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Thursday March 5, 2015 SEC Tournament scenarios for Gators

Updated: 10:17am, March 6

Billy GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With Saturday's showdown at No. 1 and unbeaten Kentucky looming, Florida fans have been asking where Coach Billy Donovan and his Gators will stand after the game relative to their seeding in the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Nashville next week.

We're here to help.

If the Gators, currently 8-9 in league play and assured of playing in Thursday's quarterfinals, were to upset the mighty Wildcats at Rupp Arena, the No. 7 seed in the tournament would be theirs.

Arkansas, according to the league office, was locked into the No. 2 seed even before it won Thursday night at South Carolina, so we can lay out the eight scenarios that would impact where Florida -- vying with Vanderbilt (also 8-9 in SEC play), along with Alabama and Tennessee (both 7-10) for that No. 7 seed -- falls in the event of a loss Saturday.

In the other Saturday games that impact the Gators:

* Vanderbilt (18-12) plays host to Ole Miss (20-10, 11-6)

* Alabama (17-13) is at Texas A&M (20-9, 11-6)

* Tennessee (15-14) is home against South Carolina (14-14, 5-11)

Note: For those wondering, the No. 7s and No. 10 positions will fall opposite of top-seeded Kentucky in the tournament bracket. So, yes, it matters.

Here are the scenarios, all of them factoring in head-to-head tiebreakers, combination tiebreakers or a match of results against the teams at the top of the standings.

If Vanderbilt wins, Alabama wins, Tennessee wins ...
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 
If Vanderbilt wins, Alabama wins, Tennessee loses ...
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 
If Vanderbilt wins, Alabama loses, Tennessee wins ...
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Tennessee
10. Alabama
 
If Vanderbilt loses, Alabama wins, Tennessee wins ...
7. Florida
8. Vanderbilt
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 
If Vanderbilt wins, Alabama loses, Tennessee loses ...
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 
If Vanderbilt loses, Alabama loses, Tennessee wins ...
7. Florida
8. Vanderbilt
9. Tennessee
10. Alabama
 
If Vanderbilt loses, Alabama wins, Tennessee loses ...
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 
If Vanderbilt loses, Alabama loses, Tennessee loses ...
7. Florida
8. Vanderbilt
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 

Tuesday March 3, 2015 Jon Horford on opting out of UF Senior Night

Updated: 12:01pm, March 5

Horford dunking

Jon Horford dunks in Florida's victory over Tennessee at the O'Connell Center. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jake Kurtz and Lexx Edwards are the two players who will be honored on Tuesday’s “Senior Night” pre-game ceremony as Florida hosts Texas A&M in the home finale at the O'Connell Center.

But they’re not the only seniors on this 2014-15 UF team.

Center Jon Horford, who graduated from Michigan last year and transferred to Florida under the NCAA's instant-eligibility guidelines, declined to take part in the proceedings. In talking about the decision, Horford cited a simple reason.

“I just don’t like stuff like that,” he said. “When I was at Michigan, I told them if I would have come back I wouldn’t have done it there, either. I’m just not comfortable with stuff like that.”

His night, his call.

The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Horford has started all but three of the 27 games he’s played in for the Gators, averaging 6.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Some of Horford’s best minutes of his brief UF career have come the last three games, when he’s upped his averages to 8.6 points and 7.0 rebounds, while playing some very solid defense in the post. The Gators will need that Tuesday against an Aggies bunch that is very physical down low.

The Gators will need that Tuesday against an Aggies bunch that is very physical down low.

Coach Billy Donovan praised Horford’s commitment to preparation.

“I’m happy he’s had an opportunity to play and feel like he’s gotten better and  improved. There was a lot for him to learn in terms of going from one system to another,” Donovan said. “I always admired his work ethic. He’s a guy that eats right every single meal. He’s going to get his rest. He’s going to go to bed early. He’s going to take care of himself. He’s going to be the first guy to show up every day. He’s going to be the last guy to leave. He’s going to put time, energy and effort in there. He’s got a phenomenal work ethic, as good as any work ethic I’ve ever been around.”

Though Horford was late to the party with this team, transferring in for Summer-B session last June, he put in the time and effort to try and become a good teammate and elder leader.

And he’ll be there to give a hand to Kurtz and Edwards, a pair of walk-ons, as they are saluted by the home crowd.

“I hope they are celebrated and that people appreciate everything they’ve given to the program,” Horford said. “It’s easy to overlook players sometimes who don’t have all the accolades, but to have good teams you need to have good scout teams and good walk-on players.”

Sunday March 1, 2015 Looking Back: Billy Donovan's milestone timeline

Updated: 9:34am, March 2

Billy D is hired GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- His first basketball victory came nearly 21 years ago in his head-coaching debut at Marshall. Billy Donovan's 500th came Saturday night with a 66-49 defeat of Tennessee before an adoring crowd at the O'Connell Center.

I wasn’t at that first one back in Huntington, W.Va., more than two decades ago, but I was in the old Gator Room the day Jeremy Foley introduced Donovan, then 29 and with just two Southern Conference seasons under his belt, as the University of Florida’s next coach. And eight months later I had a front-row seat for his first game -- and win -- on the Gators’ sidelines.

Here’s my story -- plucked from the Internet -- from that 80-63 defeat of Central Florida on Nov. 22, 1996. Below that snapshots of Donovan wins 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500.



UCF Turns Over Opener To Florida
The Gators Pressured The Knights Into Giving Up The Ball 37 Times And Cruised To An 80-63 Victory.

November 23, 1996

By Chris Harry
of The Orlando Sentinel Staff

GAINESVILLE — It rained turnovers at the O'Connell Center on Friday night, and the University of Central Florida Golden Knights were drenched in the storm.

The Florida Gators ushered in the frenetic Billy Donovan era by forcing a school-record 37 turnovers in waxing the mistake-prone Knights, 80-63, in front of an O-Dome season-opening crowd of 7,549.

Senior guard Greg Williams scored 20 points, freshman swingman Kenyan Weaks pitched in 18 and senior walk-on forward Joel Reinhart, from Cocoa Beach, nearly tripled his career-point total with 14.

Donovan made good in his debut on his promise to implement the same aggressive, full-court system that he learned as an assistant under Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. When the final horn sounded, UF had set a school record with 24 steals, including six each from Reinhart and sophomore forward Greg Stolt.

''I thought our press was the big factor in the game,'' said Donovan, whose team won despite 20 turnovers and 40 percent shooting. ''That was encouraging and positive.''

Added Williams: ''Speaking from the times we've played against Kentucky, you can get nervous (playing the press).

This year, I guess some teams are going to have to worry about us a little bit.''

The Gators (1-0) trailed, 15-13, four minutes into the game, when a post-up move by UF center Damen Maddox tied the score and tipped off an 8-minute, 24-2 scoring spree that blew open the game.

The Knights (0-1) had no answers for Florida’s full-court pressure or the shooting eye of Weaks, who poured in 15 points during the run and helped the Gators open a 37-17 cushion.

''Their system goes on good runs,'' said Knights coach Kirk Speraw, a former Gators assistant. ''When attacking them, you try not to make those runs happen.''

Couldn't do it.

''We'd prepared for their press all week. We just didn't get after it like they did,'' said senior guard Harry Kennedy, who led UCF with 20 points and hit 4 of 8 shots from 3-point range. ''But I'm proud that we didn't give up in the first half. We fought back.''

The Knights whittled the margin to 13 by halftime, and with a 10-3 run midway through the second half, cut the lead to eight, 60-52, and had the ball. However, a traveling call on freshman Cory Perry led to a 3-pointer by Williams, and it wasn't long before UF by 8 became UF by 15.

All told, four Gators finished in double figures, including Reinhart's 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting, 6 rebounds, 6 steals and 2 assists.

 

And now, here's a timeline (with game details) of Billy D's milestone other victories:


Billy D at Marshall The 1st
March 26, 1994
Huntington, W.Va.
Marshall 112, Bluefield College 67

At 28, Donovan was youngest Division I head coach in the country and his first game came against a Division III school 160 to the southeast of Huntington -- and about the same distance relative to talent. The debut of “Billyball” wowed the Henderson Center home crowd by throttling the outmanned Rams for 61 first-half points. “There’s a tendency when you get a lead like that for the second half to be showtime -- just making spectacular plays,” Donovan said that night. “But I thought, for the most part, we played unselfishly, made the extra pass and executed.” The Thundering Herd got 29 points from Doug Schieppe, who hit seven 3-pointers, and 21 points from Shawn Moore. The Herd attempted 33 shots from 3-point range, forced 36 turnovers and tallied 20 steals.  


Mike Miller The 100th
Feb. 2, 2000
Columbia, S.C.
Florida 86, South Carolina 82

Sixteen months earlier, Gamecocks coach Eddie Fogler publicly questioned Donovan’s recruiting tactics (and ethics) at SEC Media Days in Birmingham. The fallout was a firestorm of back-and-forth between the two schools, with Foley and Donovan on the defensive, and the league reprimanding both sides. Fogler’s insinuations turned out to be just that and Donovan exacted revenge the best way possible by pummeling the Gamecocks on the court. Win No. 100 was UF’s third straight over South Carolina and came courtesy of 22 points from guard Kenyan Weaks and 20 points from guard Teddy Dupay, the two of whom combined to bang nine of 14 shots from long distance. All five of Dupay’s 3-pointers gave UF leads after the Gators had fallen behind, not that Dupay knew. “I almost never look at the score during a game,” he said. Mike Miller (right) had nine points, eight rebounds and six assists. “The one thing you can say about Teddy and Kenyan and most shooters is, you make one or two early, you kind of get your rhythm going,” Donovan said. “Very rarely do you see people go from start to finish with that type of range.”



The 200th
Feb. 25, 2004
Gainesville, Fla.
Florida 69, South Carolina 58

Roberson Down by three inside of four minutes to go, the Gators (20-10, 9-7) scored the game’s final 14 points to run away from the Gamecocks and remain in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth and give Donovan his second three-digit milestone. More than 2 1/2 months after being ranked No. 1 in the nation -- and a week after forward Christian Drejer quit the team in midseason to sign a pro contract in Spain -- Florida was fighting for its postseason life and just trying to get to 10 wins in SEC play late in the season. "We've all got to participate in our own survival a little bit," Donovan said. "You've got to go grab the rope when you're out of the boat. That's not to say we're back in the boat yet." As was often the case during that the three-year run from 2003-05, the trio of guard Anthony Roberson (right), forward Matt Walsh and center David Lee did the heavy lifting. Roberson had 24 points and seven assists, Walsh 15 points and five rebounds, Lee 12 points and five rebounds.


SpeightsThe 300th
Nov. 17, 2007
Gainesville, Fla.
Florida 88, Rutgers 63

Four games into defending those back-to-back national championships with virtually an entirely different cast, the Gators got double-doubles from forwards Marreese Speights (left) and Dan Werner to help Donovan become “Mr. 300” and win a 23rd straight home game. Speights had 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Werner was good for 10 and 10. All five UF starters finished in double figures, with point guard Jai Lucas carding 15 points to go with five assists as the Gators improved to 4-0. "I feel very fortunate and blessed to be here at Florida, and still be able to be here," Donovan said. "When you look at those things, it's not really me and really I mean that. It doesn't happen without the University of Florida, without the administration and certainly without the players who played here. I really was fortunate to coach some really great kids."


The 400th
Nov. 28, 2011
Orlando
Florida 96, Stetson 70

Stetson Donovan surged past Kansas coach Bill Self to become the youngest active coach to hit 400 wins, accomplishing the feat at 46 years. Self hit the mark two years earlier at the age of 48. “It’s hard to believe,” Donovan said. “It’s certainly a reflection that time is moving on.” Freshman guard Bradley Beal had the second double-double of his career, scoring 22 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, blocking three shots and dishing three assists in a neutral-site game at Amway Center. Guard Erving Walker threw in 21 points and forward Will Yeguete (right) had his first career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds plus four steals. First-year Stetson coach Casey Alexander may have had the best line of the night. “Coming from a guy who’s won three, well, 400 seems as far away as you can get,” he said. “But he should be congratulated for his longevity, the way he’s done it and having these kinds of teams year after year after year.”  



The 500th
Feb. 28, 2015
Gainesville, Fla.
Florida 66, Tennessee 49

Rowdies Donovan, at 49, became the second-youngest coach -- behind only Bob Knight (48) -- in Division I history to reach the 500-victory milestone. At the end of what is looming as the program's first losing season in 17 years, the Gators put together their best wire-to-wire effort, in shooting nearly 70 percent in the first half, including 7-for-11 from 3-point range, to open an 18-point lead. Junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith returned from a three-game suspension for violation of team rules to score 20 points and grab 10 rebounds. As the game ended, the Rowdy Reptile section of the O'Dome serenaded their future Hall-of-Fame coach with chants of "BIL-LY D! BIL-LY D! BIL-LY D!" Afterward, Donovan was both appreciative and humbled. "You're only as good as the people around," he said. "I've been blessed." 

Doe shooting GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith has been reinstated to the Florida basketball team after serving a three-game suspension for violating team rules.

Finney-Smith, the team’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder, will be on the floor Saturday when the Gators (13-15, 6-9) take on Tennessee (14-13, 6-9) at the O’Connell Center, as Coach Billy Donovan goes for his 500th career victory.

“He’s taken care of all his responsibilities and everything we’ve asked him to do,” Donovan said. “I still feel like he needs to understand that when it comes to some of the choices he’s made there are other people affected by it. From my perspective, he’s got to earn back some trust from our team and show a higher level of commitment, especially being an older guy.”

The suspension for Finney-Smith, who's averaging 12.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, was the second of his career -- he sat out the first two regular-season games of the 2013-14 season, also -- and this time the Gators lost two of three games without him. The team also was minus leading scorer and top 3-point shooter Michael Frazier II, and UF’s offensive struggles reflected as much.

Florida shot just 35.9 percent from the floor, 25.7 from the 3-point line and averaged just 55 points in the absence of their two best players.

Finney-Smith’s return should help those numbers some.

“I apologize to my family, my coaches, my teammates and the university,” Finney-Smith said. “I made a mistake and I will learn from it. Hopefully, I can move on.”

Bruce Hornsby GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators have lost five of their last six games, are a game under .500 overall and down two games in Southeastern Conference play, and over the weekend lost a second game to LSU in the same season for the first time since Shaquille O’Neal roamed the paint back in 1991. 

So instead of investing a big chunk of notebook lead into the difficult state of the UF basketball program, how ‘bout a Billy Donovan item that has little to do with basketball but is interesting nonetheless?

If you watched Saturday’s 70-63 loss at Baton Rouge then you saw Tigers guard Keith Hornsby score 12 points. When LSU came to Gainesville last month, you may recall Hornsby hit a trio of 3-pointers on his way to 15 points in a 78-61 route.

And you may also know by now that Hornsby is the son of Bruce Hornsby (above), the Grammy Award-winning keyboardist whose multi-platinum song “The Way It Is” was one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, and who during the 1990s had stints playing keys for the The Grateful Dead.

Well, Hornsby (both the father and son) hail from Williamsburg, Va. Keith actually played on the same AAU team as UF forward Dorian Finney-Smith. In scouting and recruiting Finney-Smith, Donovan saw the young Hornsby play and knew he went to UNC-Ashville before transferring to LSU this season.

He also knew, of course, of Hornsby’s father and always appreciated how the old man stayed in the background.

“It was his son’s time. He just wanted to be a dad,” Donovan explained Sunday. “I admired someone as famous as him doing that.”

After young Hornsby lit up the Gators last month, Donovan put a call into his good friend, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who starred at the University of Virginia and had ties to the area known as Hampton Road. Donovan wanted Bruce Hornsby’s number. Carlisle had it.

Billy D placed the call.

“I just told him I thought his kid was playing well and that I really admired the kind of dad he was trying to be,” Donovan said. “We were talking basketball, but then he mentioned how he’d heard I was a fan of The Grateful Dead.”

Then things really got interesting.

Turns out the remaining members of The Dead (plus a few fill-ins) are playing three shows at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 3-5 to commemorate the band's 50th anniversary. Hornsby will be on keyboards for those shows.

He invited Donovan to be on stage.

Up there with Bill Walton, no doubt.

Unfortunately, Donovan’s 2015 summer was already booked solid with his commitment to USA Basketball. His U19 National Team will be in Greece for FIBA World Championships, schedule for June 27-July 5 in Crete, elimination and a nice private jet notwithstanding.

Bummer.

Bruce Hornsby presents The Grateful Dead at the group's induction into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Game in 1994.

 

 

MORE GRATEFUL DEAD

Grateful Dead Not only did Donovan thoroughly enjoy talking about his love for The Grateful Dead, but he liked telling the story of the first and only time he saw them perform live.

The year was 1989 and he was still kicking around in pro basketball. After a season with the Rapid City Thrillers of the International Basketball Association, Donovan got a call from his friend, Carlisle, with whom he’d shared a seat at the end of the New York Knicks' bench during the 1987-88 season.

Carlisle had previously played for the Boston Celtics alongside Walton. The Dead were performing at Madison Garden that night and Walton had worked his connections to get Carlisle to the show.

So Donovan, along with a friend, took a train from Washington, D.C. -- he was living there in advance of training camp with the Bullets -- and met Carlisle at the world’s most famous arena.

WALTON “How good are the tickets?” Donovan asked.

“We don’t have tickets,” Carlisle said.

Instead, Carlisle explained, they were instructed to go to the loading dock, knock on one of the Garden’s back doors and -- get this -- ask for “Ramrod.”

So knock, they did. When a rough-looking roadie answered, Carlisle said, “We’re looking for Ramrod.” The guy obliged with a scream.

Hey Ramrod!

Soon, a bandana-wearing Dead Head showed up.

“Hey guys!” Ramrod said. “Walton has you all set up.”

Seats on the stage awaited.

Ramrod, clearly, a good guy to know.


FORMER GATOR UPDATE  

Cody Not a game (or rarely a day) goes by without someone tweeting at me how much the miss Patric, Scottie, Casey and Will. Understandable. The appreciation for what that quartet of seniors achieved last season will only grow with time.

But some may not know -- or recall -- that there was a fifth member of that incomparable freshman class that showed up on campus in 2010.

Cody Larson, by way of Sioux City, S.D., toyed on the Florida bench for a couple years then transferred ti South Dakota State after his 2012 redshirt freshman season. Two years later, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Larson is averaging 13.9 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Jackrabbits, who have won 17 straight and stand at 20-8 and in first place in the Summit Conference with an 11-3 record.

On Saturday, Larson scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds after being honored on Senior Night for his final home game.

He missed a helluva senior run last year, but he’s done just fine; and may very well finish his career in the NCAA Tournament. Congrats!



CHARTING THE GATORS -- FASTEST TO 500 IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL HISTORY
Heading into Tuesday night's game at Missouri, Donovan sits on career win No. 499. If the Gators can defeat the Tigers, the UF icon will be the second-youngest coach in college basketball history to hit 500 Division I victories, behind only Bobby Knight. Check out where Billy D, with 35 wins at Marshall (1994-96) and 464 at Florida (1996-present), stacks up against the best of the best.


Young BD Coach                                        500th                Age
Bob Knight                                 1989                 48 (and 81 days)  
Billy Donovan                           2015                 49 (and ??? days)
Bill Self                                       2013                 50 (and 60 days)  
Mike Krzyzewski                        1998                 51 (and 15 days)
Dean Smith                                1983                 52 (and 278 days)
Jim Boeheim                              1997                 53 (and 57 days)
John Calipari                              2012                 53 (and 339 days)
Adolph Rupp                              1954                 53 (and 112 days)
Rick Pitino                                  2007                 54 (and 91 days)
Roy Williams                              2005                 55 (and 129 days)
John Wooden                            1969                  59 (and 61 days)




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FREE THROWS

Frazier is still not close to being cleared for practice. He's not even cleared to run on the court, in fact. The team is bracking for the possibility he may not return this season. ... Junior guard Eli Carter is three points shy of 1,000 for his college career. He came to UF by way of Rutgers, where he scored 799 in two seasons. ... The Gators, as of Monday, still checked in at No. 71 in RPI, thanks mostly to a strength-of-schedule that checks in as sixth-hardest in the nation. They still have games to play against No. 37 (Texas A&M) and No. 1 (Kentucky). ... Meanwhile, UF remains the nation's "unluckiest" team, according to those KenPom.com metrics, but the Gators' rating of minus-.152 is just two-hundredths of a point behind UNC-Greensboro (minus-.150).

Friday February 20, 2015 Charting the Gators - A look at UF home winning streaks

Updated: 1:34pm, February 20

Linder Stadium


CHARTING THE GATORS -- ACES ON THE HOME COURT

Roland Coach Roland Thornqvist and his UF women’s tennis team will put its run of 136 consecutive home match victories at Linder Stadium to the test this weekend, with visits from No. 15 Duke on Friday, then No. 10 Stanford on Sunday. It’s the second-longest such active streak among NCAA Division I programs -- in all sports, mind you -- behind the remarkable 200-match run by men’s tennis team at Ohio State. It’s also, not surprising, the longest in time (more than 11 years) of any Gators sport. How much longer than the others, you might ask? That's what we're here for.

Below are longest home streaks, by sports, of all Florida programs that such a record would be applicable.


PROGRAM                              HOME STREAK                     WHEN TO WHEN
Baseball                                          24 games                         April 24, 2010 to March 8, 2011
Basketball (women)                      21 games                          March 14, 1997 to Dec. 21, 1998
Basketball (men)                           33 games                          Nov. 11, 2012 to Nov. 17, 2014
Football                                          30 games                          Oct. 29, 1994 to Sept. 18, 1999
Gymnastics                                    39 meets                           Jan. 11, 1980 to Feb. 7, 1986
Lacrosse                                        28 games                          March 7, 2012 to May 17, 2014
Soccer                                           17 games                           Oct. 31, 1998 to Oct. 31, 1999
Softball                                           44 games                          April 27, 2007 to May 17, 2008
Swimming (men)                          20 duel meets                   Jan. 7, 2011 to present
Swimming (women)                     23 duel meets                   Jan. 20, 2006 to Nov. 8, 2008
Tennis (men)                                 44 matches                        Feb. 18, 1967 to May 17, 1969
Tennis (women)                           136 matches                      Jan. 27, 2005 to present     
Volleyball                                       58 matches                       Oct. 14, 1990 to Sept. 4, 1994    



Nike uniforms


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida basketball team hasn’t strayed from its standard uniform combinations in well over a year.

Nike is set to change that.

The Gators are one of eight college hoops programs Nike has tabbed to wear its specially crafted Hyper Elite Disruption uniforms for an upcoming rivalry game. Florida will don the sleek and unique look Feb. 28 when the Gators face Southeastern Conference foe Tennessee at the O’Connell Center.

The other team’s wearing HEDs will be the men’s teams from Kentucky, Duke, Syracuse, Arizona and Oregon, plus the women’s teams from Connecticut and Baylor.

Beal in platinum According to the Nike news release, “Each school’s home uniform will feature a white base with school-specific color lettering and a 26-degree speed graphic of an iconic symbol of each school across the side of the game short. The 26-degree angle of each school’s graphic was inspired by the chevron on the classic Nike Windrunner track jacket that debuted in 1978. Each graphic represents a distinctive basketball point of view, based on the roughly 1,000 directional changes, or "cuts" that a player might make in the course of a game.”

It's always kind of cool -- for the players and the fans -- when a team throws on a uniform combination.

In 2012, Nike rolled a line of Platinum Elite uniforms for teams with recent NCAA championships. The Gators were in that mix also -- and Tennessee was the opponent. That's Bradley Beal (right) wearing that version.

We'll soon see Kasey Hill and friends in the next.

Thursday February 19, 2015 Billy D talks Finney-Smith suspension

Updated: 3:25pm, February 19

Doe driving


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan prefaced his post-game remarks about the suspension of Dorian Finney-Smith by praising the affable “Doe-Doe” as a kid and for his willingness to be coached. Donovan then used the moment to brushstroke yet another snapshot of the bigger-picture issues within this struggling 2014-15 Florida basketball team.

“It’s a microcosm of this season within our team of what I would say is a lack of commitment and consistency with what really goes into winning,” Donovan said Wednesday night after the Gators, sans Finney-Smith, defeated Vanderbilt 50-47 to halt a four-game losing streak. “This, maybe, is something I have been battling all year long.”

The season began with sophomore center Chris Walker suspended for a couple games for rules violations. On the eve of the Southeastern Conference opener at South Carolina, senior center Jon Horford and walk-on guard Zach Hodskins were suspended and left behind, as Donovan cited conduct detrimental to the team. Now, Finney-Smith gets temporarily jettisoned in the home stretch as the Gators -- already with leading scorer Michael Frazier II out with an ankle injury -- try to avoid the program's first losing season in 17 years.

Donovan Donovan’s words weren't just meant to address his individual players’ poor decisions, but rather a team-wide approach with making sacrifices and doing the things that forge great chemistry and make a team, well, a team.

A good team.

The Gators, with five regular-season games left, are a 13-13 team heading to LSU this weekend. Finney-Smith will not make the trip. When he'll be reinstated is something Donovan said he would revisit next week.

“I’ve always loved the game and been committed to the game. It’s been easy,” Donovan said. “One of the questions that has gone through my mind this year is, ‘Can you force someone to be committed?’ Think about that. Commitment is one of the most difficult things in life; to commit your heart, soul, mind, body, everything into something, that is a really, really difficult thing to do. I believe that’s the only way you can be successful. Dorian’s decision represents a lack of commitment.”

Finney-Smith, banned from the team during his suspension, is paying for that lack of commitment. How much his teammates pay for his decision-making, that’s something that will play out soon enough.

For what it's worth, they're 1-0 since that decision. 

Doe-Doe finger roll GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators’ ride along the rocky road of adversity this season just hit another bump.

Junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith has been suspended indefinitely from the team for violating team rules and will miss Wednesday night’s Southeastern Conference home game against Vanderbilt and likely more games, according to Coach Billy Donovan.

Donovan said he would address the issue after the game between the Gators and Commodores 

This is the second time in Finney-Smith’s two seasons that he has been suspended. He started the 2013-14 regular season inactive before joining the Gators three games in and went on to be named SEC Sixth Man of the Year.  

Finney-Smith was the team’s No. 2 scorer at 12.9 points per game and leading rebounder at 5.8 per game. That means a UF offense that already was missing its scoring leader in Michael Frazier II -- the guard and wing forward suffered a sprained ankle Feb. 7 against Kentucky and missed the last two games (both one-point losses) -- is even further handicap. For context, after Frazier and Finney-Smith, the rest of the Gators are making a collective 25.3 percent from 3-point range.

Now, without the 6-foot-8 Finney-Smith, Florida will have to lean even more on the likes of 6-9 freshman forward Devin Robinson. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Robinson replaced Frazier in the starting lineup the last two games, but now he’ll have to provide minutes at both the small and power forward spots. And he'll have to rebound at a better clip than his SEC average of two per game.

It also means more minutes for 6-8 junior Alex Murphy, who’s averaging 4.7 points and only two rebounds in 16 minutes per game. Murphy, who could be in the starting lineup, figures to bounce around at all three frontcourt spots and the Gators also will play heavy a lot of their three-guard lineup of Kasey Hill, Eli Carter and freshman Chris Chiozza. 

Monday February 16, 2015 Basketball Notebook: Carter & Walker, free throws, Al Horford, etc.

Updated: 3:27pm, February 19

Eli Carter passing GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Truth be told, the Florida Gators likely get beaten by 15 if Eli Carter doesn’t break out of his shooting slump Saturday night at Texas A&M. As it turned out, Carter’s 22-point night (on 9-for-17 shooting, including four 3-pointers) sparked UF’s second-half rally that ended, nonetheless, in frustration with a 63-62 defeat.

“He totally kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win,” Coach Billy Donovan said afterward, but his words were not without caution.

Asked about the Carter’s productive night -- a career-high for the New Jersey junior, since transferring from Rutgers -- Donovan reminded those at his post-game news conference about the rut of his combo guard. Carter entered the game 36 percent from the floor and just 30.3 from the 3-point line for the seaosn. In his previous eight games, Carter was just 12-for-47 from long distance (25.5 percent).

“Not that he needs to shoot 50 percent [from the field] and 40 from 3, but if he can just be a consistent 35- or 36-percent shooter that would help,” Donovan said. “I know there are going to be some [bad] nights, I get that. But 3-for-12, 5-for-15 ... .”

Chris Walker A couple questions later, sophomore center Chris Walker came up.

Walker, the former McDonald’s All-American who's impact has been mostly negligible this season in averaging 5.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, came off the bench against the Aggies to go 5-for-5 from the floor and score 11 points to go with four blocked shots. In the final five minutes, he had six points, a blocked shot and his only rebound, an offensive stickback that gave UF its only lead of the game at the 1:47 mark.

Yes, his only rebound of the game.

Donovan provided tepid praise for Walker -- “He did some good things tonight” -- but mentioned that lack of rebounding. The UF staff remains hesitant to go all in with Walker on his defense (in addition to being out of position, he too often is exploited for easy baskets on inbound plays beneath the opponent’s basket), but to Walker’s credit he has put together back-to-back games where his length and ability to run the floor have shown up.

“When he gets his motor running and playing with energy and gets his athleticism into the game, he really helps us,” Donovan said. “But when he gets fatigued and he’s not really moving around, it becomes a challenge for us.”

With a 12-13 record and a roster full of inconsistency, that’s about as gushing as it’s going to get.

 

BREAKING DOWN BY HALVES

huddle In their 13 losses this season, the Gators have combined to outscore their opponents by two points in the first half, yet been trounced by a cumulative 63 points in the second half.

In Southeastern Conference play, the difference is even more pronounced.

UF is plus-40 in the first half against the league, yet minus-34 after intermission. Only five times this season have the Gators outscored their opponents in the second half; two of those were losses, including the one Saturday at College Station.

The Gators, indeed, made an inspired run at the Aggies late in the game, but their inability to keep A&M's front court from getting position in the low post and converting easy layups proved too much to overcome.

The discrepancy between the first- and second-half productivity speaks to the wild inconsistency -- up and down the roster; across the statistical sheets -- the team has shown throughout the season.

 

TRIVIA QUESTION

Florida will look to snap its four-game losing streak Wednesday night at home against Vanderbilt. The current tailspin already marks the longest since the 2007-08 season. When is the last time the Gators lost five in a row and who was the leading scorer on that team? Answer below in “Free Throws” section.

 

FORMER GATOR PROFILE   

Al Horford Using efficiency as a standard, maybe the East squad should have given Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford more minutes in Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.

Stacked against Oklahoma City point guard and game MVP Russell Westbrook’s 41 points, Horford’s digits may not overly impress. Horford, one of four Hawks on the East squad, finished with eight points, seven rebounds and two assists in just 14 minutes in his team's 163-158 defeat.

But Horford’s plus/minus ratio showed a plus-14, which was far and away the best of anyone on the East squad -- LeBron James had a team-high 30 points and was at plus-1 -- and second-best in the game to the West’s LaMarcus Aldridge (plus-17).

And, yes, we did have Horford in this space earlier in the season, but when you’re the only former Gator in the NBA All-Star Game, you deserve a repeat, right?

 

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CHARTING THE GATORS

That Florida does not have a guy who can go get a shot when the Gators need one (ala Scottie Wilbekin last year) is something that’s becoming obvious as the season plays out -- especially without Michael Frazier II roaming the 3-point line to stretch the defense. It's a big reason why the Gators rank last in free throws attempted (270) in SEC play and next-to-last in free throws made (133). Through 12 conference games, UF has attempted 46 fewer free throws than its opponents -- the Gators shot just seven at A&M -- and converted 51 fewer. Those add up over the long haul, especially with five of the last seven losses coming by seven points or less (and three of them by a single point).

Opponent                    Gators FTs     Opponent FTs        Difference in makes
@South Carolina           25-30                  23-27                        plus-2
Mississippi State              7-12                   8-13                         minus-1
Auburn                           12-18                  17-26                        minus-5
at Georgia                        8-14                  19-29                        minus-11
LSU                                12-17                  17-18                        minus-1
@Ole Miss                      15-24                  16-19                       plus-4
@Alabama                        7-9                      8-12                       minus-1
Arkansas                         17-25                    5-7                         plus-12
@Vanderbilt                    13-16                  29-42                       minus-16
Kentucky                           7-14                  21-22                       minus-14
Ole Miss                            6-9                   10-13                        minus-4
@Texas A&M                    4-7                    11-13                       minus-7

 

FREE THROWS

Frazier, out the last 2 1/2 games with an ankle injury suffered against Kentucky, still is 7-10 days away from returning to action, according to Donovan. That's tough. ... The up-and-down odyssey of freshman forward Devin Robinson showed up in a striking way last week. Forced back into the starting lineup due to Frazier's injury, Robinson had his finest game as a Gator in the loss to Ole Miss, scoring 14 points, grabbing a career-best seven rebounds and blocking three shots without a turnover. At A&M, again in the startling line, he had no points (0-for-4 from the floor, all 3-pointers) and one rebound in 21 minutes. ... Speaking of freshmen, guard Chris Chiozza has missed his last 10 shots from the 3-point line since hitting a big one in the second half in the win against Alabama.  ... Trivia answer: UF lost five straight to end the 1997-98 regular season, a run that coincided with point guard Jason Williams being dismissed from the team for violating team rules. And, yes, Williams was the team's leading scorer that year, averaging 17.1 points (plus nearly seven assists) in only 20 games. UF was 13-7 at the time Williams was booted and went 1-8 the rest of the way.

Tuesday February 10, 2015 Dante Fowler Jr. getting high mock draft marks

Updated: 9:52am, February 11

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The NFL draft is still weeks away, but the run-up buzz on defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., looks really good as far as the Florida Gators' beastly pass-rusher's chances of becoming the 14th player in school history to be selected in the top 10.

FOWLER The last UF product to be plucked in the first 10 selections was cornerback Joe Haden, who went to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 7 overall choice in 2010. 

One of the analysts below believes 6-foot-3, 260-pound Fowler, who had 8 1/2 of his career 14 1/2 sacks during his 2014 junior season, could go as high to as third over to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I'm sure Fowler would be fine with that.

Here's an overview of where the draft gurus see Fowler falling. 

> Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com (Jaguars, No. 3 overall)
“Fowler has an explosive burst and strong hands and plays with fanatical effort. He’ll be a great fit for Gus Bradley’s defense.”

> Dane Brugler, CBSSports.com (Redskins, No. 5 overall)
“With Brian Orakpo set to hit free agency, pass rusher will be high on the Redskins' wish list. Fowler projects best to the NFL as a stand-up edge rusher, using his relentless energy to be effective disrupting the pocket.”

> Pat Kirwan, CBSSports.com (Jets, No. 6 overall)
“The Jets have a ton of needs but without a quarterback at this spot it makes sense to get an OLB/pass rusher to get after Tom Brady.”

> Dan Kadar, SBNation.com (Falcons, No. 8 overall)
"By drafting Fowler, the Falcons would have a versatile, movable player up front on defense who gives great effort and will get into the backfield. Under Dan Quinn, the Falcons will need to figure out how to get pressure from the front four. They can do that with Fowler, a player who can work inside and outside, and even move to linebacker. If Fowler is gone, there are players who could slot in as traditional pass rushers."

> Matt Miller, Bleacher Report (Falcons, No. 8 overall)
"Dante Fowler is a legitimate top-10 pick, and his combination of athleticism and production makes him a worthy selection at No. 8 overall. He's the type of explosive athlete who can play with his hand in the dirt or standing up in a pass-rushing role. Quinn could see a lot of Cliff Avril in the former Florida Gator."

> Rob Rang, CBSSports.com (Falcons, No. 8 overall)
"The Falcons have the firepower on offense to compete, but lack difference-makers on the defensive front. New head coach Dan Quinn recruited and coached Fowler while serving as Florida's defensive coordinator before taking over the same duties for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. Fowler's versatility is his calling card. The 6-3, 260-pounder's unique combination of power, agility and tenacity earns him time at defensive end, linebacker and defensive tackle for the Gators."

> Jamie Newberg, Scout.com (Falcons, No. 8 overall)
"Did you see Fowler play in the Birmingham Bowl? He looked fantastic for the Florida defense. This is an athletic defensive end that has shown great versatility. I once saw him in a high school game play quarterback, running back, full back, tight end, wide receiver and all over the defensive front. Yeah, he’s pretty darn athletic and I think Atlanta would love him here."

> Peter Schrager, FOXSports.com (Vikings, No. 11 overall)
"The future is bright in Minnesota, as Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr both appeared to be home run selections in the first round a year ago. Mike Zimmer knows Chad Greenway can't play forever and defense will always be the top priority in the high-powered NFC North. Fowler's arguably the most versatile defensive player in this year's draft. He can line up either on the line with his hand in the ground or play middle or outside linebacker. He was on a horrid Florida squad, but still stood out. Consistent player who can join an already solid defense and make a difference."

Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN.com (Saints, No. 13 overall)
"The Saints aren't without talent on defense, but they were too often exposed in 2014 and took a major step backwards. Adding a pass-rusher of Fowler's pedigree outside the top 10 is a really good get, as I think he's a guy who comes in and competes for a ton of reps right away. Fowler isn't dominant in any one area; he's a good pass-rusher, not a great one, and an effective run defender, but not a destroyer in that area, either. But he also doesn't come in with a clear weakness. He has experience on either edge, can move inside as a 3-4 DE and is also is athletic enough to make plays in the pass rush and the set the edge as a 3-4 OLB. He's a fit almost anywhere and will bring a live motor."


> Todd McShay, ESPN.com (Saints, No. 13 overall)
“The Saints could consider Stanford left tackle Andrus Peat here and then move Terron Armstead inside, or they could fill their need at cornerback by drafting either of the top two prospects at the position, Washington's Marcus Peters or Michigan State's Trae Waynes. But Fowler has the versatility and relentlessness that Rob Ryan is looking for. He isn't an elite athlete but has good flexibility, violent hands and efficient counter moves as a pass-rusher, and he has experience playing multiple spots among the D-line, as well as outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.”

> Bucky Brooks, NFL.com (Saints, No. 13 overall)
Rob Ryan could tap into Fowler’s versatility as an edge rusher to help solve the Saints’ defensive woes.”

Frazier GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The ankle injury suffered by Michael Frazier II likely will keep the junior shooting guard out of the lineup Thursday when Florida (12-11, 5-5) takes on Ole Miss (16-7, 7-3) at the O’Connell Center.

Frazier suffered what Coach Billy Donovan called a high-ankle sprain in the first half of Saturday night’s home loss to No. 1 and unbeaten Kentucky. Though Frazier tried to play through the pain, Donovan thought his leading scorer was laboring too much and put him on the bench for good with about 12 minutes left in the game.

The plan for the week, Donovan said Monday, was to keep Frazier in a boot, maintain treatment on the injury and monitor the swelling, adding though that Frazier was “probably definitely out” for the game the next game.

“It’s really hard with these things because there is not a lot of swelling in a high-ankle sprain,” Donovan said. “How severe or how bad it is, we are really not quite sure yet, other than to see when we met with the trainer and doctor that it was really tender.”

Minus Frazier, who’s averaging 13.2 points per game and hitting nearly 45 percent of his 3-points shots in Southeastern Conference play, the Gators will turn to a combination of guard Chris Chiozza and forward Devin Robinson, both freshmen, to pick up Frazier’s minutes; maybe junior Alex Murphy, also. UF will have to get more scoring from junior guard Eli Carter, who is at just 28 percent from the 3-point line in league play.

It was less than three weeks ago that Frazier had his best game of the season in a 72-71 loss at Ole Miss, where he went 7-for-11 from the floor, bombed six of eight 3-point shots and hit all seven of his free throws to finish with 27 points, the second-highest point total of his UF career.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Outside the locker room after Saturday night’s 68-61 slugfest loss to top-ranked Kentucky, a trio of Florida players did their media duties moments after being taken to task by a head coach who, for the life of him, wasn’t able to wrap his arms around his team's unwillingness to bring emotion and passion to every game.

Eli shooting “If we can stay consistent and play with the energy we played tonight, we can be a lot better,” said junior guard Eli Carter (right). “We haven’t had it for the whole year. When we see it, it’s kind of shocking, honestly, how good we can do when we play unselfish and with a lot of energy and fighting for each other.”

That quote was put to Coach Billy Donovan a few minutes later.

He shook his head.

“That’s the disappointing part,” Donovan said, repeating a statement from earlier that it was the first time in UF’s 23 games this season he felt the team played to win the game.

Then came this zinger.

“The game tonight, in my opinion, was lost in October.”

By that, Donovan meant the self-absorbed approach players brought into their preseason practices, carried with them into the regular season and wallowed in during the tough times (especially between the lines) as the losses mounted.

Then ESPN College GameDay and Big Blue Nation came to town. Suddenly, a bunch of really big guys with those powerful letters -- “K-E-N-T-U-C-K-Y” -- emblazoned across the chest, were in front of them. Suddenly, the Gators found reason to get excited.  

So it took two-thirds of the season to get to this place; to find out how good this team could be, even after losing the services of leading scorer Michael Frazier to sprained ankle.

The Gators came into the season ranked No. 7. They were never that good; not even close.

But they also shouldn’t be 11 wins bad in the second week of February, either.

That, for Donovan, is the disappointing part.

“We’re here for a reason,” sophomore point guard Kasey Hill said. “It’s the University of Florida and [energy and passion] is what’s expected. That’s what the coaches expect. We just have to do it consistently.”


FRAZIER'S STATUS DAY TO DAY 

Frazier shooting The Gators (12-11, 5-5), with no game until Thursday's night home date against Ole Miss (16-7, 7-3), had Sunday off, so the status of Frazier (left) for the rest of the week was unclear heading into the week, with Donovan schedule to meet with the media Monday morning.

After starting the game red-hot with 10 first-half points on 3-for-4 shooting, Frazier rolled an ankle late in the first half. When he tried to go in the second half, he was limping and hobbling too much on defense, so Donovan shut him down for the night.

UF's leading scorer at 13.4 points per game, Frazier went into the weekend ranked third in Southeastern Conference play in 3-point shooting percentage and with his pair of makes took that figure up to .449. As far as Frazier is concerned, the best thing for the Gators is being on their first Thursday-Saturday quick turnaround in four weeks -- meaning no Tuesday night game for the first time since the second week of the league season -- so we'll see how he responds with some extra treatment courtesy of trainer David "Duke" Werner and his staff.

 

TRIVIA QUESTION

In Donovan's previous 20 seasons as a head coach (two at Marshall, 18 at UF), eight of his teams lost as many as the 11 games his the current team has. Which of those teams hit that 11th loss the earliest in the season? Answer below in "Free Throws" section.

 

CHARTING THE GATORS

With Saturday’s defeat, Florida fell to 2-11 all-time against No. 1-ranked teams, with all 11 of those defeats coming at the hands of Kentucky. Below is a list of those 11 losses and what happened to those Kentucky teams the rest of the year. [Note: Both wins versus No. 1s came in the NCAA Tournament, when the Gators defeated Duke in the 2000 Sweet 16 round and Ohio State in the 2007 national championship game]

Date                     Where              Result       UK Fallout
Dec. 14, 1950       Lexington         L 85-37      Wildcats not invited to NCAA Tourney
Feb. 8, 1954         Gainesville       L 97-55      25-0, but no NCAAs in year after infamous point-shaving scandal.
Jan. 31, 1959       Lexington         L 94-51       Lost to Louisville in NCAAs
Feb. 7, 1966         Lexington        L 85-75       Shocked by Texas Western in NCAA final
Jan. 7, 1978         Gainesville      L 86-67       Alligator Alley site of 1st of ’78 sweep en route to NCAA title.
Feb. 4, 1978         Lexington        L 88-61       Looked a lot like first game.
March 8, 1996     *New Orleans   L 100-76    Rick Pitino didn’t win SEC Tourney, but did win NCAA crown.
Feb. 7, 2012        Lexington         L 78-58      Eventual Elite 8 team routed from the outset.
March 4, 2012     Gainesville       L 74-59      Gators led in second half, but then Anthony Davis happened.
March 10, 2012   *Nashville          L 74-71     Thrilling semifinal game that went down to final minute
Feb. 7, 2014       Gainesville        L 68-61      What if Frazier had not been hurt?
* SEC Tournament


FORMER GATOR UPDATE  LOOKBACK

J-Will If the above chart got you down, this will perk you up. 

In light of yet another loss to No. 1 Kentucky, allow me to give you the next-closest thing to the Gators beating a top-ranked Wldcats squad. How ‘bout when the 1997-98 team went to Lexington 17 years ago and shocked the fourth-ranked Wildcats 86-78.

That UK went on to beat Utah in the NCAA title game.

What point guard Jason Williams (left) did to the Cats that day was positively numbing. He finished with 24 points, going 4-for-5 from 3-point range, to go with six rebounds, four assists and four steals, completely dominating the pace of the game. Guard Kenyan Weaks also had 24 points. Forward Brent Wright had 12 points and seven rebounds.

The below video is the YouTube version of the entire game (1 hour, 41 minutes, 25 seconds), called by Brent Musberger and Dick Vitale for ABC. You probably won’t watch the whole thing, but do yourself a favor and take in the first couple minutes -- or just go to the 5:45 mark or so and watch what Williams does early in the game and listen to how the broadcasting team "oohs" and "ahhs."

[Spoiler alert: Dickie V invokes a "Pistol Pete" reference]

Oh, and check out the young head coach on the sidelines. Billy D was just 32 at the time.

That ’98 Florida team was 12-7 when Williams was dismissed for violation of team rules, two games after this one From there, the Gators went 2-8 down the stretch, including a buzzer-beating home loss to Georgetown in the first round of the NIT.

 

 

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FREE THROWS

How cool was the glow-stick intro (below) before Saturday's game? Need to do that again. ... Really like the poise and production Chris Chiozza showed against the Wildcats. He went 3-for-5 from the floor, with his lone misses from 3-point range. He had four rebounds, three steals and held his own against the far more heralded freshman Tyler Ulis (who did not score, but did have five assists). If Chiozza can develop a 3-point shot this offseason, he’s going to be a really, really good player. ... The Gators outscored Kentucky (with its four guys 6-11 or taller) 32-22 in the paint. What? UF, though, did get roughed up 33-20 on the boards. ... That dreadful 15-0 start at Vanderbilt Tuesday was thoroughly frustrating. But remember (it’s not like UF’s coaches can forget), the Gators fell behind 12-0 out of the gate to both North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis and again in a loss at Georgia. ... Trivia answer: Donovan’s first team at UF, the '96-97 crew that went 13-17, lost No. 11 on Feb. 1. As for the rest: the '95-96 Marshall team that went 17-11 lost its 11th in the Southern Conference Tournament on March 2; the '97-98 team that went 14-15 lost No. 11 on Feb. 21; the '03-04 team that went 20-11 lost its 11th in the first round of NCAA play; the ’07-08 team that went 24-12 lost No. 11 on March 13 1 in the SEC Tournament; the '08-09 team that went 25-11 lost its 11th on on March 24 in the NIT; the ’09-10 team that went 21-13 lost No. 12 on March 12 in the SEC Tournament.

Jay Bilas GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The ESPN College GameDay trucks began rolling into town Thursday and Saturday morning the popular barnstorming basketball show will be parked on the O’Connell Center floor to commence hype of the day’s biggest games, capped by the 9 p.m. showdown between Florida and No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky.

Last Feb. 15, GameDay was at Rupp Arena to pump up a showdown between the No. 3 Gators and No. 14 Wildcats, a classic in which UF overcame a seven-point deficit late in the second half and stormed from behind for a 69-59 win that marked just the ninth road victory in 57 tries for UF in a series that dates to 1927.

It also was one of the flagship wins in a perfect 21-0 rampage through the Southeastern Conference, as Florida captured the league’s regular-season title (for the second straight year) and postseason tournament, along the way, becoming the first program in 35 years to defeat Kentucky three times in a season.

So, here come the Wildcats, 22-0 and armed with plenty of motivational ammo -- not to mention nine McDonald’s All-Americans and a roster with probably a half-dozen future first-round draft picks. Given the struggles of the 12-10 Gators, there would seem like sexier circumstances for GameDay to profile, right.

That and other topics relative to the Gators came up in a conversation I had with ESPN college basketball analyst and GameDay guy Jay Bilas, one of the sharpest and smartest in the business. Check out below what the former Duke standout, successful attorney and author of The New York Times best-seller Toughness had to say.



>>> What was the attraction for GameDay coming here in what is looking like a transition, rebuilding year for a Florida team that now must face the No. 1-ranked team in the country?

“We don’t go to a place for the scenario. Plus, what Florida considers struggling, other programs consider a pretty darn good year. The thing wasn’t set up based on what their record is right now. We’ve had so many great GameDays at Florida and so many around the Florida-Kentucky game, our people felt that was a no-brainer. It always delivers. It’s still Florida-Kentucky, no matter if they’ve lost a couple games.”


O'Dome>>> What do you think of the O’Connell Center and the UF basketball environment?

“I think it’s fabulous. It’s a different kind of place than your normal college basketball arena. It’s got a niche to it. It’s right next to the football stadium. You can walk in some parts and still smell the chlorine in the swimming pool. When you walk into the basketball arena, people are literally right on top of you. The press row opposite against the benches is pressed right up against the back of the student section. It’s crazy. I love it. I think it’s great.”


>>> When I saw you at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, you watched Florida and thought the team would be OK. It’s not OK. Billy would say they’re worlds from OK. What do you see going on with this team right now?

“They're not a complete team. They’ve got some areas they need to get better. In years past, they’ve had a post presence and an ability to throw it into the post and get the defense to react to it, whether they score or get fouled. And they’re having to do some creative things with their ability to put some pressure around the rim. And they don't have a rim protector. Having Patric Young last year? It wasn't like he was going to score making every post move, but he was certainly a threat to duck in, get low-post position and create some pressure there and get offensive rebounds, set screens, screen and roll and just put some pressure around the rim. They’re more of a pick-and-pop team this year, than screens. They don’t have a guy in the middle of the lane to clog things up. It's become easier to attack the rim when Florida is protecting its basket. Those things add up to more teams having a chance to beat them than last year -- or years past. There are less victories you can count on. There were certain games where Florida didn’t have to play their best to win and they would still win. There’s just not as much margin for error this year.


>>> So much was expected this season of point guard Kasey Hill and center Chris Walker, a couple McDonald’s All-Americans who played backup roles on last year’s Final Four team.

Chris Walker and Billy “It’s harder to project and gauge players in this day and age. With so many athletes where people are talking -- whether it’s Twitter or talk radio or the Internet or message boards, things like that. You wonder if the amount of discussion about it sometimes is lost on a player? On the other hand, you can become constantly distracted by it. At my age, I look at all that stuff as being like the refrigerator in the corner; it makes noise, but you don’t really hear it. I’m not sure players look at it that way. Guys are sensitive to things in the moment and stuff that floats away after five minutes can still sting. But at some point, you have to accept who you are. I’m a believer in what Bill Parcells said: ‘You are what your record says you are.’ Just because Kasey and Chris were projected to be something at a certain point and just because they haven’t met that expectation, it doesn’t mean they can’t still do it and become really, really good. But where you are right now -- being straight about it -- you have to be straight with yourself, yet understand where you are now doesn’t mean that’s where you have to remain. Both of those guys have the ability to get a lot better. ... You have to be willing to admit where you are, but also understand and remain positive about where you can be. It’s kind of like analytics. I think analytics are great. But if you look at all the analytics on Florida, they’ll tell you exactly what they’ve done, but they won’t tell you what they’re capable of doing.”


Kasey >>> Kasey Hill still has two-plus years to go. I remember two years ago when Casey Prather had two years ahead of him and no one could have expected what happened with his development. A lot of what they do here is about development and growing in the program.  

“And that’s exactly the way to look at it. Fans can do and say whatever they want. I have zero problem with that. That’s the business -- and it IS a business, too. We can sit and pretend, ‘They’re just kids going to school.’ They’re not. They’re pros. They get treated like pros in every way, except the way the NCAA punishes them. They’re going to be criticized like pros, take the same crap pros have to take. But pros get better too. These guys have a chance to get better. Your Prather example is perfect. Kasey is a good player, but he’s just not as good early as a lot of people thought he would. Chris is not ready. It doesn’t mean he can’t be really good.”

 
>>> Billy Donovan said after the loss to Vanderbilt Tuesday night in Nashville that this year’s team should really give people an appreciation for what last year’s team did in winning 30 in a row with no NBA players. In retrospect, what do you recall about that 2013-14 Florida team that was so good, probably the best team in the country most of the year, but could not finish the job at the Final Four against Connecticut?

Seniors “They lost to a hot team with great guards who were playing great. This is no news flash, but every other team lost to them in the tournament too. Kentucky and Michigan State, too. Last year was a perfect example of having an older team that had been knocked around and been through it. These guys haven’t been through it yet. Kasey Hill hasn’t been through a season where he’s the lead guard and now he and his team have had it handed to them a few times and now he they have to pick themselves off the deck and do something about it and go after it. Win or lose, you’ve got to play the next game. And those guys last year always got up and were prepared for the next game. Every time, really. This team hasn’t figured that out yet. Now, there may be a couple things where they’re not as skilled or technically proficient as some of those guys last year and last year’s team, but what made last year’s team so good wasn’t necessarily their level of skill, it was how tough they were collectively. They were a really tough defensive team. They moved the ball. They were difficult to guard. They took the right shots. This year’s team, the ball sticks [stops moving]. Oftentimes, they’re not making instinctive movements, they’re a little slower on the uptake on things and they’re easier to guard. When you don’t see the ball go through the net, it affects your defense sometimes. Billy is right. It’s like the old line from “The Godfather,” you know, “This is the business we’ve chosen.” Billy has done so well there and people think he just always will do well there, so when there’s some problems he’ll just wave a magic wand and figure out; everything will be fine. Sometimes you’ve got to let the guys take their lumps and they come back stronger because of it. It’s hard in the moment to have that perspective. Billy has it 24-7. Fans? It’s funny. Fans move on from wins really quickly, but they don’t move on from losses at all.”


>>> I heard you make a comment during last year that Billy may be the best coach in the country, adding that few look at him as the best coach in the country because he’s not out there promoting himself like some other coaches.

Billy D smiling “I remember the first time I did one of his games he was head coach at Marshall. I did a game between Delaware and Marshall. It was Mike Brey versus Billy Donovan and the game started at midnight. How ‘bout that? Huntington, West Virginia with two young, really good coaches at midnight. I was not worried about their careers, I was worried about mine. But he’s one of the best coaches not in basketball, but in any sport. Period. If you were to ask his peers, I think most of them -- if not the overwhelming majority -- would say that Billy is the best offensive coach out there. I think he is absolutely brilliant on the offensive end, and that’s not to say he’s not excellent on the defensive end. But offensively, there are very guys who you would even bring into the conversation with him. He is a Hall-of-Famer. If you put his credentials up against anyone who is in the Hall and anybody who will be going into the Hall, he is at the head of the class. He’s gone to multiple Final Fours over multiple years. His first was 2000, his last was last year and he had back-to-back national championships in the middle. It’s really an extraordinary record that very few coaches in the history of the game can match. As a person, well, you know him. You know him a lot better than I do. But he’s not a self-promoter. He has the ego of a winner, but the humility of a guy who’s a .500 coach. He knows he’s good. He knows that he knows how to do this at the highest level. He also has a regular-guy quality to him off the floor that is endearing, really. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s very kind to people in situations where not everybody in his position would bother with that. He’s very thoughtful. He thinks about things, but he’s also considerate of other people’s feelings -- and that’s not the norm, in my judgment. When I said that, I meant it. He’s not a self-promoter. There are nice blurbs about him in the press guide and press notes, but he’s not out there hocking books and speaking engagements. He’s the real deal. I think he’s very much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get guy. He’s not looking for accolades. He wants to do his job and enjoy his family and do right by his players. I’m just very impressed and respectful of that.”


>>> What does Florida have to do to be in the game against Kentucky? Give UF fans some hope.

“I am coming to the thought that Kentucky is not as invincible as we expected them to be at the beginning. They’re really good defensively. I don’t think the problem is how does Florida slow down Kentucky. The problem is how is Florida going to score? I think the team that beats Kentucky in the regular season -- and I still think it’s going to happen -- it’s going to be a team they don’t expect to beat them. They’re going to shoot the lights out, have a great game and Kentucky is not going to play well. I think Kentucky is going to come prepared for Florida because they’ve taken so many lumps from the Gators over the years. From the times we’ve had game day with Kentucky and Florida, I don’t think Kentucky has ever beaten them. Anywhere. The problem is none of the Kentucky players remember that. They’ve only been there two years. I think Kentucky will be prepared to play. It’s not a game that’s going to be 95-90. I think Kentucky can be slowed down. they’re not as good offensively as I expected them to be, but they have a lot of time to figure it out. I think they have to be better offensively to be expected to win the rest of them, but also to win the whole thing, which is what they really want.”

Sunday February 1, 2015 Basketball Notebook: Hill & Walker, Big 12/SEC Challenge, Casey Prather, etc.

Updated: 8:34am, February 2

Kasey Hill hanging in air GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Coach Billy Donovan is never shy about using a podium and microphone to call out a player. It’s never about trying to publicly embarrass a guy. In fact, whatever Donovan says about a player to the media is something he has said numerous times -- and more forcefully -- to that player behind closed doors, whether in the locker room or his office.

After Saturday’s 57-56 defeat of Arkansas, Donovan shot a couple arrows in the direction of his two sophomores, point guard Kasey Hill and center Chris Walker, who a couple years ago represented a two-man, top-five signing class, with players named to the McDonald’s All-America team.

Whether his remarks were attention-getters is something that’ll be up to each individual player.

In 29 minutes against the Razorbacks, Hill scored seven points, grabbed a career-high eight rebounds to go with a pair of assists and steals. In the post-game, though, Donovan pointed to Hill’s 4-for-8 numbers from the free-throw line. Two of those misses came with 1:42 to go and the Gators trying to protect a two-point lead.

That his floor general, the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of games, is shooting just 64 percent from the line for the season and 56 percent (14 of 25) in Southeastern Conference play is a problem.

“When you’re starting point guard goes to the free-throw line eight times, he should be making six or seven,” Donovan said. “He’s got to spend time in the gym working on that. We’re working on it in practice, but he should be over there every night taking hundreds and hundreds of free throws.”

Obviously, that's not been the case.

[Note: If right about now, you’re saying, “Then put the ball in freshman point guard Chris Chiozza’s hands late, instead." Well, Chiozza has been on the floor in late-game situations recently, but he’s actually worse from the free-throw line than Hill. Much worse; 11 of 22 for the season (50 percent) and 2-for-5 in the league (40 percent)]

Credit Hill with handling Arkansas’ relentless defensive pressure pretty well Saturday (only one turnover). If you’re asking why his assist total wasn’t more than two, it’s hard to get assists when the team is shooting just 34 percent.

“It’s different,” Hill said of dealing with the Razorbacks’ flurry of presses and traps, which sometimes come and sometimes don’t. “Nobody else plays like that. It’s tough. You have to move the ball and play together and be ready to beat the trap when it comes.”

A couple times Hill was able to do that. So was Chiozza. A couple times the recipient of their passes was Walker, who was coming off a 12-point effort at Alabama that represented his best game against an SEC opponent since arriving at Florida.

Against the Hogs, Walker had one point, two rebounds, two turnovers and a steal in only nine minutes.

It was suggested to Donovan that Walker had taken a step back from the other night in his development, relative to his previous game. Donovan shot that notion down quickly.

“I don’t know if I agree. You love going 'step back, step up, step back' with him,” Donovan said. “You think all of a sudden, the Alabama game is going to ignite him into Kevin Garnett. It’s not happening. He didn’t have a great game. He didn’t play a lot of minutes. ... I don’t know if he took a step back. That’s who he’s always been.”

After praising the play of senior center Jon Horford (3-for-3 from the floor, eight points, seven rebounds, three blocked shots), Donovan went back to Walker.

“Chris’ performance is always going to be this way,” Donovan said, making an up-and-down, roller coaster-like motion with his hand. “Don’t ever think again he’s going this way [up]. Part of that is experience. The other part is work ethic. Until he gets a steady work ethic, he will never play at a consistent level.”

Assuming they get the message, maybe Hill and Walker will be bumping into each in the gym a lot the rest of the season.

For what it's worth, when the Gators took their customary 100 free throws at practice Sunday, Hill altered the routine.

He took 400.

 

BIG 12/SEC CHALLENGE GETS NEW LOOK

Big 12/SEC logo Last week, ESPN announced that next season’s Big 12/SEC Challenge of games would be moved from early December to Jan. 30, 2016. That’ll be the open weekend between the NFL’s conference championship games and Super Bowl L, the golden anniversary game at Santa Clara, Calif.

Pushing the games -- 10 of them -- deeper into the season will mean a higher profile audience, as the network intends to televise all 10 games, and thus give both leagues some solid non-conference exposure in the meat of the nation's conference seasons (and during the NFL’s dead Pro Bowl weekend).

The Florida-Kansas games the last two seasons served as the marquee match-up of the Big 12/SEC event, but the pairings for 2016 are not set. Don’t expect more dates for the Gators with the Jayhawks, though. I’m thinking Texas or Oklahoma, but that's just spit-balling.

The format of the event, though, got me thinking about something else.

The SEC has 14 teams, compared to 10 in the Big 12. That leaves an open weekend for four SEC teams in the middle of what normally would be a full slate of conference games. How will the SEC balance that out?

Apparently, the four teams not in the Challenge field will be play non-conference games that weekend, with some scheduling help from the league office. In future years, the SEC may opt to play some conference games in December to offset the imbalance.  

 

TRIVIA QUESTION

In winning 52-50 at Alabama and 57-56 against Arkansas last week, the Gators were victorious in back-to-back games without reaching 60 points. When’s the last time that happened? Answer below in the “Free Throws” section.


Casey in D-League FORMER GATOR UPDATE  

This time last year, the Gators were 19-2 and 8-0 in the SEC, thanks to those four incomparable seniors deemed unworthy of playing in the NBA.

With Scottie Wilbekin (Australia), Patric Young (Turkey) and Will Yeguete (France) playing overseas, that leaves Casey Prather as the lone member of last year's record-setting squad playing professionally in the states. The athletic forward who enjoyed a breakout All-SEC season as a senior is in California with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA’s Developmental League.

Check out the high-flying Prather, who's averaging 11.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, doing what he does best in taking his franchise’s nickname to heart.

 






 

 

TWITTER PATTER

 

ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg challenges Florida fans in advance of next week’s visit from the GameDay crew.

 

 

Eli Carter’s best friend (a certain point guard in Cleveland) had a game last week. Carter mentioned a couple days later that he actually double-nickeled an opponent in an AAU game once.

 

 

The Gator men will have this view Tuesday night. It's UF at Vandy Tuesday night on ESPN (9 p.m.).

 

 

Erik told me recently he’s never lost a driveway hoops game to any of his brothers, but here’s a stat that should keep the vertical-jump challenged oldest Murphy grounded.

 

The new UF football coach took a bow at halftime Saturday.

 

 

And an outgoing defensive end -- and soon-to-be very high NFL draft pick -- took a bow and a spin in the Rowdy Reptiles section, too. Good luck to you, No. 6.

 

Game Day crew


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Get ready, Rowdy Reptiles.

GameDay is coming.

ESPN announced Saturday morning that its College GameDay Covered by State Farm, the network’s show that takes its crew and set on the road, will be at UF next weekend when the Gators play host No. 1-ranked Kentucky on Feb. 7 at the O’Connell Center.  

The Florida-Kentucky showdown will air on ESPN at 9 p.m., but the day’s festivities, features and GameDay coverage -- led by host Rece Davis and featuring analysts Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams, plus reporter Shannon Spake -- will begin at 10 a.m. with a taped portion on ESPNU and shift to ESPN at 11 a.m. and its live on-site coverage before feeding into the network’s slate of games at noon.

There also will be an 8 p.m. hour-long primetime show that will lead into the UF-UK game.

This will mark the fourth tour through Gainesville for GameDay, which will barnstormed through in 2006, ’08 and ’11, and the seventh time for the Gators. UF was road team last year when GameDay pumped up a morning crowd at Rupp Arena, where hours later Florida beat Kentucky on the way to its historic unbeaten conference season.

[Feel free to relive that game here]

But this time, it’ll be Kentucky, already at 20-0, making a run at history, with “Pursuit of Perfection” theme, courtesy of Coach John Calipari.

Stay tuned into GatorZone for times and participation details.

Last play

Junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith fouls guard Jarvis Summers on a drive to the basket in the final seconds of Saturday night's crushing 72-71 loss at Ole Miss. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- His team would not have been in position to win the game Saturday at Ole Miss were it not for The junior forward had 14 first-half points, going 4-for-4 from the 3-point line, and grabbed five rebounds to help settle the Gators and set a good pace on the road. 

But even Finney-Smith shook his head in reliving his role in the final 2-plus minutes of what turned out to be a 72-71 victory for the Rebels and a third straight loss for the Gators.

The UF coaches have talked till their orange and blue in the face about consistency and discipline. Finney-Smith is the team’s best player, so you can imagine how he felt after these sequence of events transpired with the game in the balance.

>>> Finney-Smith missing two free throws with 2:17 to play and the Gators leading by three points, with a chance to extend the lead. “I’ve been in that situation before,” he said. “They just didn’t fall.”

>>> In the final minute, with UF up by one point, Coach Billy Donovan wanted to spread the floor and get something going to the basket. Finney-Smith held the ball at the top of the key, with 6-foot-9, 236-pound backup center Dwight Colby defending him. Instead of using his quickness and speed to drive the ball -- and maybe force the defense to collapse and find a teammate for an open shot -- Finney-Smith shot a challenged 3-pointer over Colby that banged off the iron. “I shouldn’t have shot it,” he said. “I should have attacked the goal.” The Rebels took the lead at their end on a jumper by guard Jarvis Summers.  

>>> Then, after UF guard Michael Frazier hit two free throws with 9.8 seconds to go to retake the lead, Summers worked around a screen and crashed hard down the lane. Finney-Smith was on the paint, defending Colby, and could have slid over and parked himself in position to take a charge, as Summers left the floor outside the halo. Instead, Finney-Smith jumped for the block, fouled Summers -- his fifth foul, disqualifying from the game -- and Summers, a 78-percent shooter from the line, hit both free throws with 3.5 seconds to play.

For the win.

Finney-Smith finished with 15 points, six rebounds, two assists. He also was 1-for-4 from the free-throw line to go with five turnovers and some mental mistakes. After that really good first half, came a tough second one. That’s the consistency Donovan talks about. And having the wherewithal to either take the charge or keep your feet on defense rather than foul in that late-game instance, that’s the discipline Donovan talks about.

Those were points of emphasis again at practice Sunday. Not just for Finney-Smith, but the Gators.

They will continue to be.

That's where this team is right now. That's where it's been all season.


BACKING FROM THE TOP  

UF athletic director Jeremy Foley took his office to the people last week with an #askjeremy Twitter session, then sat down with GatorZone’s Scott Carter for a Q&A in his occassional "For the Athletic Director's Desk" series. This question came up from my colleague.

The men's basketball team is struggling compared to recent years and some fans appear restless because they are so accustomed to success under Billy Donovan. What's your message to them?

Here was Foley’s answer.

“When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me that her father would go to the horse races and he always bet on the jockey, not the horse,” Foley said. “I'll bet on our jockey every single day. He'll get this thing exactly the way he wants it, the way the university wants it, to what our fans expect. I don't worry one second about that. He's the best in the business and obviously we're fortunate to have him."


TRIVIA QUESTION

When’s the last time the Gators lost four straight? Answer in “Free Throws” section below.


FORMER GATOR UPDATE  

He was one of the most inspiring stories of my first go-round covering the Gators back in the 1990s.

Now, Eddie Shannon is officially a “legend.” As in UF’s designated “SEC Legend” to be recognized at the league tournament in March at Nashville, Tenn. The conference announce its 14 honorees last week. Shannon is an excellent choice for the Gators.

Shannon He was a 5-foot-11 (maybe), 167-pound point guard who bridged the tenures of Lon Kruger and Billy Donovan. He came in when the program was floundering in SEC irrelevance, survived a brutal transition period between a laid-back coach and fiery new demanding one and left as a starter on Donovan’s first NCAA Tournament, the 1998-99 squad that advanced to the Sweet 16.

And he did it -- get this -- with one eye.

In the days before reporting for his senior season, Shannon underwent surgery to have his right eye replaced with a prosthesis. The eye had grown increasingly bloody and irritated by clots and cataracts since he was accidentally struck with a rock in the seventh grade. He still grew into a South Florida star -- the two-time Palm Beach Player of the Year at Cardinal Newman High -- and was part of UF’s 1995 freshman class.

In September of his senior year, Shannon had the surgery and was fitted with a brown lens over the prosthesis. He held a news conference, along with his surgeon, to explain the procedure. Shannon said he no longer wanted to discuss discuss his sight -- or lack of it -- and wanted to concentrate on basketball. He promptly helped the Gators go 22-9 and advance to the West Regional semifinal, before falling to Gonzaga 73-72 in the final seconds.

Shannon’s desperation 3-point attempt at the buzzer in that game was the final shot of that season. And his career.

Playing with the likes of Dametri Hill, LeRon Williams, Jason Williams and Mike Miller, Shannon amassed 1,168 career points (38th on the all-time scoring list), 333 rebounds and 493 assists, which is third in Gators history.

After his UF career, Shannon played 10 years of pro basketball overseas, mostly in Europe, and now is an assistant coach at Division II Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Nice player, even better kid.

Here's a story I wrote about Shannon's plight for The Orlando Sentinel nearly 17 years ago.



TWITTER PATTER

Note: Clearly, I paid attention to the scouting report (see last tweet)


 


CHARTING THE GATORS
Michael Frazier needs one free throw to hit the minimum 140 attempts to qualify for the top 10 percentages from the line in UF history. Frazier's inevitable debut on the list -- perhaps as soon as Tuesday night -- will put him somewhere in the Top 5, but not high enough to jump guard Anthony Roberson (pictured). Here’s the chart looks right now.

Roberson PLAYER                      YEARS           FTs-ATT        PCT.
Anthony Roberson       2003-05         210-243       .864
Taurean Green             2005-07         350-409       .856
Joe Hobbs                     1956-59        241-286        .838
Bruno Caldwell             1973-75          172-205       .839
Brooks Henderson       1963-65          337-406       .830
Scott Stewart                1990-93          212-146       .829
Brett Nelson                  2000-03         189-229        .825
Andy Owens                1968-70          345-426       .804
Teddy Dupay               1999-01          238-296       .804
Greg Stolt                    1996-99          196-244       .803

COMING SOON
Michael Frazier       2012-present    117-139    .842  

 

 


IRREVERENT PHOTO OF A GATOR

Alligator gullet

 

 
FREE THROWS

Before Saturday night, the last time Florida hit at least 12 shots from the 3-point line in an SEC game was against Missouri in opening-round play of the SEC Tournament last season at Atlanta, where the Gators bombed 12 of 21 attempts and turned a tie game at halftime into a 72-49 route. Scottie Wilbekin went 5-for-6 in that game, Frazier 5-for-7.... Walk-on forward Jake Kurtz is averaging 5.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 20.8 minutes in SEC play. Those are better numbers than senior center Jon Horford (2.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 11 mpg) and mostly better than sophomore center Chris Walker (3.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 15.7 mpg). Kurtz is also shooting 60 percent from the floor. ... The Gators are 2-5 in games decided by five points or less this season. The wins came against Louisiana-Monroe and at South Carolina. ... Trivia answer: The Gators lost the final three regular-season games of the 2007-08 season (at home against Mississippi State and Tennessee, then on the road at Kentucky) and then were eliminated in the first round of the SEC Tournament by Alabama.

Sunday January 18, 2015 Basketball Notebook: Chris Walker, Streaks, Al Horford, etc.

Updated: 10:36pm, January 18

Chris Walker underneath

Sophomore center Chris Walker fights to get a shot off in Saturday's loss at Georgia.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Just last week, this story ran on Sports Illustrated’s website. It focused on Florida’s 6-foot-11 center Chris Walker and included this quote.

“He can run, jump, he has fast-twitch reactions,” an NBA Western Conference general manager said. “He can defend 1-5. He’s an NBA athlete.”

Now 17 games into his sophomore season, Walker is averaging 5.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. In four Southeastern Conference outings, all starts, he’s totaled 10 points and 18 rebounds.

During Saturday’s 73-61 loss at Georgia, Walker went 1-for-4 from the floor, grabbed six rebounds and got shoved around by the Bulldogs’ veteran and physical frontcourt players.

It’s now been eight games since Walker last hit double-digits in scoring, when he had a three-game run -- at Kansas, then home against Yale and Texas Southern -- where things appeared to be coming into focus for him.

They're not.

Chris swatting shot “I don’t want to say I feel bad for him ... but the expectations are just so high for him that people don’t understand where he started,” UF coach Billy Donovan said after the Georgia game. “This is a guy who has been thrust into stuff where we’re having to rely on him, and it’s hard to do at times, coverage-wise and defensively. But we’ve had to do it.”

The lack of a low-post presence has been a running theme on this team and will be the rest of the season, unless Walker has that magic moment of illumination that everybody -- his coaches, the NBA scouts and certainly Florida fans -- hope and/or believe is out there for a player whose athleticism is positively elite, but whose basketball skills and feel are far from developed. He didn't need the latter during his days dominating Class 1A basketball in Bonifay, Fla., nor on the AAU circuit, which is basically glorified pick-up ball.

When Walker, a McDonald's All-American and top-10 prospect who won the slam-dunk contagious at the prestigious game, showed up at UF last December he was unknown curiosity backed with accolades that placed expectations in totally unrealistic proportions. The fact that he parachuted into a team on its way to winning 30 straight games and berth in the Final Four actually helped him and should have been a bridge to his development when he opted to forgo a chance to enter the NBA draft pool last year. 

But here we are.

If Walker would just do what the coaches tell him to do.

“Play to your identity.”

For Walker, that means being active on defense, chasing balls and blocking shots. On offense, it means working the so-called “red box” -- an imaginary rectangle that stretches 20 feet or so underneath the basket along the baseline -- and letting the offense find him, while mixing in screens, pick-and-rolls and even an occasional jump shot. It means playing hard and running the floor (he's a greyhound in transition) with abandon.

“He can catch and face up and make a 10-foot jump shot,” Donovan said. “But when he gets the ball with his back to the basket and takes a step-back jumper ... no, he can’t do that.”

He did it against Georgia for an airball.

The Florida coaches, though, will continue to patiently teach and instruct Walker. The did so Sunday, a couple times stopping practice both to advise him and get his feedback. Walker responded. He wants to do well and the coaching staff wants to keep him from getting discouraged, while guiding him through these tough times with the hope that so-called light comes on and the game (as that very real cliche says) begins to slow down.

At some point, it’s up to Walker to punch through and take his game to the next level. Tuesday night against LSU marks his next chance. The Tigers frontline is the second-largest in the SEC behind Kentucky's.

In the meantime, that other next level is waiting. The latest ESPN Top 100 rankings lists Walker as the No. 36 overall prospect for the 2015 NBA Draft, with a lone comment by his name.

“Late first round pick.”


O'DOME SEC STREAK STILL ALIVE

Rowdies The Gators no longer have a streak for consecutive SEC victories, but they do have a league-best streak that would be nice to keep in tact for a while and that's a proud run of 20 conference home wins in a row.

UF has not lost at the O'Connell Center since March 4, 2012 against Anthony Davis and a Kentucky team that went on to the win the NCAA title that season.

So with those wins over Mississippi State and Auburn last week, Florida is in its third season without an SEC defeat and obviously the Gators would like to see that continue with LSU and Arkansas coming up the rest of the month.

The first home SEC game in February is on the 7th, with a Saturday night prime-time ESPN showdown against the No. 1-ranked Wildcats.


TRIVIA QUESTION

Now that the string of consecutive SEC wins is over, when is the last time the Gators lost back-to-back conference games? And to whom? Answer below in “Free Throws” section.



Al Horford FORMER GATOR UPDATE  

Al Horford, in his seventh NBA season, recorded the first triple-double of his career last week: 21 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists in a 105-87 defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers. The feat went something under the radar because Horford is a blue-collar guy who does not engender a lot of ESPN hype. He also plays for the Atlanta Hawks, who also don't garner much attention from ESPN folks, but are performing flat-out ridiculously despite a roster dotted with what passes as NBA anonymity.

After rolling into United Center to bouncing the Chicago Bulls Saturday night, the Hawks have won 12 straight and are an astounding 33-8. That’s five games better than the next-closest team (Washington) in the Eastern Conference.

Horford, the older brother of current UF center Jon Horford, is averaging 20.6 points on 53.8 percent from the floor to go with 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.

Unofficially, he's believed to be just the fourth UF product -- joining Mike Miller, David Lee and Joakim Noah -- to tally a triple-double in the NBA.






TWITTER PATTER

 

 




CHARTING THE GATORS

HumphreyJunior guard Michael Frazier II hit a pair of 3-pointers in the loss at Georgia, thus extending his streak of games with at least one trey to 39 in a row. That’s tied for the longest in school history. He can break the record Tuesday night against LSU.

Games         Player                                  When-to-When
  39               Lee Humphrey (right)          Nov. 4, 2006 to April 2, 2007
                     Michael Frazier II                Jan. 23, 2014 to present
  34               Kenny Boynton                    Feb. 1, 2011 to Jan. 14, 2012

 



IRREVERENT PHOTO OF A GATOR

Gator's gullet



FREE THROWS

Donovan mentioned after the win over Auburn how his team was fouling too much. Though the Gators committed some late ones against Georgia, the Bulldogs still took 29 free throws off 19 fouls, compared to UF’s 14 free throws and 14 fouls. Last year’s team was terrific in its defensive fundamentals in the paint. This one needs a lot of work on that front. ... Of the 10 players in the UF rotation, everyone played at least eight minutes and eight players logged at least 17. That actually speaks to the team’s struggles, as Donovan said afterward. He was looking for somebody -- anybody -- to put in the game to play well. No one did. ... Trivia answer: UF dropped its final three SEC games of the 2011-12 season, falling at Georgia and Vanderbilt, then at home on Senior Day to that Kentucky team that went on to win the NCAA title.


Monday January 12, 2015 Horford back at practice Monday, focused on his team

Updated: 9:50pm, January 12

Horford drives GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Senior center Jon Horford returned to practice Monday but didn’t have a whole lot to say about it.

“It’s good to be back, but this isn’t about me,” Horford said. “I’m focused on the team, and I’ll do anything I have to do now to help the team. That’s really all I’m concerned about now.”

Horford, the 6-foot-10, 250-pounder who started the season’s first 12 games, was suspended last week -- along with walk-on guard Zach Hodskins -- by Coach Billy Donovan, who cited "conduct detrimental to the team." Both players were left home for UF's trip to South Carolina, where the Gators defeated the Gamecocks Wednesday night. Though Horford was reinstated the next day, he was given the weekend to process the situation, missing Saturday's rout of Mississippi State, so Monday marked his return to the court.

He, along with Hodskins, who also rejoined the team Monday, slapped and shook hands with teammates after taking the floor after a pre-practice meeting.

“When you're dealing with a fifth-year senior, a guy who really cares like he cares, you can get very, very self-consumed and self-absorbed about how you're being impacted and affected and everything,” said Donovan, whose Gators (9-6, 2-0) face Auburn (9-6, 1-1) Thursday night at the O’Connell Center. “I think for him taking some time to digest, to evaluate and figure out how he can help was probably the reason why [he did not play against MSU].”

Horford is averaging 8.3 points and making 51 percent from the floor to go with 5.7 rebounds and a team-high 90.5 percent from the free-throw line. But Horford’s last two games, losses at Florida States and home against Connecticut, he totaled only six points and five rebounds, while turning it over three times in a combined 23 minutes. He did not start in the UConn game and the suspension followed.

But Horford, a valued presence in the low post, is expected to be a factor in UF’s rotation by Thursday.

“We’ve got a little bit more time on the front end this week to kind of get him back in practice and get him doing things,” Donovan said. “Jon’s a very, very diligent worker, so even the week that he’s been out I know he’s been in the gym shooting and working and doing things.”

In a program that prides itself on closeness, it’s just as pivotal that Horford does his part in assimilating back into the locker room culture.

His teammates will help.

“Whatever issues he had, I know he’s working on fixing those and getting through them,” junior forward Alex Murphy said. “Part of being a team is forgiving people. I think we've all move on. I know I have.”

Sunday January 11, 2015 Hoops Notebook: Still becoming a team, Kasey, SEC streak, etc.

Updated: 10:13am, January 12

Billy D ...

Gators coach Billy Donovan spurs on Kasey Hill to "Finish!" stronger during Wednesday night's win at South Carolina. [Photo by Tim Casey]


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In a recent media opportunity, junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith acknowledged that the Florida basketball players were starting to realize exactly what the Florida basketball coach had been talking about the last, oh, say, eight months.

All that stuff about expectations, both internal and external, meaning absolutely nothing was starting to hit home. Finally.

Makes you wonder why it took so long, but human nature is a funny thing. Sometimes, all it takes is people to say you’re good to make you believe you’re good.

True story. Before the Gators played Connecticut last weekend in the so-called rematch of their Final Four game, Coach Billy Donovan was speaking with Huskies coach Kevin Ollie and the two had a laugh together and Donovan said, “Can you believe this team was ranked higher in the preseason than my team last year?”

Think about that.

Upon entering the 2014-15 Southeastern Conference season with their most losses in 40 years, the Gators have put together solid back-to-back efforts in winning Wednesday at South Carolina and Saturday night at home with a rout of Mississippi State. They did not play great in beating the Gamecocks, but they played together and hit clutch free throws down the stretch. UF followed that one up by playing very well, on both ends of the floor, against the undermanned Bulldogs.

Donovan's message has and will continue to focus on taking the floor each day (practice or games, doesn't matter) with a greater sense of the bigger picture.

As in, the team.

“Listen, we are not going to be able to out-talent people. We’re not. We’ve got to become a really good team and it’s got to be a team with a sum that is greater than its parts,” Donovan said. “Their focus shouldn’t be ‘How am I doing?’ but ‘How do I make the other four guys better? How do I make my teammates better? How do I make the group better?’ ”

Doe-Doe With a trio of players (Finney-Smith, pictured right, along with junior guard Michael Frazier and sophomore point guard Kasey Hill) back from last year’s SEC championship squad, assumptions were made -- some in the locker room -- the Gators would pick up where they left off by mere osmosis.

As Donovan pointed out Saturday, does anyone remember how long it took Casey Prather to develop into the player he was last year? Or for Patric Young to become the best defensive post player in the country? Or Scottie Wilbekin to channel a skill set well enough to be SEC Player of the Year?

In other words, teams of the past -- especially the one that won 30 in a row, then graduated four senior starters -- shouldn’t be used as measuring sticks.

UF started two freshmen and two sophomores Saturday night.

“My biggest challenge as a coach [with this team] was, What things do we have to let happen for their growth and development and what things do I cut off because we’re headed down the wrong road?” Donovan said. “There’s a process and it’s a painful process. I don’t know any team or individual in sports that has achieved any high level of success without tracing back to some real struggles and a lot of pain. And we’ve had some painful moments. All teams that become good have to go through that.”

How much of the difficulties of the last two months go into what the Gators become over the next two months will determine how deep the season goes in that third month.  


THE BALL (AND TEAM) IS IN HIS HANDS

Kasey smiling At South Carolina, Hill had one assist and six turnovers. Against Mississippi State, he had seven assists and one turnover.

“What’s next Saturday going to bring?” Donovan asked.

Indeed, there needs to be some more consistency there. Hill knows it because his coach is constantly talking about.

Donovan praised not only Hill’s floor game after the win over the Bulldogs, but mentioned how he sat down with his playmaker for a private screening of his performance against the Gamecocks. Donovan spoke of Hill’s willingness -- and desire -- to hear as much about what he’s doing poorly as what he’s doing well.

“Some guys don’t like the truth or to be confronted with it. He wants that. He wants to know what reality is and I admire that about him and love coaching him for that,” Donovan said. “If it’s negative, he likes that. He does not want to be told how great he is. He can watch film with me and he accepts it. That’s the sign of a player who is going to get better. He looks internally, not externally.”

Hill is averaging 7.7 points per game and is better than 2-to-1 on his assists to turnovers (65 to 30). If the Gators can continue on their upward shooting trend, obviously Hill’s numbers figure to improve. Can’t get assists without made field goals.


TRIVIA QUESTION

Donovan’s has faced his former college coach and mentor Rick Pitino seven times as a head coach without a victory. After Pitino’s 1.000 mark, what coach with at least that many cracks at Donovan has the next-best winning percentage against him? Answer below.


FORMER GATOR UPDATE  

Damontre The status of Damontre Harris was something of a saga last season for the Gators. Depending on what day it was, no one in the program was quite sure if Harris, who transferred to UF from South Carolina the summer of 2012, was on the team, with sightings of Harris akin to seeing a unicorn.

Harris, once a first-team selection to the SEC's All-Defensive Team, never played a a game for the Gators.

Well, the 6-foot-10, 230-pound center wound up at NAIA Campbellsville (Ky.), where last week he posted 18 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks -- his double-double of the season -- in a win over Nazarene (Kan.). For his effort, Harris was named Mid-South Conference Player of the Week, while improving his season’s stats to 11.6 points per game on 57-percent shooting to go with 9.2 rebounds and an NAIA-leading 3.4 blocks per game. Campbellsville, 17-1 and winner of 11 straight, was elevated to No. 1 in the nation among NAIA teams.

After Harris’ big game against Nazarene, he was a DNP-Coaches Decision when the top-ranked Tigers  faced Asbury five days later. A team spokesman said Sunday Harris would return to the floor when Campbellsville plays Fisk University on Monday night.

Here's a recent "Tre" highlight below.





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CHARTING THE GATORS

In starting the SEC season with a pair of wins, the Gators extended their school-record winning streak in league play to 23 games, a run that dates to the 63-60 loss to Ole Miss in the 2013 conference tournament title game at Nashville. If Florida could put together three more (home vs. Auburn, at Georgia, and vs. LSU), the Gators would pass  Kentucky’s run of 24 straight over the 2011 and ’12 seasons and equal what the Wildcats did over the ‘95 and ’96 for the most consecutive SEC wins over the last 60 years -- or the so-called modern era. That would be impressive. That's UK's 1952 team, below right.



Kentucky 1952 Streak        Team              Years  
33               Kentucky        1952-54       
29               Kentucky        1950-51
26               Kentucky        1995-96
24               Kentucky        2011-12
23               Florida            2013-present
                   Auburn           1958-59
                   Kentucky        1933-34
21               Kentucky        2003-04

    

 

 



IRREVERENT PHOTO OF A GATOR

Girl in crock cage


FREE THROWS

EliSophomore center Chris Walker had to be helped off the court with less than two minutes left in Saturday’s game after being overcome by a cramp in his calf. It must have been really bad because Walker had just been fouled and forfeited shooting two free throws to go to the bench. Donovan said afterward his 6-10, 220-pound center was fine. ...  To amplify the above chart of SEC winning streaks, the record for most consecutive regular-season SEC wins is 51. Kentucky did that from 1950-54. UF’s 20 straight regular-season conference victories is tied for sixth-most in league history. ... The Gators have scored 35 points off the bench in each of the last two games. Those are highs for this season. Junior guard Eli Carter (right) was a big factor. After totaling 18 points in six games while trying to recover from a sprained foot and strep throat, Carter has 26 points and seven assists the last two. ... In starting both SEC games, Chiozza has zero points, two assists and no turnovers. He’s only taken four shots and he’s certainly had a hand in UF’s improved ball movement. ... Trivia answer: Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who Donovan will face Thursday night at the O’Dome when the Tigers (9-6, 1-1), when 9-6 (.600) against Billy D from 2005-11 during his stint at Tennessee (2005-11), at one point winning six straight. 

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