
--Speaking of Larson, his South Dakota State team that beat Nebraska in that scrimmage is also knocking at the NCAA Tournament’s door.
--Former North Carolina coach Dean Smith’s memory has faded and ESPN.com writer Tommy Tomlinson captures the mood around Chapel Hill masterfully. This is definitely worth a read if you like good storytelling.
Updated: 10:47am, March 7
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In his four seasons with the Gators baseball team, Mike Stanley came through time and time again in one of the program’s most distinguished careers.
Stanley is back in town this weekend to be inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame.
A three-time All-SEC selection, Stanley is one of just six players in school history to accomplish that feat. Stanley’s versatility and his bat set him apart.
He also made the All-SEC Tournament three times: at three different positions – catcher, third base and first base.
Stanley did all this while battling various nagging injuries during his college career.
“You want to talk about a fighter, a guy who plays in pain and gives it everything he has every time he steps on the field, you’re talking about Mike,’’ former Gators assistant coach Dusty Rhodes once said. “He’s the kind of player others follow.”
Florida State coach Mike Martin was even a fan of Stanley’s no-nonsense approach to the game and his obvious talent.
“When he’s on he can dominate a game with his bat,’’ Martin told the Gainesville Sun in 1985. “Stanley’s the kind of player a successful team needs.”
Stanley was also known for as one of the Gators’ most superstitious players.
“I’m the absolute worst,” he once said.
Stanley would hang is uniform in his locker the same way every day. He would swing his bat the same number of times before each trip to the plate. Each time he got a hit, he would put in a fresh chew.
Stanley hit .350 in 217 career games at UF with 45 doubles, 22 home runs and 153 RBIs. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1985 and spent 15 years in the major leagues, the longest professional career of any UF player in history.
Stanley’s reputation as a gamer followed him into the big leagues, where he had some of his best seasons in the limelight of New York. As starting catcher for the Yankees (photo above is Stanley and late Yankees great Joe DiMaggio in 1994), Stanley won an American League Silver Slugger Award in 1993 and was named an American League All-Star in 1995.
One of Stanley’s most memorable moments came early in his career when he was with Texas and caught the final of Nolan Ryan’s record seven no-hitters. He also shined in an ALDS game for Boston against Cleveland in 1999, becoming just the fourth player in major league history to get five hits in a postseason game.
Stanley retired in 2000 after playing in 1,467 games in the majors with five different organizations.
Former Red Sox manager Joe Kerrigan, who once hired Stanley as Boston’s bench coach, had this to say: “He’s a man that comes with a lot of respect and integrity not only as a player but a person.”
They said the same thing about Stanley during his time at UF, where he returns to join the Gators Athletics Hall of Fame.
It’s always interesting to hear about what former Gators no longer in the spotlight are doing these days.
I got an email recently with an update on former Gators linebacker Todd McCullough.
A quick glance at McCullough’s Instagram page tells you he probably doesn’t order a cheeseburger and fries very often.
The 6-foot-5 McCullough has been a fitness fanatic for years and played in 41 games – starting 18 – at UF from 2001-2005. McCullough spent time in Europe playing professionally after his UF career ended.
McCullough grew up in Baker County and was an all-state linebacker at The Bolles School in Jacksonville prior to coming to UF.
McCullough now lives in Southern California and is the proprietor of TMAC Fitness.
There was a 20-minute total body workout attached in the email. You can see what McCullough is up to for yourself – and get a workout in, too:
The O'Connell Center will be rocking when the Gators host Kentucky on Saturday in regular-season finale.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Hey folks, here are some Gator-related links for your perusal to start the day:
--Saturday's Florida-Kentucky game is a hot ticket writes Garry Smits of the Florida Times-Union.
--Gators guard Michael Frazier's breakout game was a long time in making writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.
--CBSSports.com ponders Billy D's legacy among the greatest coaches in college hoops history.
--New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's contract (3-year deal, $590,000 annually) was released to the media Wednesday writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Gator fans hope this ESPN poll turns out to be correct in predicting the biggest turnaround teams in 2014.
--ICYMI, Muschamp recently told the Orlando Sentinel that an indoor practice facility is not a pressing need.
--The No. 1-ranked Gators softball team is 22-0 and now atop espnW.com writer Graham Hays' power rankings.
--Former Gator tight end A.C. Leonard, whose off-field issues led to his departure from UF, has resurfaced as an intriguing NFL prospect writes Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union.
--A look at the groundbreaking deal between the Walt Disney Company and DISH Network that should interest SEC Network fans, via The Wall Street Journal.
Updated: 4:03pm, February 27
Freshman Logan Shore is one of the young pitchers Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan will rely on this season.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – They were competitive in the first two games of last weekend’s series at Miami, but all the Gators had to show for it was two L’s.
Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan wasn’t interested in a third.
“We told the players before the game, ‘the mark of a gritty team is to get out with a win, no matter how we do it,’ ” O’Sullivan said.
Three hours and seven pitchers later, the Gators had a W.
O’Sullivan wore sunglasses and a grin underneath the warm afternoon sun at Alex Rodriguez Park as he talked to reporters following Florida’s 6-4 win Sunday.
“You don’t want to put too much stock in any one game,’’ he said. “But it’s a good win. There’s a lot of things to build on.”
The Gators (5-3) will try to do exactly that over the next four days in a round-robin tournament at McKethan Stadium. The event marks the first regular-season home tournament for the Gators since O’Sullivan took over the program in 2008.
The Gators host Florida Gulf Coast and Illinois. Each team will play one another twice. The Gators face FGCU on Thursday and Saturday, and Illinois on Friday and Sunday.
Florida’s rotation during the four-game stretch is right-hander Logan Shore on Thursday, lefty Bobby Poyner on Friday, right-hander Karsten Whitson on Saturday, and lefty A.J. Puk is tabbed to make his first career start on Sunday. Puk got the first win of his career Sunday at Miami.
The Gators responded to O’Sullivan’s pregame challenge by scoring four runs in the first inning Sunday against the Hurricanes.
Making his second start since missing all of last season due to shoulder issues, Whitson allowed three hits and two runs in three innings. He walked one and struck out one, throwing 54 pitches.
“I felt pretty good,’’ said Whitson, a freshman All-American in 2011. “I think every time I’m able to get out on the mound, I feel a little more comfortable. I’m saying I felt better than I did last week, and this is a big win for us. The big thing is I have to command my fastball, first and foremost.”
In his first start of the season, Whitson threw 48 pitches over two innings in Florida’s 8-5 win over Maryland on Feb. 16.
O’Sullivan saw progress.
“He was OK,” O’Sullivan said. “His stuff was better. He’s still got to find the strike zone a little more. But as we said before the season, this is a work in progress. It’s been almost two years since he’s been out there. So we’ll continue to run him out there, and he’ll get better each time out.
“Obviously he needs to be good for us to be good, and he will. But to expect him to come out and throw seven shutout innings his second start after missing almost two years is unrealistic.”
Once Whitson was finished Sunday, Puk, Shore, Kirby Snead, Ryan Harris, Danny Young and Eric Hanhold all took turns on the mound.
Snead threw only two pitches to record an out, and Harris’ 31 pitches were the most by any of the relievers.
O’Sullivan said it was important to get the pitchers work early in the season.
“Our depth is our strength,’’ he said. “We’re young. We’re not nearly a finished product yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I do like the fight we showed. Hopefully we look back down the road and say that’s what got us going.”
The Gators should know more about themselves after four games in four days.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Seven months ago former Gators All-American safety Matt Elam inked a four-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens that included a $3.3 million signing bonus, plenty of money to clear the shoe department at a sporting goods store.
A first-round pick, Elam returned to UF in January after his rookie season to continue working toward his degree.
However, Elam is doing more than going to school. He is working at a Finish Line store in the Oaks Mall.
BaltimoreRavens.com writer Garrett Downing caught up with Elam. You can read his story here.
Elam -- with former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn (left) and UF secondary coach Travaris Robinson (right) in photo -- said he has wanted to own a sporting good store since he was a kid and saw this as an opportunity to gain some valuable experience while back in Gainesville taking classes.
He works at the store as a part-time sales associate and puts in about 20 hours per week.
“I just need to get retail knowledge,” Elam said. “That’s basically what I’m doing. I’m getting that knowledge for when it’s time. Everybody was surprised when I started. They were like, ‘Why? You got enough money.’ But it’s not about the money. It’s just me building.”
To read more about Elam and his quest for a better future, you can click here to read a story from GatorZone.com prior to his senior season.
Updated: 12:24pm, February 25
Jadeveon Clowney talks about combine and impact Gators assistant Brad Lawing had on college career.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney did what many suspected he might do at the NFL Combine on Monday: Clowney stole the show.
Clowney weighed in at 266 pounds and then posted an official time of 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Not too shabby for a human wrecking ball.
On Sunday Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel’s best unofficial time was 4.56 seconds, and was later adjusted to an official 4.68. Manziel weighed in at 207 pounds, 59 less than the 6-foot-5 Clowney.
A two-time member of the first-team All-SEC squad, Clowney is considered a candidate to go No. 1 overall in the draft to the Houston Texans. If he does, Clowney would become the first player to be ranked the No. 1 overall player coming out of high school to go first overall in the NFL Draft.
During his stop in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, Clowney spoke to NFL.com about Lawing’s impact on his development.In Clowney’s first two seasons at South Carolina – as a sophomore in 2012 he finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting behind winner Manziel – his position coach was current Gators defensive line coach Brad Lawing (photo).
“He was on me so hard my first two years before he left,’’ Clowney said. “So hard, I would say, 'Coach, why are you always on me so hard?' He'd say 'I get on guys that (aren't) doing anything. Do you want to be great?' I'd say 'You know I want to be great.' He'd say, 'Well I'm here to help you be great, but I've got to push you.' "
As the draft approaches, Clowney has faced criticism from skeptics who have questioned if Clowney prepares as hard as he should off the field.
Clowney said that was never a question when Lawing was around.
“When he left, going into that next [junior] season, I was like, 'Well, Coach Lawing is gone. I've got nobody to push me now.' So I pushed myself to be great,’’ Clowney said. “I had to learn to push myself for the first time. When he was there, I hated him for it, but when he left, I missed it. And I appreciate every bit of it."
Updated: 5:21pm, February 24
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – An hour before the doors of the O’Connell Center opened Friday night, a line snaked from the front entrance and down the sidewalk along Gale Lemerand Drive.
It was Florida’s annual “Link to Pink” meet to benefit breast cancer awareness. The first 2,000 fans received free T-shirts, always an extra incentive to arrive early.
But after the initial rush of fans, a steady stream continued to pour into the O’Dome for Florida’s victory over SEC rival LSU. The announced crowd of 9,197 was the fifth-largest in school history.
“It was everything we were looking for,’’ Gators head coach Rhonda Faehn said. “It was an incredible crowd, first of all. Our athletes just feed off that. Our fans are unbelievable week in and week out.”
They certainly have been this season.
The defending national-champion Gators are averaging 8,148 fans per home meet. They have drawn 32,594 fans total in four meets at the O’Dome. The last chance for fans to catch the Gators at home is on March 7 when UF hosts West Virginia on Senior Night.
How big of a draw has Faehn’s program become? Consider that if no one shows up on Senior Night – repeat, no one -- UF will still set the school record for average season attendance (6,518).
The current record of 6,455 was set in 1989.
Sophomore Bridget Sloan made it a point to give the fans a shout out after Friday’s victory over LSU.
“We were competing for them. We won for them,’’ Sloan said. “It’s awesome to not only compete for Florida, but to compete for a cause. The fans were outstanding.”
A look at what the Gators’ 2014 average attendance will be "if more than zero" people show up on Senior Night:
Updated: 4:38pm, February 24
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida men's swimming-and-diving team won its first back-to-back SEC championships in 21 years on Saturday.
The Gators snapped Auburn's 16-year grip on the title in 2013, and led by three-time individual champion Sebastien Rousseau's performance, repeated as champions for the first time since 1993. The Gators won four in a row from 1990-93 before Auburn snapped their streak 1994.
The Florida men's program now has 35 SEC titles, second of any men's program in the SEC behind only Kentucky's 45 titles in basketball.
And before leaving the Gabrielsen Natatorium on the University of Georgia's campus, the Gators made a final splash to celebrate the victory.
We'll let these photos tell the story:
Senior Brad deBorde, center, celebrates the victory after a team dip in the pool ...
Speaking of that dip in the pool, the Gators brought their own inflatable gator to the party ...
Rousseau, winner of the men's Commissioner's Trophy, does a TV interview afterward ...
Last, but definitely not least, 61-year-old Gators diving coach Donnie Craine shows his boys how to celebrate with a big dive of his own. He needed no assistance getting out of the pool. Craine is a gamer.
The UF women's tennis team improved to 7-1 with a sweep of rival Florida State on Tuesday.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No one has to tell folks at the USTA that Gators women's tennis coach Roland Thornqvist has a good thing going over at the courts off SW 2nd Ave.
The Gators won back-to-back national titles in 2011 and 2012 and are consistently near the top of the polls. The fifth-ranked Gators knocked off rival Florida State 7-0 in a dual-match Tuesday afternoon.
The next time the Gators play at Scott Linder Stadium, the USTA will be there, too. So can you. If not in person, you can watch live on ESPN3.com.
As part of its 22-match, 18-campus tour, the USTA's "College MatchDay" will be at UF on Feb. 28 when the Gators host Texas A&M at 5 p.m.
The show is college tennis' version of ESPN's "College GameDay."
According to the USTA press release, "College MatchDay" is a weekly series featuring the best programs, coaches and players the college game has to offer.
In addition to the matches being carried live on ESPN3, the traveling event features a 53-foot interactive fan experience trailer on site where fans can engage in several activities before and during the match.
"We hope that 'College MatchDay' can change the landscape of viewing college tennis both in person and at home,'' said Virgil Christian, the USTA's director of collegiate tennis, in the press release.
This season's series started when the FSU men hosted Oklahoma on Feb. 7 and runs through April 13 when Illinois hosts Nebraska.
The event features a unique schedule compared to regular-season dual meets. The six singles matches will be played first, best-of-three tiebreak sets, with each singles match worth one point toward the team total (four points are required to win the match).
Once a team reaches four points and clinches, the remaining matches will not be completed. In the case of a 3-3 tie after the singles matches, three doubles matches – played using 10-point super tiebreakers – will be used to determine the winner in what amounts to college tennis’ version of overtime.
The team that wins two of the three doubles matches wins the team match.
The Gators travel to California this weekend where they face Saint Mary’s on Saturday and No. 3 Stanford on Sunday.
And then it's back home, where "College MatchDay" awaits.
Senior Elizabeth Beisel looks to add to her seven career SEC individual titles this week in Athens, Ga.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The school record books are dotted by names familiar far beyond the UF campus.
Tracy Caulkins ring a bell? What about Nicole Haislett or Dara Torres?
Who hasn't heard of Ryan Lochte the past couple of years? You know, the guy with that short-lived TV show and his own vocabulary.
There are others to make a splash for the Gators swimming and diving program and then go onto greater success.
Two current Gators have a chance to join some of the names above this week at the SEC Championships at the University of Georgia: seniors Elizabeth Beisel and Marcin Cieslak.
Already a two-time member of the U.S. Olympic Team, Beisel has been front and center for the Gators since she stepped onto campus in the summer of 2010 from North Kingstown, R.I.
Beisel has won seven SEC individual titles during her All-American career, including the 400 individual medley and 200 back in each of the past three years.
Beisel's seven league titles are currently tied for eighth in school history. However, if she can add three more wins this week -- a three-event individual limit was put in place in 1992 -- Beisel would become only the second UF women's swimmer to win 10 conference crowns since the rule was imposed.
Haislett won all 12 of her events at the SEC Championships from 1991-94.
Haislett's 12 titles are tied with Caulkins and Kathy Treible for the most in school history.
Beisel's personal quest starts this evening when she competes in the 200 IM. She helped the Gators get off to a good start on Tuesday, teaming with Ellese Zalewski, Lindsey McKnight and Sinead Russell for a third-place finish in the 800 free relay.
Meanwhile, Cieslak is also scheduled to compete in the 200 IM final today. The 2012 SEC champion in the 200 IM, Cieslak has six individual league titles in his career.
Cieslak was part of the Gators' 200-medley relay team that set a school record on Tuesday to claim the title on the first day of the five-day event at Georgia's Gabrielsen Natatorium.
A 2012 member of the Polish Olympic Team, Cieslak is scheduled to compete in the 200 IM, 100 fly and 200 fly this week in Athens. If Cieslak wins his three individual events, he would become UF's most accomplished men's swimmer at the SEC Championships.
The threesome of Tom Dioguardi (1965-67), Martin Zubero (1988-91) and Lochte (2003-06) each won eight individual crowns.
Cieslak looked good to Gators coach Gregg Troy on Tuesday in the 200-medley relay.
"Marcin Cieslak and Brad deBorde kind of set the tone in that men's medley relay,'' Troy said. "They just refused to lose."
If Beisel and Cieslak deliver in their individual events, those school records will need rearranging.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Last Thursday, on the eve of the season opener, Gators baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan clearly stated the importance of redshirt junior Karsten Whitson to this year’s club.
“He needs to be good for us to be good,’’ O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan knows that if Whitson can come close to duplicating his freshman season in 2011 – he was 8-1 with a 2.40 ERA in 19 starts – Florida’s pitching staff has a certifiable ace.
On Sunday afternoon at McKethan Stadium Gator fans got their first glimpse of Whitson on the mound in more than 20 months. Whitson started Sunday’s 8-5 win against Maryland, his first outing since May 2012 in the SEC Tournament.
Whitson missed much of the 2012 season and all of 2013 with various injuries, including surgery to clean up his right shoulder.
In his first start of the season, Whitson threw 48 pitches (28 strikes) and got a no-decision. In two innings, Whitson allowed four hits, three runs, walked two, struck out two and threw a wild pitch.
He was clocked in the low 90s consistently and topped out at 93 on a second-inning fastball. While he appeared to have trouble locating his fastball, Whitson consistently threw strikes with his off-speed pitches.
“I thought he did a great job,’’ junior catcher Taylor Gushue said. “He threw a lot of strikes. He attacked the strike zone. There is nothing more that we can ask for him. We definitely supported him with the bats, so he didn’t have to worry about that. Overall, I’d say his first outing was a good one. I think he is going to come out stronger next time.”
All three of Maryland’s runs against Whitson came in his 30-pitch first inning. He walked leadoff batter Charlie White on five pitches, and then retired the next two batters – Brandon Lowe on a sacrifice bunt and LaMonte Wade on a pop up to third.
Whitson then got ahead of Terrapins cleanup hitter Kevin Martir 0-2 before leaving a ball out over the plate that Martir smacked into left field for an RBI single. Whitson threw a first-pitch strike to the next batter, Blake Schmit, before leaving another pitch up that Schmit drilled to left-center for an RBI double.
After a walk and another double, Whitson finally escaped the inning by getting Krysthian Leal to ground out to second for the final out.
“He was fine other than the 0-2 mistake,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He bounces a breaking ball there and he probably gets out of the inning and doesn’t give up any runs.”
Whitson came back with a much more efficient second inning, facing five batters and striking out two.
The Gators scored four runs in a long bottom of the second and O’Sullivan opted to turn the game over to reliever Eric Hanhold, who delivered three shutout innings.
“I wanted him to leave on a good note,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He was at 50 pitches. How much more is he going to go? I thought it was the right time. He left on a positive note. He had a clean second inning.”
While it wasn’t vintage Whitson, a classic power pitcher who can hit the mid-90s and mix in a nasty slider when at the top of his game, the comeback victory and taking two of three in the season-opening series made it an enjoyable day at the ballpark for the Gators.
Whitson’s next turn likely will come in a weekend series at Miami that starts Friday.
It will be another chance to prove that he can be the ace the Gators envision.
“I felt confidence from him,’’ Gushue said of Whitson’s pregame demeanor Sunday. “It helped me, too. I’m always happy to catch Karsten. It’s a good thing.”
You won’t hear O’Sullivan argue with that.
“In his defense, it’s been a lot time since he’s been out there,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He made a lot of stressful pitches in two innings. He was anxious to want to get out there. He threw the ball much better in the second inning.”
“We’re going to keep running him out there. He’ll figure this thing out.”
Updated: 3:17pm, February 17
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Information moves so quickly today that it can be difficult to keep track of all the news, notes and nuggets you see on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, websites, newspapers, magazines and other forms of media.
Here is a look at 20 Gator-related items from reliable sources that you might have missed:
--Former NFL and Gators standout Cris Collinsworth, NBC's "Sunday Night Football" analyst, is serving as an Olympic correspondent for the fourth time in his career during the Sochi Games. He would like to see a U.S.-Russia hockey rematch via DenverPost.com.
--Eight Gators have been invited to this week’s NFL Combine: tight end Trey Burton, center Jon Harrison, offensive lineman Jon Halapio, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, defensive back Jaylen Watkins and linebacker Ronald Powell. (NFL.com)
--Speaking of Easley, he is doing a NFL Draft Diary for FOXSports.com.
--Can you imagine if Bradley Beal, who would be a junior, was on this year’s Florida team? Beal had a memorable All-Star weekend via WashingtonPost.com.
--Gators senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin earned Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors Monday. No surprise considering his stellar play in road wins at Tennessee and Kentucky:
--Former Gators head coach Ron Zook is returning to coaching after a year away as assistant special teams coach with the Green Bay Packers. “I didn’t have to think about it at all,’’ Zook told BeloitDailyNews.com at Lambeau Field.
--Gators defensive back Cody Riggs, who is transferring after he graduates in May and will have one year of eligibility remaining, has shown interest in attending Notre Dame. The interest is mutual according to SouthBendTribune.com.
--The career of Florida offensive lineman Octavius Jackson was derailed by shoulder woes via MoultrieObserver.com.
--Former UF fullback/safety Rhaheim Ledbetter landed at Southern University after transferring at the end of last season. More details from ShelbyStar.com.
--Another former Gator, offensive lineman Quinteze Williams, has enrolled at Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College. The Blue Dragons featured ex-Gator and Auburn player Mike Blakely last season.
--Gators signee Moral Stephens, a tight end from Taylor County High in Perry, Fla., played in the International Bowl for Team USA and impressed teammate Grant Watanabe, a linebacker who signed with Colorado, via USAFootball.com.
--Gators signee Thomas Holley impressed Florida coach Will Muschamp with his basketball skills writes Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun.
--Stephens and Holley don't report to UF until the summer, but when they do, they'll have their own locker in this place:
--Florida’s win at Kentucky on Saturday showcased why experience still matters in college basketball writes John Clay of KentuckySports.com.
--Former Gator Joakim Noah likes to play defense, even in the NBA All-Star Game via ChicagoSunTimes.com.
--Seattle catcher Mike Zunino seeks to contribute offensively in the majors like he did with the Gators via MLB.com.
--Gators pitcher Keenan Kish pitched well when healthy (1.72 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 47 innings) in his three seasons, but his career is apparently over:
#Gators RHP Keenan Kish needs Tommy John surgery, has decided to end his baseball career. Will stay with the team as a student assistant.— Cody Jones (@CJonesScout) February 16, 2014
--A good nugget from Gators freshman Chris Walker’s debut Feb. 4 against Missouri. Walker, who wears No. 23, scored his first basket on a dunk that tied the score 23-all.
--Gators softball pitcher Hannah Rogers won the 100th game of her career on Friday with an 11-1 victory over Hawaii. Rogers is only the second UF pitcher to reach 100 wins, joining former All-American Stacey Nelson, who was 136-36 in her career from 2006-09.
--Gators senior distance runner Cory McGee spent Saturday in New York competing in the Wanamaker Mile, one of track and field's most iconic races. McGee finished 12th in race won by Mary Cain, a 17-year-old phenom and latest American sensation in the mile. More from RunnersWorld.com.
BLAST FROM PAST
The Gators moved up to No. 2 in the latest polls Monday and have won two national titles under head coach Billy Donovan.
Once upon a time Sports Illustrated wrote about the promise of the Sunshine State's men's basketball programs, but the story didn't exactly play out like the 1981 article forecast.
Titled "Four On The Floor In Florida," distinguished basketball journalist Jack McCallum -- his 2012 book "Dream Team" is a New York Times bestseller -- made the trek to Florida to write about the Gators, Seminoles, Bulls and Dolphins.
Miami had disbanded its basketball program at the time and Jacksonville's trip to the Final Four a decade earlier still carried a lot of weight nationally.
Anyway, the article talks about the shiny new O'Connell Center and Sun Dome, and offers other insights that might prompt you to smile considering the way everything played out.
Updated: 7:09am, February 14
Gators senior Cory McGee will run indoors Saturday in the historic Wanamaker Mile in New York.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Wanamaker Mile is an event that transcends the track and field community.
For more than 90 years the race was held at Madison Square Garden as part of the Millrose Games. The location has changed but the Wanamaker remains a staple on the New York City sports calendar.
On Saturday afternoon at the 168th Street Armory in Upper Manhattan, with a live national TV audience watching on the NBC Sports Network, Gators senior distance runner Cory McGee will fulfill another dream in her distinguished career.
McGee is running in the Wanamaker.
"Still being in college, I definitely feel like I have something to prove,'' McGee said Thursday afternoon after her Florida History class ended. "You want to run fast and you want to win. It's going to be set up for it to be fast, and it's also so iconic that everybody going for the win. You get both of those pressures."
McGee is no stranger to the Millrose Games, an annual track and field festival in New York that began in 1908.
During her prep career in Pass Christian, Miss., McGee competed in the high-school mile at the Millrose Games four consecutive years. She finished third the first three years before winning as a senior in 2010.
McGee was enthralled by the event's energy, the world-class competition and the passion of the fans at Madison Square Garden.
When an invitation arrived to compete in the Wanamaker Mile this year, she said yes quicker than she could lace up her running shoes.
"Any chance to run in the Millrose Games I'm going to take because it's my absolute favorite indoor meet," McGee said. "Winning that my senior year of high school is probably my favorite race in all of high school."
McGee is Florida's record-holder in the 1,500 meters and was the bronze medalist at last summer's USA Outdoor Championships. She is one of 13 runners scheduled to compete in the women's Wanamaker on Saturday, including last year's runner-up, 17-year-old sensation Mary Cain.
Cain recently turned pro and trains under marathon legend Alberto Salazar. She is the American high-school record holder in the mile and a celebrity in the track and field world.
McGee expects Cain to set the pace on Saturday in a field that is a mix of professional and amateur runners.
"She will be the favorite I think,'' McGee said. "She has put down the fastest marks so far this season. She was one of the other 1,500 runners I was with over the summer with Team USA. It's really impressive what she has done in the sport so far."
Cain finished last year's event in 4 minutes, 28.25 seconds, second to winner Shelia Reid (4:27.02) by little more than a second.
McGee, whose best time in the indoor mile is 4:32.10, trained rigorously over the Christmas break and said she feels stronger than she has ever felt. Her training routine was thrown two weeks ago when she got sick and couldn't run for a couple of days.
When she resumed training, McGee tweaked her hamstring. She felt back to full speed on Wednesday during a strenuous workout and is confident she can put up a good time on Saturday.
"The last week has been recovery and I haven't been able to hit it as hard as I usually would,'' she said. "But I feel perfectly fine. I feel like everything is back on track, just a little bump in the road."
While the Gators' distance runners are in Seattle this weekend at the Husky Classic, McGee opted to head east.
She is a stranger to the Wanamaker, but not the excitement that surrounds the event and the Millrose Games.
"My whole class [in high school] would get together and watch it,'' she said. "It's kind of like a similar feeling. I've always loved the Millrose Games so much. It just feels like I'm supposed to go there."
Updated: 8:27am, February 13
Eric Banks finished 10th in last year's SunTrust Gator Invitational for Florida's top individual performance.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The UF men's golf team needs a kick-start.
At the Sea Best Invitational last week at TPC Sawgrass, Gators coach Buddy Alexander hoped a visit from former pupil Billy Horschel, a rising star on the PGA Tour, might turn the Gators in the right direction.
Horschel spoke to the players, walked the course during the Gators' round one day -- Horschel lives in Ponte Vedra where the tournament was held -- and had dinner with the team.
The Gators finished sixth out of 16 teams. They had their moments, but Alexander wants more from his young team when it hosts the SunTrust Gator Invitation this weekend.
"Whatever upside they have, they need to come up with it pretty quickly,'' he said. "We're halfway through the season. We've had one pretty good tournament, and the other four, frankly, haven't been particularly good."
The Gators want the old cliché "there's no place like home" to ring true Saturday and Sunday at Mark Bostick Golf Course.
Florida has hosted the Gator Invitational annually since 1978. They have dominated the event over the years, winning 25 of 36 tournaments.
However, for only the third time over that stretch, the Gators failed to win in back-to-back years. Auburn won in 2012 and Florida State took the crown a year ago as Florida's two top players -- T.J. Vogel and Tyler McCumber -- dealt with flu-like symptoms and were off their games.
Vogel and McCumber are now playing professionally and if the Gators are to reclaim their own tournament, the junior trio of Santiago Gavino, J.D. Tomlinson and Eric Banks needs to play well.
The Gators won their own tournament eight consecutive seasons before Auburn snapped that streak two years ago.
They are ready to start a new streak.
"It would be a good starting point to get a little momentum going,'' Banks said. "Obviously on our home course, we feel comfortable here. It would definitely be nice to get back on that train."
Florida's best performance of the season came in October when it finished tied for third at the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate.
While success has eluded them for much of the season, Gavino knows success in the Gator Invitational. In the final round of the 2013 tournament, Gavino shot a 3-under par 67, the best round of his career.
He finished tied for 12th. Banks shot a final-round 68 to finish 10th and Tomlinson finished tied for 17th, highlighted by an opening-round 69.
"It's good for us to play at home and get a little confidence going, and get it going for the postseason,'' Gavino said. "It should be to our advantage."
Tomlinson grew up in Gainesville and will have several family and friends in the gallery. He wants to make it worth their time.
"I personally have never won this tournament,'' Tomlinson said. "It would be really cool to finally bring it back here. It's the only home tournament we have. You kind of want to show out the one time a year you are able to."
"We have kind of a leg up [playing at home], and we have something to prove."
The Gators finished fourth a year go, 19 shots off FSU's pace.
Alexander hasn't seen a major theme in Florida's inconsistent season. He attributes much of it to youth and learning the game.
"Somebody asked me in August what my expectations were this year, and I told them my expectations were we would have plenty of diaper rash,'' he said. "We are really young.
"We've had some growing pains. They haven't turned the corner; they haven't quite grasped what we're trying to get them to understand about playing golf. But at home, maybe we'll have a better chance to do that."
Updated: 10:17am, February 7
Gators' signee Treon Harris discusses his decision to sign with Gators over FSU.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The hype and hoopla of National Signing Day have quieted.
The recruiting websites have already turned their attention to the Class of 2015 and beyond.
Some coach somewhere is contemplating if he should offer that seventh-grader he just saw on YouTube a scholarship. Hey, free publicity.
But before closing the book on NSD 2014, let's take a look at some of the headlines covering the Gators' latest batch of players.
In fact, I'm dedicated this blog post to Florida head coach Will "I don't really follow the Internet much" Muschamp.
Coach, every one of these links is from, well, the Internet:
--Despite 2013 woes, Gators land a strong recruiting class writes Phillip Heilman of The Palm Beach Post.
--Recruits sold on UF brand writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
--Florida sees Roper Effect on recruiting trail writes Zach Abolverdi.
--Players in the 2014 class will get an opportunity to play early writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.
--Mapping the 2014 Gators class from Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com.
--Gators land a top-10 class despite an eight-loss season writes David Jones of Florida Today.
--Quarterback Treon Harris' flip from Florida State to Florida was one of the Gators' big wins Wednesday writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Gators' optimistic after adding strong class of skill players writes Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union.
--ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough ranks the SEC recruiting classes.
--ESPN.com's Jeff Barlis grades the Gators' 2014 signing class.
--Florida signs another top-10 class as reported by the AP's Mark Long via Yahoo.com.
--A look at Florida's class and ranking from Scout.com.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Seattle-Denver Super Bowl was on my TV screen Sunday night, but on my Twitter timeline, you might have thought a Gators game was going on.
A Gators game circa 2008.
Seemed every time I checked out Twitter I saw references to Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin or a #Gators hashtag.
As you probably know unless you dozed off around 7, Tebow had one of the night’s biggest commercials and Harvin had one of the night’s biggest performances.
In addition, former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn unleased his “Legion of Boom” defense on Peyton Manning and the Broncos never had a chance.
What you might not know is that Harvin and Quinn were not the only UF connections to the Seahawks.
Seattle’s official mascot, Blitz, is actually UF graduate Ryan Asdourian, who I wrote about last month.
Also, former Gators defensive back Marquand Manuel, who spent time at UF in the fall of 2011 studying under Quinn and Gators head coach Will Muschamp, is a defensive assistant with Seattle.
In fact, Manuel is the only Seahawks coach or player remaining with ties to Seattle’s Super Bowl team in 2005 writes Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com.
Finally, Seattle’s head athletic trainer is Donald Rich, who did his undergraduate work at UF and was promoted to head trainer in June 2012.
So, if you are a Seahawks fan, you had a good night with some Gator-flavored highlights.
For some fresh links about the Florida connections to Super Bowl XLVIII, check these out:
--Quinn talks about how he would have probably accepted Cleveland's head-coaching job if the Seahawks hadn't made a Super Bowl run.
--Harvin showed why Seahawks traded for him writes The Seattle Times.
--Harvin finally delivered on Seattle's huge investment writes The New York Times.
--Harvin kept his word, delivered with a big Super Bowl writes The Sporting News.
--Tebow's T-Mobile ad wins raves writes The New York Post.
His football career is in limbo, but former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow's marketing power remains high.
This is a new T-Mobile ad featuring Tebow to be shown during Sunday's Super Bowl and is a lot different than his Super Bowl commercial four years ago.
It was unveiled this morning on Tebow's appearance on "Good Morning America."
It's worth a watch. Tebow shows off his funny side.
Updated: 3:54pm, January 28
Former Gators All-American Percy Harvin and Seahawks teammate Richard Sherman in 'The Sessions.'
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – During his three seasons at Florida, Percy Harvin helped the Gators win two national championships and was never boring. You never knew what might happen when he touched the football.
Minnesota fans can relate. Harvin was named NFL Rookie of the Year in 2009 and spent his first four seasons with the Vikings. However, supporters of the Seattle Seahawks have yet to fully experience the Harvin Effect.
Harvin said Tuesday at Super Bowl Media Day that he will play Sunday and try to make an impact when the Seahawks and Broncos meet in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“Absolutely. I’m ready to go,’’ Harvin told reporters. “This is what I live for. I’m used to playing in big games since I was younger, whether it was in Pop Warner or the two with the Gators.”
Harvin was traded to Seattle for a three draft picks (first-, third- and seventh-round) and signed a six-year contract in the offseason worth $67 million.
So far in return, Seattle has received only two appearances from Harvin – one regular-season game and a playoff game.
Harvin (photo, right) underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip during training camp and was limited to one catch in the regular season. He did return a kickoff 58 yards in the November game between Seattle and his former team but was sidelined once again.
When he finally returned in the divisional playoff game against New Orleans, Harvin caught three passes but had to leave the game due to a concussion. He missed Seattle’s win over San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll plans to have Harvin on the field Sunday.
“He’s in,’’ Carroll told reporters. “He had another great day [of practice Monday] and a great week last week. He’s part of the game plan.”
Harvin is one of only three Gators to be named NFL Rookie of the Year, joining Emmitt Smith and Jevon Kearse. He finished his career at UF with nearly as many rushing yards (1,668) as yards receiving (1,804).
If Harvin is healthy, he could give Denver’s defense problems in the passing and running game.
“The challenge for me is just to go out there and do what I normally do,’’ Harvin said. “I’m just going to go out there and play the game I know how to play. I’m tremendously confident in what I’m going to do. I definitely think I can be a factor in this game.”
In Seattle’s win over New Orleans, Harvin played 19 snaps before being injured late in the second quarter. He finished with three catches for 21 yards and had a nine-yard run.
Harvin helped Florida defeat Ohio State in the 2006 BCS National Championships Game and Oklahoma for the 2008 title.
As the Seahawks left town to fly to New Jersey over the weekend, Harvin was reminded of the stage.
“On the whole way to the airport, which is about a 30-minute ride from our facility, every highway fans were going crazy,’’ Harvin said. “This experience is unbelievable. This is what I live for. This is what anybody that plays in the NFL lives for, to play in this one game.
“This is one game for it all.”
And maybe the game Seattle fans will experience the Harvin Effect.