Sunday March 3, 2013BasketBlog Notebook: Billy D, Mike Ro & Tom Seaver, Prather, etc.
Updated: 9:52am, March 4
Updated: 9:52am, March 4
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the second half against Alabama, Mike Rosario drove the baseline in front of the Florida bench, hit a wall and turned the ball over.
To the bench he went, his team down eight points, with 11:49 to go.
The Gators scored 19 of the next 21 and blew the game open.
This is not intended as an indictment of Rosario. Coach Billy Donovan pointed out after his team’s 64-52 home win Saturday over the Crimson Tide that the Gators would not be in their current situation -- having clinched no worse than a share of the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship -- were it not for Rosario’s contributions this season.
But there are consequences to not playing “the right way,” and Rosario was the one who paid for them Saturday, taking a seat for Casey Prather, who answered with the finest all-around performance of his career.
“We have to understand the right way to play,” Donovan said.
Heading into the game, Rosario had been UF’s leading scorer in SEC play (with team-high points in six of the previous seven games) but had a couple tough plays in pivotal momentum moments in the loss at Tennessee Tuesday night.
Then came the pass against the Tide.
Florida led by five when Erik Murphy grabbed a missed Bama shot a minute into the second half. Rosario took the outlet up the right sideline -- again, in front of the UF bench -- and instead of advancing the ball with a clean bounce to Scottie Wilbekin chagring up the floor, Rosario tried to loop a cross-court pass to Kenny Boynton on the opposite baseline.
The ball hit Chip Howard, UF’s executive associate athletics director for internal affairs, right in the hands ... in the second row of media seating.
“He thinks he’s Tom Seaver,” Donovan said, invoking a name -- a Hall of Fame baseball player (that's him to the right, youngsters) -- probably unfamiliar to several inside the Florida locker room. “I’m going to bite my tongue on that [one], but then we got the baseline drive. Enough. Out. Sit down.”
But this is where Rosario deserves credit.
From the bench (after going 2-for-7 from the floor, 0-for-5 from the arc and with three turnovers), Rosario was as animated as any of the Gators in cheering on the biggest rally of the season. As far as being a teammate, Rosario played the right way.
The basketball part of it, Donovan and his Gators (23-5, 13-3) will have to sort out as they ready for the home finale when Vanderbilt (13-15, 7-9) comes calling with a chance to clinch the SEC title outright. After that, it’s the regular-season finale at Kentucky and one more chance at signature road win before tournament time.
That leaves four more days to hash out the kinks and kick the rust off forward Will Yeguete and guard Michael Frazier, whose return to the lineup may have provided an emotional lift and some great pre-game anticipation, but brought little -- as Donovan warned -- in terms of productivity.
Yeguete: 0-for-2 from the floor, 1 rebound, one turnover in 11 minutes.
Frazier: 0-for-1 from the floor, 0-for-2 from the free-throw line, one turnover in six minutes (all in the first half).
“We had all these things going into the game; ‘They’re back! They’re back! They’re back!’ Well, they’re not back. It’s going to be a long process,” Donovan said after winning the 14th home in as many tries. “I give our guys credit with the fact they didn’t wilt. They battled, fought and found a way to win the game. That was an encouraging sign, but I was not pleased with the way they played at all."
DID YOU NOTICE?
The Gators had some big effort plays down the stretch, but the one that struck me occurred during UF’s 19-2 run that blew the game open.
At 5:55, Patric Young posted in the paint for a baby hook that gave the Gators a 52-47 lead. At 5:50 -- that would be five seconds later -- Young drew an offensive foul on Randolph Levi 85 feet away under the Alabama basket.
“We were just trying to get that spark,” Young said. “I made the move, finished the play and was jogging back when I saw them get the ball out really quick. All that was in my mind was running back as hard as I could to try and get in position.”
“That got everyone excited,” Young smiled. “Got me excited.”
That's a perfect example of the kinds of sequence Donovan knows Young is capable of pulling off multiple times during a game when his effort and energy level are at its highest.
The Florida win Saturday coupled with the Kentucky loss at Arkansas gave the Gators a share of the sixth SEC regular season title in school history. That’s 39 behind UK’s 45 titles and pulls the Gators even with Mississippi State for fifth-place on the list of all-time league championships. Which school is second? Answer below in “Free Throws” section.
EX-GATOR OF THE WEEK
The kind of gushing heard in the Chicago Bulls locker room over the years had been reserved for Michael Jordan; maybe a few times for Derrick Rose. “That’s legendary stuff,” forward Carlos Boozer said. “Spectacular,” added Coach Tom Thibodeau. “His will from the start to the end was just incredible.” They were speaking, of course, of center Joakim Noah after his 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocked shots fueled a 93-82 defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers. The performance marked the first points-rebounds-blocks triple-double for the Bulls since Artis Gilmore did it way back in 1977, and the first 20-20-10 game by any NBA player since Shawn Bradley did it for Dallas in 1998. And the Bulls needed every one of his plays to seal the game. “I wanted to [the triple-double],” Noah said. “But I wanted to win more.” Anyone surprised by that comment?
CHARTING THE GATORS
Oh, and did we mention Casey Prather is playing well? Turns out, the junior backup forward is playing historically well and stunningly efficient when it comes to putting the ball in the basket. After going 3-for-6 from the floor against the Tide, Prather’s shooting percentage actually went down, yet he is on pace to become just the third player in UF history to make at least 65 percent of his shots with a minimum 100 field-goal attempts. Check out where Prather currently sits, for context.
Pct. Player Season FGM-FGA
.722 Dwayne Davis 1988-89 179-248
.698 Chris Richard 2005-06 197-139
.690 Chris Richard 2006-07 98-142
.655 Casey Prather 2012-13 59-90
.648 David Lee 2002-03 149-230
.646 Eugene McDowell 1982-83 203-314
IRREVERENT GATOR PHOTO OF THE WEEK
It's either Casey Prather ... or any UF student right about now.
So Tennessee went to Georgia and took a wicked hit to its NCAA hopes by losing to the Bulldogs. Exactly no one should be surprised. The Volunteers probably were still feeling good after themselves after beating the Gators Tuesday night -- and they paid for it. Like Missouri did its first game after beating Florida (the Tigers lost at Kentucky four days later); and like Arkansas did four days after beating Florida (the Razorbacks lost an awful NCAA resume defeat at Vanderbilt). Kind of tells you who teams are getting up for (and letting down afterward) in the SEC these days. ... Lost in the win over the Tide was Boynton scoring 13 points and passing Andrew Moten to move into second place on the UF all-time scoring list with 1,940 points. Moten scored 1,930 from 1984-87. Boynton is not going to catch Ronnie Williams (2,090 from 1981-84), but he has a shot at 60 points and becoming just the second player in school history to hit the 2,000-point milestone. ... Meanwhile, Rosario quietly eclipsed the 1,600-point plateau for his career. Remember, he came here after scoring 1,051 points in two seasons at Rutgers and has padded that with 552 in a Gators uniform the last two years. ... Young’s three blocks against Bama gave him 109 for his career, which tied him for ninth on UF’s all-time list alongside David Lee (2002-05). ... Trivia answer: LSU checks in at second place behind the Kentucky with 10 regular-season championships, with the last coming in 2009.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With a chance to climb a spot in the Southeastern Conference rankings, the Florida Gators women’s team huddled before Thursday night’s home finale against Arkansas.
It was a must-win for the Gators, but if you asked around the scrum there was a far greater must at stake and it involved the team’s lone senior, unquestioned warrior and walking double-double Jennifer George.
“This game is for George,” junior point guard Jaterra Bonds declared. “We have to send her out right.”
And away George went, two hours later, into the arms of the teammates that love her (above) and with a 69-58 collective-effort victory the likes of which made UF coach Amanda Butler beam with pride.
George did not want the night to be about her -- even said as much to her fellow Gators -- but guess what?
She had no choice.
“They wanted to win that game for her and I think that’s great,” Butler said after her team improved to 17-12 overall and 6-9 in league play. “Maybe if we were this grown-up team with a whole bunch of seniors we would have said, ‘Here’s the importance of the game, here’s what we’ve got to do, here’s where it matters in the big picture.’ But it mattered more to them to win for her and, to me, that’s a great demonstration about how tightly knit this team is and how much they care about each other.”
Butler is big on closeness and the family-as-team philosophy. Clearly, it resonated with her players against the Razorbacks, who trailed by 14 with 12 minutes to go and fought back to tie the game at 55, with most of the rally coming with George on the bench with four fouls.
From there, though, freshman Sydney Moss hit a go-ahead jumper, then George scored back-to-back baskets in the post to open the lead back to six. A 3-pointer from freshman January Miller off an assist from Bond was followed by an old-fashioned 3-point play by Moss and the refuse-to-lose creed had closure.
“That was a great way to go out,” George said.
She finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, marking her ninth double-double of the season (despite aggravating that injured shoulder that has plagued her since early January), in what was her 126th career game, four off the school record.
After an emotional post-game tribute -- “I didn’t cry, so that’s a good thing,” she said -- here’s how three of teammates (one from each class) sent George out from the post-game podium.
Bonds: “She’s grown up and matured as a woman, from when I first got here and then seeing the change in her to now in her senior year. She’s one of the most unselfish people that I’ve ever gotten the chance to play with. ... I felt like we had to send her out in this way and there wasn’t any other option.”
Sophomore forward guard Kayla Lewis: “The most gratifying thing about it is before the game, she was saying: ‘This isn’t about me. This is about us building momentum into the SEC Tournament and that we have the opportunity to get two quality wins and go to Atlanta with smoke behind us from our fire.’ ... Ever since I’ve been here, it’s never been about her. She can have 26 double-doubles in a row and not care about getting any the credit. She just wants to win and do her part. I think tonight we did our part by letting her get her last win here. If that’s a thing that I can give her, then I would rather that be what I give to her.”
Freshman guard Carlie Needles: “George is one of my best friends, and she is a great basketball player, but she is an even better person off the court. ... I’m just really thankful I got to play with her because she is really, really fun to play with. She works hard, and she has overcome a lot of adversity. She has really stepped up and been a leader. We all look to her a lot, so it really meant a lot to us that she got what she deserved -- to go out on a good note. ... She works so hard for us, and we go to battle for her.”
And, finally, Butler: “I think it’s appropriate. I think it’s fantastic. Great teams love each other like that.”
Great players deserve that love without demanding it, which goes a long ways toward making them great.
Jennifer George went out the right way.
Updated: 11:25pm, February 28
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For the first time since Oct. 13 -- a run of 138 days -- the Florida Gators had all 15 of their players available for a practice Thursday.
And then there were 14.
Freshman guard Michael Frazier was rendered virtually incapacitated by back spasms just 32 minutes into the workout. He had to be carried to the training room for icing and treatment.
“That didn’t take long,” assistant coach John Pelphrey said.
Fortunately for the Gators, it’s not expected to take long for Frazier to be back on the court. The 3-point shooting specialist from Tampa has had his back lock up before due to spasms and responded positively to treatment.
No. 8 Florida (22-5, 12-3) leads the Southeastern Conference by one game over Alabama (19-9, 11-4). The two play Saturday at noon at the O'Connell Center.
“He should be fine,” trainer David “Duke” Werner, the program's MVP of late, said of Frazier before pausing for effect. “Hopefully.”
Meanwhile, junior forward Will Yeguete made it through his first practice since undergoing knee surgery Feb. 5 without incident. Werner eased Yeguete back into drills, subbing him every third repetition or so. After the practice there was no swelling -- that was the team's biggest concern -- to the right knee that was in so much pain earlier in the month due to floating bits of cartilage.
“It felt good,” Yeguete said afterward. “Really good.”
Junior forward Casey Prather also was back to work after a collision in Tuesday night’s loss at Tennessee opened a cut above his left eye. Prather needed five stitches to close the bloody gash. He practiced with a bandage covering the wound.
Before Frazier left the floor in the arms of assistant Rashon Burno and video coordinator Oliver Winterbone, the Gators had a full complement of players for the first time since Day 2 of practice -- about 4 1/2 months ago -- when center Damontre Harris, a transfer from South Carolina just starting his redshirt year, suffered a torn labrum falling to the court.
Along the way, Prather, Yeguete, Frazier, Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy had missed practices for injury reasons.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- So a tweet from South Carolina coach Frank Martin (aka @frankmartin_sc) rolls up on the news feed Thursday.
How about this 4 everyone that says that the SEC is weak: SEC has 9 Teams in RPI Top 100... Big 10 has 8, ACC has 7, Big 12 has 6.
Figured I’d check it out.
And flush it out
Coach Martin is on the money. Among the so-called six BCS power leagues, the Southeastern Conference checks in with the third-most teams ranked in the Top 100, according to the latest Ratings Percentage Index. That’s more than the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast and Big 12.
Granted, the SEC doesn’t have the quantity of top-25 teams, but as we’ve gotten deeper into the season the league has proven out to be better than it’s given credit for.
BIG EAST -- 11
Louisville (8), Georgetown (10), Syracuse (12), Marquette (14), Connecticut (33), Pittsburgh (41), Notre Dame (45), Cincinnati (50), Villanova (56), St. John’s (61) and Providence (84).
PAC-12 -- 9
Arizona (13), Colorado (22), UCLA (37), California (46), Oregon (48), Stanford (69), Washington (75), Arizona State (88), USC (96).
SOUTHEASTERN -- 9
Florida (5), Missouri (43), Kentucky (49), Tennessee (53), Mississippi (55), Alabama (62), Texas A&M (87), Arkansas (89) and LSU (92).
BIG TEN -- 8
Indiana (6), Michigan State (7), Michigan (11), Minnesota (15), Ohio State (19), Wisconsin (23), Illinois (32), Iowa (90).
ACC - 7
Duke (1), Miami (3), North Carolina (20), North Carolina State (26), Virginia (67), Maryland (73), Florida State (81).
BIG 12 - 6
Kansas (4), Kansas State (21), Oklahoma (27), Oklahoma State (28), Iowa State (54), Baylor (59).
Updated: 5:16pm, February 27
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At least some good news came out Florida’s defeat Tuesday night at Tennessee.
Junior forward Casey Prather's status, that is.
Prather (below) left UF’s 64-58 with just under three minutes to go after taking a blow to the face that bloodied the floor at Thompson-Boling Arena. The gash, incured when Prather’s face bounced into the back of teammate Mike Rosario’s knee in going after a loose ball, required five stitches, but won't require any loss in playing time. Prather was medically cleared Wednesday.
And he wasn’t the only Gator smiling in the training room.
Junior forward Will Yeguete, sidelined for six games following knee surgery, and freshman guard Michael Frazier II, who suffered a concussion last Saturday against Arkansas, were given clean bills of health from the UF medical team and can both join Prather for full-contact practice Thursday.
“They’ll all be out there,” said trainer David “Duke” Werner (pictured left with Prather).
That means eighth-ranked Florida (22-5, 12-3) should have its complete eight-man rotation Saturday when it hosts Alabama (19-9, 11-4) at noon with first place in the Southeastern Conference on the line.
Since Yeguete limped off the floor after playing one minute of an eventual loss at Arkansas on Feb. 5, the Gators are 4-3. Before undergoing surgery to remove pieces of floating cartilage in his right knee, Yeguete was averaging six points, 6.8 rebounds, shooting 58 percent from the floor and doing his normal (and invaluable) damage on defense, especially in the press.
Without Frazier, the SEC’s top 3-point shooter in league games at 54.9 percent, Florida went 4-for-17 from the arc against the Volunteers, including 1-for-10 in the second half.
Before his collision, Prather was having another solid game off the bench Tuesday, scoring 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 17 minutes. He’s averaging 6.7 points and making 67 percent of his shots in SEC play.
Prather suffered two concussions during the preseason (which cost him the first five games, including the Georgetown warship opener) and a sprained ankle early in the SEC season at LSU (another five games). His teammates were hoping Prather’s latest brush with bad luck wasn’t going to be another setback.
“The guy has been through so much,” teammate and classmate Patric Young said. “It was tough seeing him go out like that.”
But it’ll be good seeing him on the court Thursday.
And Yeguete. And Frazier.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Necessity likely means opportunity tonight for Braxton Ogbueze.
With the Florida roster hit with injuries, Ogbueze (pronounced "oh-BOY-z"), the seldom-seen Florida freshman guard is expected to get minutes when the eighth-ranked Gators (22-4, 12-2) face the streaking Tennessee Volunteers (16-10, 8-6) the likes of which he’s not experienced at the collegiate level.
“You’ve got to stay focused, that’s the main thing, and do the job you need to do to help the team,” Ogbueze said following Tuesday afternoon’s shoot-around at Thompson-Boling Arena. “We’re a collective unit, so we have to stick together and remain connected in a hostile environment like this.”
The Gators have lost eight of the last 10 times they’ve come here, including five of six. This time, UF will be without forward Will Yeguete (knee) and guard Michael Frazier II (concussion), meaning Coach Billy Donovan -- who has had his normal rotation of eight players for only 10 games this season -- has no choice but to turn to a bench and a small group of freshman backups who’ve played very little this season.
“You can’t go to Knoxville with six guys,” Donovan said.
Look for forward DeVon Walker and Ogbueze to be the guys entrusted to help absorb some of the minutes normally afforded Frazier, who was injured Saturday in a win against Arkansas.
Ogbueze averaged nearly 22 points and shot 54 percent from 3-point range as a senior last year at Charlotte (N.C.) United Faith Christian Academy, garnering honors as a top-100 prospect. He was considered the best player in UF’s 2012 signing class, but thus far has played just 89 minutes in 18 games and averaged less than a point.
But where some in his situation may be frustrated, Ogbueze has a different perspective.
“You know, I look at it in a positive way -- I’ve gotten way better this year,” he said. “From a playing standpoint, I may not have gotten to be out there very much, but I’ve improved with practice. To me, that’s success. As long as I’ve made strides in my game, that means something. That’s why I came here.”
He also came to UF to play. And it's because he's gotten better than his first big chance could come tonight.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The news Sunday was good for Michael Frazier II and the Florida Gators.
Frazier, who suffered a concussion in Saturday’s 71-54 defeat of Arkansas, made improvements on his follow-up baseline measurements and is expected to be available next weekend when the UF plays host to Alabama in a huge Southeastern Conference game.
The Southeastern Conference’s leading 3-point shooter, Frazier already had been ruled out of Tuesday night’s game when Florida (22-4, 12-2) travels to Tennessee to face the streaking Volunteers (16-10, 8-6), winners of five straight.
“They say the tests are going good right now and that I can be back soon,” Frazier told GatorZone.com Sunday. “I want to play, I want to be out there with my teammates, but you also can’t mess around with something like this.”
Frazier, who is averaging 7.0 points per game and shooting almost 55 percent from 3-point range in SEC play, was injured in a scramble for a loose ball with just under 12 minutes to go against the Razorbacks. Replays showed Frazier’s head knocking into the knee of teammate Scottie Wilbekin, with the former Tampa Plant and Montverde Academy star remaining practically motionless on the O’Connell Center floor before eventually being helped to his feet and led off the court.
UF trainer David “Duke” Werner said Frazier was taken to Shands Hospital for a CT scan, the results of which were normal. He was released Saturday night, returned to his dorm for the evening, had follow-up tests Sunday and spent most of the day resting before showing up in street clothes toward the end of practice.
Frazier recalled little about the collision, only going after the ball, feeling his head make contact with something (he didn't know what), then Werner speaking to him.
He can take solace in the fact teammate Casey Prather was sidelined nearly three weeks earlier this season after suffering the second of two concussions.
The situation certainly could be worse.
“I’d love to be out there and playing in that environment at Tennessee, but these things happen sometimes,” Frazier said. “I’ll be there cheering them on and doing anything I can to help.”
Assuming the timetable for Frazier’s return is correct, the UF roster could very well be at full strength this weekend, with junior forward Will Yeguete’s return for the Alabama game now a very real possibility.
Yeguete underwent knee surgery Feb. 8 to remove cartilage fragments in his right knee and was expected to miss the remainder of the regular season. His rehab, though, is well ahead of schedule with Coach Billy Donovan and the medical staff optimistic he can be back this week to play the final three SEC games.
GOOD YOUNG MAKES GATORS GREAT
This is how Donovan framed the up-and-down play of center Patric Young.
“It’s a total choice by him,” the coach said.
In the loss at Missouri last Tuesday, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound was practically invisible among the more aggressive and active Tigers, finishing with two points and three rebounds. Those happened to be the same numbers Young (righ) carded the game before at Auburn, but the Gators didn’t really need him then, thanks to 15-for-30 shooting from 3-point range.
They needed him at Mizzou, though, but the high-flying, high-energy Young was not there.
He was against Arkansas and the Gators won by 17.
“I came out a lot more focused,” Young said.
Without question, Young feeds off the home crowd probably more than any other player on the Florida roster. That’s good, of course, but the Gators have just two more games at the O'Dome and then it’s on to neutral sites for the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
In between is that upcoming game Knoxville Tuesday and the regular-season finale at Kentucky. It’d be nice to get that same “focus” Young referenced on an opposing team’s court. It starts at practice, though.
“It’s a mentality, a commitment. It is every single day working like that,” Donovan said. “As big and strong as he is he should demand the ball every single time when he gets inside. ... But sometimes, you watch him on film and there’s no presence. He’s just standing there.”
Against the Razorbacks, Young was engaged and battling for position. When he does those things and gets the ball in that sweet spot around the post circle -- deep in the paint versus 8 feet from the basket -- Young becomes a serious threat and the Gators become a more dangerous team because the defense collapses on him and sets up shooters on the perimter.
“Coach told us to feed the big guy,” senior guard Mike Rosario.
But the big guy has to be hungry.
Senior guard Kenny Boynton took 14 shots Saturday, moving him past Andrew Moten (1984-87) into the No. 2 spot on UF’s list for all-time field-goal attempts. Boynton needs just three shots to reach the No. 1 spot currently occupied by who? Hint: It’s not Erving Walker. Answer below in “Free Throws” section.
EX-GATOR OF THE WEEK
We’re back to Bradley Beal again. The Washington Wizards rookie and No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists over three games last week, including wins over playoff contenders Denver and Houston. The Wizards started the season 4-28, but have won 13 of their last 22, with all but one of those coming since the return of point guard John Wall, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2010. In fact, after their rally from 17 down Saturday night to upset the Rockets, NBA analyst Rick Bucher, of Comcast and NBC, wondered in a blog if the Wall/Beal duo did not have a better long-range upside than Houston’s backcourt of James Harden and Jeremy Lin. “A case can certainly be made," Bucher wrote. "The Rockets, overall, have more assets and obviously are better positioned, cap-wise, to take another big step forward, and Harden has been so good that he makes the Rockets’ pair the choice all by himself, but as far as two players fitting together the strengths and weaknesses of Wall and Beal are far more compatible.”
CHARTING THE GATORS
UF already was down one man (Yeguete) from its normal rotation of eight players when the team lost Frazier. In fact, Florida has had all eight members of its core rotation intact for just seven games this season. Below is a review:
* Denotes being injured in that game and not did not being able to finish.
Scott Wilbekin - 2 missed games
Suspended for violation of team rules: Alabama State, Wisconsin
Erik Murphy - 1 missed game
Broken rib: at Yale
Mike Rosario - 1 missed game
Sprained ankle: at LSU
Casey Prather - 9 missed games
Concussion: Alabama State, Wisconsin, Middle Tennessee State, Savannah State
Sprained ankle: *at LSU (played 13 minutes), at Texas A&M, Missouri, at Georgia, at Mississippi State.
Will Yeguete - 6 missed games
Knee: *at Arkansas (played 1 minute), Mississippi State, Kentucky, at Auburn, at Missouri, Arkansas
Michael Frazier - 1 missed game
Concussion: * Arkansas (played 15 minutes)
IRREVERENT GATOR PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Just call this "extreme skydiving."
For the second time in as many SEC losses, the team that defeated the Gators turned around and lost its next game on the road. In this case, it was Missouri going to Kentucky and falling in overtime. Earlier this month, it was Arkansas celebrating -- and talking (a lot) -- a win over the then-No. 2 team in the nation, only to turn around and lose at Vanderbilt, which was then just 2-7 in league play at the time. ... Before Saturday's four-point halftime lead, the smallest margin at intermission of a home game was 12 points against Wisconsin. ... Gotta love the “Big Heads” or “Fat Heads” or whatever they’re called that the Rowdy Reptiles put out for games. Although Rosario gets the bulk of (big) face time with his fans right behind the TV crews, kudos to the Rowdies for giving equal opportunity love to director of basketball operations Darren Hertz (pictured right). So what will they do for an encore? What key under-the-radar staff member is next? Hey Rowdies, can you say, “Colby Donovan?” Or “Tracy Pfaff?” How 'bout "Presti" or "Billy O?" [Note: If any of you hardcore Rowdies know who "Presti" is, you're my Gator Fan of the Week]. ... Florida got back to its stingy defensive ways against the Hogs. The Gators have now held opponents under 60 points 19 times this season. Arkansas guard BJ Young came into the game as the SEC’s third-leading scorer at 16.5 points per game. Young went 0-for-8 from the floor and was held without a field goal for the first time this season. Take a bow, Scottie. ... The addition of Damontre Harris to the UF scout team has been huge for the Gators. Harris, the transfer from South Carolina sidelined for nearly five months with a torn labrum, was cleared for practice last week and immediately took his place in the middle of UF's scout team -- all 6-10, 230 pounds of him. Harris, an SEC All-Defensive Team selection last year for the Gamecocks, gives the Gators a more realistic look of their opponent. Any opponent. In fact, the scout team of Harris, Dorian Finney-Smith (transfer from Virginia Tech), a healthy Frazier, plus DeVon Walker, Braxton Ogbueze, Dillon Graham and walk-on Jacob Kurtz probably could win four or five games in the SEC. ... Trivia answer: Stacey Poole (1990-93) took 1,578 shots over his career en route to scoring 1,678 points, which ranks No. 6 in school history.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Junior forward Will Yeguete is ahead of schedule in his quest to return to the Florida basketball team following knee surgery two weeks ago.
Maybe way ahead of schedule.
UF coach Billy Donovan said as much Thursday, even hinting that the versatile Yeguete -- who underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove cartilage chips in his right knee Feb. 8 and was expected to be sidelined for the balance of the regular season -- might be ready to return for the Gators as early their March 2 home game against Alabama.
“There’s a possibility of that, not a guarantee of that,” Donovan said.
That would make Yeguete available for the final three regular-season games, plus the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments, assuming no setbacks.
“I’m really excited, but I’m taking my time and making sure I’m back,” Yeguete said after a grueling conditioning session Thursday. “So far everything is good. They tell me I’m ahead, but I’m just going to go day by day, doing more and more everyday. If my knee responds -- and does not swell up -- we’re going to add more stuff.”
Yeguete was cleared for straight-ahead running and did wind sprints on the court at the start of practice while his teammates ran through drills. That went well, according to trainer David “Duke” Werner (pictured above with Yeguete at Arkansas game).
After rehab treatment, Yeguete reported to the weight room where Greene put him through a diabolical 25-minute Tabata workout of high-intensity interval training: 12 circuits, eight reps of 20 seconds each, with 10 seconds of rest in between.
Or as strength coach Preston Greene calls it, “Kill Will, Volumes I, II and III.”
After the workout, Yeguete (pictured right) remained flat on his back for about 10 minutes.
“This is torture,” Yeguete grimaced. “I’d rather be practicing.”
Music to Greene’s ears.
“That’s the idea,” he said.
The real idea is to get Yeguete back into the eight-man rotation for whatever March run the Gators have in them. That would be extra special for Yeguete, who suffered a broken foot last February.
That injury, the medical staff believed at the time, was supposed to be season-ending. Amazingly, Yeguete rehabbed to the point he would have been available to play in the Final Four, but UF fell one win shy in falling to Louisville in the NCAA West Region final.
Turns out, Yeguete is a quick healer.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It’s just good to know I have a chance to be back.”
Updated: 10:29am, February 21
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Wednesday was a day off for the Florida basketball team, a respite the Gators no doubt needed after crumbling down the stretch in a maddening 63-60 defeat at Missouri.
Losing at Mizzou Arena -- where the Tigers are 15-0 this season, 29-1 under Coach Frank Haith and 82-4 over the last five seasons -- hardly rates as a bad loss.
The way the fifth-ranked Gators lost, though, was bad.
And it was awfully familiar to some recent high-profile defeats, which made it even worse.
Now, as UF (21-4, 11-2) reconvenes Thursday in anticipation of Saturday’s visit from Arkansas (16-9, 7-5), here’s some perspective about playing on the road.
Um, it’s hard.
Below is a chart of the nation’s Top 20 teams, according to the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) -- heading into Wednesday night’s games -- that is so pivotal in seeding the NCAA Tournament.
The Gators, who have played the nation’s 19th-hardest schedule by RPI standards, remained at No. 4 overall after falling to 7-4 on the road this season. Those four losses -- at Arizona, against Kansas State at Kansas City (which the NCAA counts as a home game because K-State controlled the tickets), at Arkansas and at Mizzou -- came against opponents who are a combined 45-4 at home this season.
That’s hardly embarrassing, but it’s also not an excuse for blowing late double-digits leads like the Gators did at Tucson and Columbia, especially after UF coach Billy Donovan challenged his team leading up to Tuesday’s game to do something it had not done this season: go on the road and beat an NCAA Tournament team on its floor.
UF had a chance -- a great one -- and could not finish.
More than likely, it was the Gators’ last opportunity to ring up a quality, top-50 RPI road win, given all that roadies remain on the regular-season schedule are games at Tennessee (No. 63, but maybe finding its stride) next Tuesday and at Kentucky (45th and spiraling) in the regular-season finale.
As of Wednesday, Florida was one of five teams in the RPI Top 20 without a win on the road against a top-50 team. One of those five, by the way, is top-rated Duke.
Below is a look at how the nation’s Top 20 RPI teams have fared away from home, with additional breakdown of Southeastern Conference teams. Only one SEC team, Texas A&M, has beaten a top-50 RPI team on the road this season. It's probably worth noting, though, that stat says more about the league's competitiveness top-to-bottom than its home-court advantages this season.
Rk Team W-L Road Pct. Vs RPI Top 50 (road wins)
1 Duke 22-3 3-3 .500 8-2 (none)
2 Miami 22-3 10-1 .909 7-1 (North Carolina, NC State)
3 New Mexico 22-4 6-3 .666 6-3 (Cincinnati, Boise State)
4 Florida 21-4 7-4 .636 5-3 (none)
5 Louisville 21-5 6-3 .666 6-4 (Memphis, UConn)
6 Kansas 21-4 5-2 .724 9-3 (Ohio St, K-State)
7 Syracuse 21-4 5-3 .625 4-3 (Louisville, Pittsburgh, UConn)
8 Michigan 21-4 4-4 .500 6-4 (Minnesota, Illinois)
9 Indiana 24-3 6-1 .850 6-1 (Ohio St, Michigan St)
10 Michigan St 21-5 6-3 .666 7-5 (Wisconsin)
11 Arizona 21-4 7-2 .777 5-3 (none)
12 Gonzaga 24-2 9-1 .900 3-2 (Oklahoma St)
13 Colorado St 19-4 5-4 .555 3-3 (none)
14 Marquette 19-6 3-5 .375 5-5 (Pittsburgh)
15 Minnesota 18-8 3-5 .375 4-6 (Illinois)
16 Georgetown 19-4 4-2 .666 5-3 (Notre Dame, Cincinnati)
17 Oklahoma 16-8 3-5 .375 2-6 (none)
18 UNLV 18-7 4-6 .400 4-5 (San Diego St)
19 Butler 21-5 6-3 .666 5-4 (none)
Kansas St 20-5 5-2 .714 5-5 (Oklahoma)
Rest of SEC
33 Missouri 19-7 1-6 .166 3-3 (none)
45 Kentucky 17-8 4-5 .444 0-3 (none)
52 Ole Miss 19-6 5-4 .555 1-4 (none)
59 Alabama 16-8 4-5 .444 1-3 (none)
63 Tennessee 15-10 2-6 .333 2-4 (none)
74 Arkansas 16-9 1-6 .142 3-3 (none)
75 Texas A&M 15-10 3-4 .428 2-4 (Kentucky)
104 LSU 15-9 3-7 .300 1-4 (none)
125 Georgia 12-13 3-5 .375 0-6 (none)
139 Vanderbilt 10-14 2-5 .285 0-5 (none)
192 S. Carolina 12-13 1-6 .142 0-3 (none)
216 Auburn 9-16 1-7 .125 0-5 (none)
228 Miss State 7-17 1-8 .111 0-5 (none)
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Last fall, Missouri point guard Phil Pressey was everyone’s preseason favorite for Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and checked in on just about everybody’s preseason All-America teams.
Pressey, the Tigers senior and son of 10-year NBA veteran Paul Pressey, has had a nice year, leading the league in assists (6.8 per) and carding double-digit assists four times, (including a school-record 19 in an overtime loss at UCLA.
By the standards set by those lofty expectations, though, Pressey and the Tigers, fashionable picks to win the SEC in their first league season, have fallen short.
Take Mizzou’s visit to Florida exactly one month ago. The Tigers were flattened by the Gators 83-52 for the program’s worst defeat in five years, as Pressey finished with just two points and a career-worst 10 turnovers.
Which bring us to Tuesday night’s rematch with No. 5 Florida (21-3, 11-1) which is venturing into the hornets nest known as Mizzou Arena, where the Tigers (18-7, 7-5) are unbeaten in 14 games this season, 29-1 under Coach Haith and 81-4 over the last five seasons.
And as if the mere memory of that tough outing in Gainesville wasn't enough, Pressey was reminded about his recent rough stretches -- especially in late-game situations -- in the local papers today.
Headline in The Missourian: “Dropping the ball when the pressure is on”
Headline in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Haith Keeps Showing Faith in Pressey”
Headline in The Jefferson City News-Tribune: “Pressey continues through difficult stretch”
The stories reference Pressey’s road struggles in the league, where in six SEC games he has 30 assists, 33 turnovers and is -- get this -- 1-for-23 from 3-point range (4.3 percent).
“Every single one of those losses are on me. I’m not afraid to say that,” said Pressey, who in Saturday’s loss at Arkansas -- when the Tigers blew a four-point lead in the final minute -- was 2-for-9 from the floor, 0-for-4 from 3-point range, and had two assists and four turnovers. “You can’t complain over spilled milk, you’ve just got to clean it up.”
He’ll have that chance tonight. At home.
Inside Mizzou Arena, Pressey has 46 assists, just 16 turnovers and is 10-for-26 (that’s 34.8 percent) from the arc.
The comfort of being home and motivation of his recent struggles figure to be powerful allies for a very good player who’s had some night-so-very-good moments this season.
“We’ve got to show him confidence and our belief in him,” Haith said. “He’s our guy, so that’s all we can do.”
Updated: 3:59pm, February 17
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Right now, there may be no better sight for the Florida Gators then when their exquisite ball movement finds Michael Frazier II in open space.
Doesn’t matter where, just that he’s open.
“I’m already looking to run back down the floor,” senior guard Mike Rosario said of the sight of Frazier, arm cocked and rising for his jumper. “That’s how confident I am in him. I just know.”
If opponents didn’t already “just know,” they’re finding out now.
After Frazier, the freshman from Tampa by way of Montverde Academy, nailed six of seven 3-point shots in Saturday’s 83-52 win at Auburn, the kid is shooting 46.7 percent from the arc for the season and a sicko 60 percent in Southeastern Conference play.
“What can I say?” Frazier asked afterward. “My teammates did a great job of finding me. We did a great job of moving the ball and playing together as a team. I was just on the other end of those buckets.”
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound shooting guard has made as significant a mark on his team as any freshman in the SEC. If that sounds like a stretch for a player averaging just 6.2 points per game, think about the element he’s brought to a veteran squad that already was armed with dangerous 3-point shooters in Erik Murphy (50 percent), Kenny Boynton (34.1) and Rosario (36.5).
Defenses can’t account for all of them out there. When they try to, like Kentucky did Tuesday night, the middle of the floor becomes an inviting avenue to explore.
“I’ve always said, offensively, you have to take what the defense gives you. Against Kentucky, we took 14 or 15 3s. Today, we took 30,” Coach Billy Donovan said after his team made 15 of those 30 in yet another 30-plus-point victory. “We found Frazier at crucial times during the course of the game -- his legs under him, his feet set -- and he’s obviously a terrific shooter when he gets his feet set like that.”
There have been times this season, whether because of injuries or foul trouble in the front court, that Frazier has been asked to play out of position at the forward spots. He’s done an admirable job when called upon in that role -- especially rebounding the ball -- despite getting lost at times defensively and maybe occasionally being out of position on certain offensive sets.
That’s part of the learning curve for a collegiate rookie.
Now, think back to Tuesday night, when Kentucky extended its defense and pressed UF’s 3-point shooters. Frazier had one field-goal attempt. It was an ill-advised 2-pointer that drew some words from Donovan, who has praise Frazier for his willingness to take criticism and be coached hard.
Right now, the Gators don’t want or need Frazier to attack the rim. They want/need him to take open perimeter shots. If his role was much more involved than that -- say he had to start, play 28 or so minutes, with teams marking him at the arc and forcing him to drive the basketball and create scoring opportunities -- Frazier’s impact on the game would be different; as in less. At this point in his young career, that’s not Frazier’s game.
For now, his main responsibility is to catch it and shoot it.
Think about that.
What a life.
“I mean, my teammates and my coaches have confidence in me to shoot it when I’m open,” said Frazier, always the first on the court -- not just warming up, but breaking a sweat -- before each game. “That’s my job: to shoot open shots. I put in a lot of time in the gym, so i expect them to go in.”
Everybody else is starting, also.
SHOUTOUT TO PATRIC IN THE POST
He barely touched the ball during the game.
Patric Young’s line at Auburn showed 1-for-3 from the floor, a season-low two points, three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. The 6-foot-9 center wasn’t even in foul trouble.
But he figured huge in the outcome.
“I was really, really pleased with Patric,” Donovan said.
That’s because Auburn came into the game determined to lock down the middle and, in essence, dared the Gators to make a bunch of perimeter shots in a building where they shot 29 percent the last time they were here.
Florida shot 57.4 this time.
“They really converged on him,” Donovan said of Young. “They were physical with him around the basket and a lot of times he occupied two and three people to enable guys to get open.”
For Young, it was a different day than UF’s last outing when he pummeled and pounded Kentucky for 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks when the Wildcats were focused on guarding the 3-point line.
Again, this was a case of taking what the defense gave them (as Donovan mentioned above). The Tigers were not giving Young anything easy.
As long as we’re talking about Frazier and Murphy shooting insane long-range numbers, what UF player holds the record for best 3-point percentage over the course of a season (minimum 50 attempts)? Answer below in the “Free Throws” section.
EX-GATOR OF THE WEEK
We could have gone with any of the five Gators invited to participate in NBA All-Star Weekend, but a development out of Houston (before LeBron, Kobe and the rest even showed up) was too juicy to pass on.
Two weeks ago, the Rockets went wild from the 3-point line in a win against Golden State, making 23 bombs in a 140-109 demo job of the Warriors. After the game, Chandler Parsons, who had 16 points and four treys in the game, took to Twitter to commend his team’s performance from the arc and throw in a little dig.
“Hand down, man down.”
That was a catch phrase of Mark Jackson’s during his time as color analyst for NBA games on NBC. Jackson is now the coach of the Warriors.
Anyway, the Rockets had to go to Golden State last week (before breaking for the all-star game) and the pre-game buzz focused on Parsons’ Twitter tweak at Jackson.
Surely, the Warriors would mark the former Gator, right?
Parsons line in the rematch: 21 points (3-for-6 from 3), eight rebounds and nine assists in a 116-107 Rockets win.
A RARE KENTUCKY FOIL
With the win over Kentucky Tuesday night, Donovan became the third-winningest coach against the Wildcats with 14 victories. As such, The Lexington Herald-Leader listed Billy D as one of the five coaches to most antagonize the Wildcats over the years. Here’s that list of five, with some numbers further flushed out.
James Harrison “Babe” McCarthy (Mississippi State, 1959-63)
Record vs. UK: 2-2
Thorn in Cats side: Won or shared four SEC titles in his five seasons
Ray Mears (Tennessee, 1963-77 -- pictured above)
Record vs. UK: 14-14
Thorn in Cats side: 3 SEC titles (plus the “Bernie & Ernie Show”)
Dale Brown (LSU, 1972-97)
Record vs. UK: 18-32
Thorn in Cats side: Author of the “Freak” defense is winningest coach against Kentucky and went to two Final Fours in the 1980s.
Nolan Richardson (Arkansas, 1985-2002)
Record vs. UK: 7-12
Thorn in Cats side: Razorbacks were instant league contender upon joining SEC in 1991, winning regular season conference titles in ’92 and ’94, including the latter season when Hogs became first SEC team besides UK to win NCAA championship. Also upset Cats early in conference tournament in 2000.
Billy Donovan (Florida, 1996-present)
Record vs. UK: 14-22
Thorn in Cats side: Four SEC titles, three tournament crowns, two national championships -- and turned down Kentucky job twice.
SILLY GATOR PHOTO VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Anyone remember this from those vintage Hanna-Barbera days?
Just a thought: Should Michael Frazier II be Michael Frazier II+I? ... May not have seemed likely after Alabama went to Auburn and scored 12 points in the second half and lost 49-37 three games ago, but the Crimson Tide (17-8, 9-3) are now alone in second place in the SEC, one game up on crumbling Kentucky (17-8, 8-4) and up-and-down Ole Miss (19-6, 8-4). Should Florida win its remaining three home games, including a March 2 showdown with ‘Bama at the O’Connell Center, the Gators will win the SEC regular-season title outright. UF is unbeaten in 11-0 at the O’Dome this season. ... Speaking of unbeaten at home, so is Missouri, which happens to be UF’s next opponent. The Tigers are 14-0 at Mizzou Arena. That should make for a crazy environment Tuesday night when the Gators come calling on ESPN. Of course, UF beat Missouri by 31 at Gainesville last month, but clearly the Tigers are a different team in Columbia, and this time will have forward and leading scorer Laurence Bowers (14.1 ppg, 6 rpg), who missed the first meeting with a sprained knee. ... With the Auburn win, Florida is 7-3 on the road this season, losing at Arizona, Kansas State and Arkansas. The K-State game was in Kansas City, but has been ruled by the NCAA Selection Committee as a true “road” game because K-State controlled the ticket sales. ... Casey Prather had one of his signature slams at Auburn (on a nice alley-oop toss from Rosario) and went 3-for-3 from the floor. He’s now 44-for-64 this season. That’s 68.4 percent. ... Trivia answer: Guard Kenyan Weaks (pictured left with Teddy Dupay) was a sophomore guard when he nailed 50.8 percent of his 3-point shots (61 of 120) in 1997-98. Weaks went on to be MVP of the 2000 NCAA East Region, helping lead Donovan to his first Final Four. ... Finally, how about the great shot below of Rosario's hanging, acrobatic reverse layup on pass from Scottie Wilbekin? It was the shot of the game.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The defense that was Florida’s calling card the first 18 games of the season was back in vogue Tuesday night at the O’Connell Center.
In their 69-52 defeat of Kentucky, the seventh-ranked Gators held the Wildcats to their second-lowest point total of the season, limited the defending NCAA champs to just 42 percent from the floor and 33 from 3-point range, but above all else -- at least in the UF coaches’ eyes -- got their defensive efficiency rating (DER) back to an acceptable level.
Florida limited Kentucky to 0.83 points per possession, a number the Gators like to be around 0.80.
“We played soft, scared, uptight,” Kentucky guard Julius Mays said. “We let the pressure get to us.”
Much of it was pressure on the defensive end, where Patric Young was a force inside (10 rebounds, 4 blocked shots) and the Gators were terrific fighting through screens and closing out on the 3-point line.
“I thought we got better and did a better job,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “Our effort, our focus, our guys being connected on defense -- helping, rotating, understanding scouting -- they really did a much better job than the last couple games.”
Over their first 19 games, Florida held opponents to 53.1 points per game, but more importantly boasted a DER of 0.79. That later number is one the UF coaches hold dearest because it’s a more accurate gauge of their team’s possession-to-possession efficiency because, unlike points per game, it removes style of play from the equation.
It’s basically a measure against themselves.
The defensive “slippage” Donovan talked about in the three games leading up to Kentucky was apparent on the scoreboard, as Ole Miss (win), Arkansas (loss) and Mississippi State (win) combined to average 14 more points per game than the Gators had given up during the season.
And they also combined to average 1.07 points per possession against one of the nation’s best defenses, including a whopping 1.34 from the Razorbacks.
“We got away from our defense the last few games,” junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said afterward. “We got it back today.”
Florida’s players have Wednesday off, then return to work Thursday in anticipation of two-game road swing that will take the Gators (20-3, 10-1) to Auburn (9-14, 3-7) on Saturday and then to Missouri (17-6, 6-4), which is unbeaten in 14 home games, next Tuesday.
UF has a two-game cushion on Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference standings and a 2 1/2-game lead on Ole Miss and Alabama heading into Wednesday night's games.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The magnitude of the night will not be lost on the Florida Gators and the sellout crowd at the O’Connell Center. No basketball game against Kentucky in the Billy Donovan era could be.
But now consider where the Wildcats are coming from.
This is a huge game for UK, which started the season ranked No. 4 then lost six of its first 18 games and heard the Cat calls from a Big Blue Nation that could not understand why another loaded freshman class could not meet the sky-high expectations set by last year’s group of savvy college rookies.
“We’ll find out who we are,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who is 7-1 vs. Florida. “We all know we’ve gotten better, everybody’s that’s watched us. Individual players have gotten better. Now, are we ready for this kind of challenge? We’ll see.”
For No. 25 Kentucky (17-6, 8-2), back in the rankings for the first time in 10 weeks, that challenge is facing the Southeastern Conference frontrunner and most experienced team in the league on the road and in a place the seventh-ranked Gators (19-3, 9-1) have not lost in 11 games this season.
The Wildcats roll out that starting lineup dotted with a gifted group of freshmen, but Kentucky’s first five have started a combined 145 games in their collegiate careers. Florida’s first five of three seniors and two juniors has 331 career starts under its collective belt.
Then again, sheer talent has a way of becoming quite the equalizer and guard Archie Goodwin, who is excellent off the bounce, is starting to find his rhythm and catching up with 6-foot-10 center Nerlens Noel (pictured left). Same with forward Alex Poythress, who along with Goodwin and Noel were McDonald’s All-Americans last year.
But it’s been veterans like sophomore Kyle Wiltjer, who had 26 points in a big win at Ole Miss, and senior Julius Mays, who has 52 Division-I starts at three schools (UK, along with North Carolina State and Wright State), that have helped the youthful Wildcats maybe settle into things a little better during their run of five straight wins.
Should Kentucky make it six tonight, the Cats will jump quickly back into college basketball’s collective conscience.
“I love playing big games,” said Goodwin, who had 24 in probably his best game of the season in that win at Ole Miss two weeks ago. “These are the type of games that I feel like I was made for.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With each passing day, next season gets a little closer for two sort-of Florida basketball players.
But these dog days (and dog-eat-dog practices) of February can be really tough on a collegiate transfer.
In the case of swingman Dorian Finney-Smith, a freshman starter and rising star at Virginia Tech a year ago, and center Damontre Harris, a Southeastern Conference All-Defensive team selection at South Carolina last year, it’s been tough on the two of them.
But at least they have each other to lean on.
“I’ve been playing basketball since I was about four years old,” Finney-Smith said last week. “So to sit out a whole year and not get to play even one game? It’s hard, man.”
Harris is right there with him.
“I’m just trying to go with the flow,” he said. “Tere’s actually some light in the tunnel now.”
Finney-Smith and Harris are roommates and just about inseparable these days. That’s a good thing. When the two decided to leave their former schools after coaching changes last summer -- first Harris, then Finney-Smith -- a natural bond was formed.
Transfer years can be as lonely as they are long, but relocation has been good to the Gators recently. Think Vernon Macklin (by way of Georgetown) and Mike Rosario (Rutgers).
Both of those players gave UF’s two new transfers advice last summer. In went something like this:
Stay focused and stay in the gym because while you may think you have a whole year to get better, that time to work is precious -- and keeps moving. Take advantage of it.
“And now we’re deep into SEC play,” Finney-Smith said. “The time is definitely moving.”
That Finney-Smith and Harris have had each other to lean on has definitely helped pass that time. They sit together on the UF bench during home games (in their sweats) and watch their teammates on television when the Gators are on the road (in their dorm).
“I don’t know what I’d do without Tre,” Finney-Smith said. “We’re in this together.”
Transfers have the same demands as active squad members when it comes to being at practice, weight-lifting sessions and team meetings. They just don’t get the reward of the game-day experience.
“You put in the work everybody else puts in, but you don’t get to show or perform or demonstrate all that work,” Harris said. “That’s the worst part.”
Maybe so, but the bulk of the worst is over. The college basketball season is two-thirds done, which means Finney-Smith and Harris are that much closer to being UF basketball players for real.
In the interim, 6-foot-10, 228-pound Harris has spent the last four months rehabbing the torn labrum he suffered on just the second day of practice. He’s been a project for strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene, who’s reshaped and toned the former Gamecocks big body. Harris recently was cleared for individual instruction work and some non-contact drills at practice.
Finney-Smith, the 6-foot-8 forward/guard who goes by “Doe-Doe,” has been a mainstay for UF’s scout team the entire season and oftentimes provides moments in practice that cause coaches and support staff to shake their heads and say, “What if?”
As in, “What if he was on this team?”
They will both be there next year, with each figuring prominently in the 2013-14 plans. Harris was an SEC All-Defensive selection last year when he averaged 6.8 points on 55-percent shooting, 5.5 rebounds and was second in the league only to Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in blocked shots with 71 (or 2.3 per game).
Finney-Smith was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s All-Freshman Team after starting 30 games and averaging 6.3 points and seven rebounds. His athleticism and versatility could allow him to play four positions next season.
Sometimes the two let their minds to wander to a time in the not-too-distant future when they’ll be running onto the O’Connell Center floor and hearing fans cheer for them.
“I think about it every day ... actually wearing a Gator uniform,” Harris said. “I’ve even had dreams about it, but then I wake up knowing I still have to wait ‘till next year. It’ll be here, though. I’d even say the time’s starting to go by a little faster.”
Neither player regrets their decision that brought this season of limbo.
“I just wish I’d signed with Florida out of high school,” Finney-Smith said. “Can’t do nothing about it now, though, but practice hard and wait for my time to get here.”
MESSAGE SENT, MESSAGE RECEIVED
UF coach Billy Donovan believes junior Scottie Wilbekin is having one of the best and most complete seasons -- offense, defense, playmaking -- of any point guard on the country.
And that’s what why he benched him Saturday.
Wilbekin strayed the previous game -- that eyesore loss at Arkansas, the first UF defeat of the SEC season -- from doing the things that made him so across-the-board effective and when Donovan confronted and challenged his floor leader he did not see the proper response.
Sitting Wilbekin down for the first 2 minutes and 21 seconds against Mississippi State-- freshman Michael Frazier got the start, instead, -- was not a disciplinary move as much as it was an attention-grabbing one. Donovan felt the need to explain as much after the game because he did not want people to think Wilbekin had done something wrong along the lines of his three-game suspension to start the season for violating team rules.
“There was no altercation, he didn’t come late,” Donovan said. “His energy level and passion wasn’t where it needed to be and that has a great impact on our team. I had to confront it and deal with it and make a decision.”
Wilbekin, who had five points and seven assists in a team-high 33 minutes against the Bulldogs, knew where the coach was coming from.
“I was getting down and wasn’t playing the best I could,” Wilbekin said. “He just told me he expected a certain level out of me.”
Junior center Patric Young recently went over 100 dunks for his UF career. Yes, they count dunks here. Actually, they started doing so back in the early ‘80s and it’s listed as an “unofficial stat.” So, who holds the Gators record for most dunks in a career? Answer in “Free Throws” section below.
EX-GATOR OF THE WEEK
Congrats to San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, the eight-year veteran who was invited last week to be one of the six participants in the Foot Locker 3-Point Contest at NBA All-Star Weekend Saturday in Houston.
Bonner, who has made 43 percent of his 3s this season, will take on a field that includes New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Indiana’s Paul George, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and New York’s Steve Novak.
With Bonner in the weekend fold, that means six former Gators will be representing during All-Star festivities, with Washington Bradley Beal and Houston’s Chandler Parsons picked for the Rising Stars Challenge pitting rookies against second-year players, and Joakim Noah and David Lee in the feature attraction Sunday night.
STARTERS IN MOTION (UPDATED EDITION)
When Frazier got his first career start Saturday, it marked the seventh different starting lineup for the Gators this season, but the first tweak to the first unit eight games.
Alabama State-Win; Wisconsin-W; vs. Middle Tennessee State-W; Savannah State-W; UCF-W; at Arizona-Loss; Southeastern Louisiana-W
at Florida State-W; at Yale-W
at Kansas State-L; vs Air Force-W; at Texas A&M-W; Missouri-W; at Georgia-W; at Mississippi State-W; South Carolina-W; Ole Miss-W; at Arkansas-L
SILLY GATOR PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Come a little closer, why don't you?
After going 3-for-5 from the arc Saturday, Frazier is now 33-for-70 for the season. That’s 47.1 percent. That’s deadly accurate, especially for a rookie. ... And after going 1-for-6 from deep at Arkansas, senior forward Erik Murphy made three of his five long ones against the Bulldogs and ran his SEC-leading percentage back to nearly 50 percent (49.5). ... Senior guard Kenny Boynton has now played in 130 games and Tuesday night will move into a tie with Bonner for eighth on UF’s all-time list with 131. ... Trivia answer: Dwayne Davis (1988-91), the forward/center from St. Petersburg, threw down 168 dunks for three different head coaches from 1988-91. That’s six more than the late Eugene “The Dunking Machine” McDowell flushed from 1982-85.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Logistically speaking, the timing wasn’t great.
The Florida coaching staff was still processing the fallout from an 80-69 blowout loss the night before in Arkansas -- UF’s first loss of the Southeastern Conference basketball season -- when they took a timeout Wednesday afternoon for some moonlighting.
Gators coach Billy Donovan got the starring role and his assistants bit parts in a fancy UPS commercial shot at the team's basketball complex under the direction of accomplished filmmaker Joe Pytka, whose nickname is the “King of Cannes” for all the awards he’s won there.
You may not have heard of Pytka (pictured right with Donovan), but you’ve seen his work on videos with Michael Jackson (“Dirty Diana” and “The Way You Make Me Feel”). In 1987, his Partnership for a Drug-Free America commercial, “This Is Your Brain, This is Your Brain on Drugs,” (below) took on iconic status about the same time his 1989 motion picture “Let It Ride,” starring Richard Dreyfus, became a cult classic.
A year later, on behalf of McDonald's, Pytka pitted Michael Jordan against Larry Bird in maybe the most famous H-O-R-S-E game in history (also below), and in 1996 partnered with Jordan again -- along with Bugs Bunny, among others -- in directing the motion picture “Space Jam.”
[Yeah, we got the trailer below, too]
So there Pytka was Wednesday, in the men’s basketball conference room, playing maestro for Donovan and his staff amid a banter of logistics after a UPS delivery man -- played by true-blue (make that brown) Gainesville UPS driver Wyndell Jenkins -- drops off a package.
“They were all great,” Pytka said. “And Billy Donovan is fabulous.”
If you’ve seen the UPS commercial that breaks down Doug Flutie’s famous “Hail Mary” against Miami, you may get the idea how detailed this 30-second spot -- which required a crew of 21 -- will be. But in the age of Internet and social media, the four-hour shoot wasn’t limited to guys sitting around a table.
Donovan also did some breakout interviews (shot free throws, too) for montages that will show up on UPS home page, on Facebook, promos, etc.
Pytka, 74, is a huge basketball fan, having actually played a season -- “One bad year,” he said. “I sucked, we sucked.” -- at the University of Pittsburgh.
Over the years, he established a rapport working with athletes and managed to bring out the best in front of the type of cameras they’re not normally used to.
“The challenge is to get them to express themselves in an authoritative manner and capture their personality,” he said. “They just saw the script for the first time today, but we shot it in fragments to keep everyone comfortable. We’ll patch it together.”
And it will be really good.
“It was pretty cool,” Donovan said. “And he’s a great guy.”
Pytka had some glowing things to say about Donovan, too. Not just Billy the Actor, but Billy the Coach. Pytka has shots pieces with the likes of Mike Krzyzewski and Bobby Knight, and found Donovan every bit as enlightening when it came to articulating his coaching and teaching philosophies in the one-on-one segments.
“He was unbelievable,” Pytka said, “I want him to come coach the Lakers.”
Logistically speaking, let’s not go there.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Yeguete’s family has never seen him play American basketball in person. That was going to change.
The Florida forward’s older brother was due in Gainesville Thursday night from France, a trip planned around this weekend’s home game against Mississippi State.
But instead of watching a game, Yeguete’s brother will arrive in time to console his younger sibling and keep him company after Yeguete undergoes surgery Friday morning.
Yeguete, the Gators’ second-leading rebounder and stellar frontcourt defender, is scheduled for arthroscopic surgery to clean out loose pieces of cartilage floating in his right knee. He’s expected to be sidelined four to six weeks.
“I wanted to play in front of him, but I won’t be able to do that,” Yeguete said during UF’s practice Thursday. “The fact he’s going to be here with me through this, that’ll make things easier.”
The 6-foot-7, 230-pounder from Bordeaux, France opted to have the surgical procedure rather than shut himself down for the season after UF’s medical staff informed him it was likely he’d be available for the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments.
Yeguete missed both tournaments last year with a broken foot, so the thought of being able to take part in March Madness makes his latest run of bad news somewhat more palatable.
I can't believe this is happening, this must be a nightmare....
That was a Twitter post that went out on @Will15Yeguete’s account Wednesday night at 9:47 upon coming to terms with another crushing injury.
But at least this one is regular season-ending versus just plain season-ending.
“I am concerned because it is my knee, but I just have to stay strong and hope the surgery and everything else works out,” Yeguete said. “I’m going to try and stay positive with the way I look at this and hope the team gets back to winning and that I will be there for them.”
Updated: 1:09pm, February 4
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Patric Young grabbed my arm in the post-game locker room Saturday night.
“This is what he did,” Young explained.
In one swooping motion, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Young raised his arm and viciously dropped it toward mine, stopping -- thankfully -- before making contact.
That, he said, was the motion of the blow he took from Ole Miss forward Reginald Buckner, a pretty stout guy himself at 6-9, 235, and caused Young to double over in pain in the final minutes of the fourth-ranked Gators’ 78-64 defeat of the No. 16 Rebels at the O’Connell Center.
“He hit me really hard,” Young said of a play. "I mean, like, WHAM! I looked at the officials and was like, ‘Did you not even see that?’ They didn’t.”
At first, the sequence looked pretty bad for Young, who last week popped a bursa sac in his elbow and dealt with some temporary discomfort there, too.
Then came the WHAM from Buckner, with Young seemingly favoring his arm as walked to the other end of the court after officials stopped play. Young, though, remained in the game.
“I thought he dislocated it the way he was walking around,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.
Not to worry.
On Sunday, Young not only was full-go at practice, but was benching 100-pound dumbbells during his lifting session beforehand.
And the way he played against the Rebels -- carding his fourth double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds) of the year against one of the Southeastern Conference’s most physical teams -- he might as well have bench-pressed Buckner, too.
“I thought Patric was great,” said Donovan, who was particularly pleased with Young’s work on the defensive end in boxing out one of the nation’s premier offensive rebounding squads. “It was the best I’ve seen him chase the ball on the backboard in a long, long time.”
The UF coach has said since last year Young should roll out of bed on game day with a double-double.
It took the junior from Jacksonville a couple seasons to come to terms with the energy level and commitment needed daily at practice. He’s improved on his field-goal percentage from 61.8 last year to 63.8 this year, and his defensive awareness is in heightened step with that of his teaammates.
Maybe the next step is improved numbers under the glass.
It's rough down there, but he can take it.
The Gators are 8-0 in the SEC for only the second time in program history, joining the ’07 eventual second national championship team, and have a two-game lead on Ole Miss, Kentucky and Alabama (all of which are 6-2) and three games on Missouri (5-3) in the league standings.
Excuse Donovan for not being too fired up.
Not the first week in February.
“I don’t think it makes a difference,” he said. “We’re not even at the halfway point.”
The back end of the UF conference schedule looms more difficult than the front, starting with Tuesday night’s game at Arkansas (13-8, 4-4), which will mark the halfway point of the conference season.
Given Florida went to Fayetteville last season and won by 30 points -- handing the Razorbacks the worst home defeat in the history of Bud Walton Arena -- the place is going to be jacked up in hostings its first top-five opponent since a visit from Texas in 2009. The Hogs may have lost by 21 last week at South Carolina, but will be a formidable foe at home.
The Gators have managed the role of big favorite with a level-headedness and the proper respect for their opponents. This game, especially on the road, could be the team’s biggest challenge to date.
UF still has 11 SEC games remaining, including two against Kentucky, a second against Arkansas, a road trip to Missouri and home date against Alabama.
“What’s left on our schedule is going to be hard,” Donovan said. “To sit here and talk about a two-game cushion, we’re not going to do that.”
Back on the subject of Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson; the guy has taken 307 shots in 21 games. That’s 14.6 per game. And everyone considers him a gunner -- which he is. So you think that’s a lot? How many shots per game did “Pistol Pete” Maravich, the league’s all-time scoring leader, average per game during his three seasons at LSU? Answer below in “Free Throws” section.
EX-GATOR OF THE WEEK
Need to throw a bone to power forward Marreesee Speights, who was traded from Memphis to Cleveland on Jan. 22. While with the Grizzlies, Speights averaged 6.5 points on 43-percent shooting and 4.7 rebounds over 40 games. In five games with the Cavaliers, his numbers are 15.4 points on 53 percent and 6.8 rebounds. In his fifth game, a 115-110 upset Saturday night of Oklahoma City, Speights had his fourth double-double of the season, with 21 points and 10 rebounds, plus three assists. Nice numbers against the Thunder front line.
CHARTING THE GATORS
Henderson may lead the SEC in 3-point field goals, but Erik Murphy is the league’s best from the arc -- and it’s not even close. Henderson (shown left defending "Murph") had a great game in Gainesville, going 7-for-11 from distance, but Murphy was a deadly 5-for-6 in UF’s big win. The two even had some friendly banter about their back-and-forth bomb-trading. "I might be able to stay with him in a standstill shooting contest, but not running around like that,” Murphy said. “The kid is unbelievable.” Murphy’s numbers are pretty hard to believe, too. Here’s how he stacks up against the best 3-pointer shooters in the league (or how they don’t stack up with him).
Rank Player-Team 3s Made-Attempted Pct.
1 Erik Murphy, UF 43-84 51.2
2 Andre Stringer, LSU 41-99 41.4
3 Kyle Wiltjer, UK 45-110 40.9
4 Elston Turner, A&M 49-130 37.7
5 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, GA 51-139 36.6
6 Marshall Henderson, OM 83-229 36.2
7 Kenny Boynton, UF 46-131 35.1
8 Anthony Hickey, LSU 36-114 31.6
SILLY GATOR PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Loved this book as a little kid and read it to my daughter, too. That's Lyle the Crocodile, but hopefully some of you knew that.
Donovan won’t want to talk about this (and neither will his players), but if the Gators are able to take care of business Tuesday at Arkansas and at home Saturday against Mississippi State, the stakes could be all the higher for Feb. 5 when defending national champion Kentucky comes to town. That’s because UF figures to jump to No. 2 when the polls are released Monday, with Indiana sliding back to No. 1. The Hoosiers, however, are on the road twice this week: at Illinois, then Ohio State. Up in Lexington, where that team is starting to gel, they're buzzing about the Gators being No. 1 when the two teams play. ... Some great perspective from senior guard Mike Rosario on Henderson, who really got some rough treatment in the media last week for his on-court antics (and off-court baggage). “His attitude and the way he acts on the floor, I just feel like that is him being competitive. That’s just him enjoying the moment,” Rosario said. “You can’t look at a guy just off his actions and what he does out there on the floor and say he is a bad person. He actually came up to me after the game and told me, ‘Great job. Keep playing the way you guys are playing. You guys are going to go really far.’ I thought that was good sportsmanship.” Young shared similar words with Henderson. “I told him not to worry about all the stuff people are saying about him,” Young said. “I told him to just keep being himself and he’ll continue to be successful.” ... By beating Ole Miss, UF improved to 3-1 vs. ranked opponents this season (the other wins coming against Wisconsin and Missouri, the loss vs. Arizona). ... As of Sunday night, the Gators had moved from fifth to fourth in RPI, trailing only Duke (1), Miami (2) and Arizona (3). ... Trivia answer: Maravich (right) took 3,166 shots in 83 games during his three seasons (1968-70). That’s 38.1 per game -- nearly three times as many as Henderson -- and averaged 44.2 points for his career. Would have been close to 50 with a 3-point line.
NOT EVEN CLOSE
In the big picture, the Florida Gators have done nothing yet. If you don’t believe it, just ask Coach Billy Donovan.
The Gators (17-2, 7-0), ranked fourth in the nation, have a measly one-game lead in the Southeastern Conference race heading into Saturday's home game against second-place Ole Miss (17-3, 6-1). But after yet another blowout victory Wednesday night, a 75-36 pummelling of South Carolina, UF’s domination of the SEC and its average victory margin of 28.2 points against conference foes are getting a lot of attention for a number of reasons; because the Gators look really good; because the league looks really bad; take your pick.
Whatever the case, Florida is running roughshod on the SEC in these early goings of the 2013 conference campaign. How roughshod? Here’s a snapshot of how this UF team compares -- or doesn’t, actually -- through seven games to the SEC’s six national champions during the shot-clock era.
Team Year W-L Margin Avg. Closest game or losses
Arkansas 1994 5-2 +100 +10.0 Lost 66-64 at Alabama; Lost 72-71 at Mississippi State
Kentucky 1996 7-0 +153 +21.8 Won 82-77 at Georgia
Kentucky 1998 7-0 +68 +9.7 Won 70-67 in OT vs Arkansas
Florida 2006 5-2 +58 +8.3 Lost 80-76 at Tennessee; Lost 68-67 at South Carolina
Florida 2007 7-0 +104 +14.8 Won 70-67 at Mississippi State
Kentucky 2012 7-0 +99 +14.1 Won 65-62 at Tennessee
Florida 2013 7-0 +198 +28.2 Won 64-47 at Georgia
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Junior forward Casey Prather will return to action for the Florida Gators earlier than expected.
He’s been cleared to play Wednesday night when fourth-ranked UF (16-2, 6-0) faces South Carolina at the O’Connell Center.
Prather, sidelined since spraining his left ankle in the first half of the LSU game on Jan. 12, was was cleared for practice contact Monday and went full-speed the last three days, including Wednesday afternoon during UF’s shoot-around.
The target return for Prather had been Saturday’s home game against Ole Miss, but after he moved and practiced well this week Coach Billy Donovan met with trainer David “Duke” Werner and together they decided to give the swingman the go-ahead to play against the Gamecocks.
Donovan said after the shoot-around that he wasn't sure how many minutes Prather would play, but his availability means the Gators will have their full eight-man rotation for just the ninth time in 19 games this season.
The 6-foot-6, 212-pound Prather is averaging 6.8 points on 65.9 percent shooting, 3.3 rebounds and 15.5 minutes per game. Aside from missing the previous four games with the ankle sprain, Prather also missed the season’s first four games after sustaining a pair of concussions in the preseason.
UF is looking to go 7-0 in Southastern Conferences play for only the third time in school history and remain a game up on Ole Miss, which lost for the first time Tuesday night, in the conference standings.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The UF marketing department, in honor of junior forward Will Yeguete’s very unique and ... um ... pointed look, pegged Wednesday night’s basketball against South Carolina as “Mohawk Night.”
The first 1,000 students to roll into the O’Connell Center to see the fourth-ranked Gators (16-2, 6-0) square up on the Gamecocks (12-7, 2-4) will be issued faux mohawks to put on their heads and thus pay homage to the “do” that has graced Yeguete’s noggin for the better part of the last two seasons.
Yes, and the one that makes cameo appearances on junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin every now and then.
“Mine is different than his,” Yeguete said. “Mine is more aggressive. His is a little piece of [garbage].”
Wilbekin, who will be sporting his mohawk for the game, likes his look.
“His is like the power mohawk,” Wilbekin said of Yeguete’s. “Mine is kind of like Pau Gasol ... a finesse mohawk.”
OK, that did it.
We decided an informal poll was in order.
Let’s talk ‘hawk.
Whose mohawk is better, Will or Scottie’s?
* Billy Donovan: "Scottie. Will's is too high.
* Casey Prather, the first of this junior class to actually mohawk up (did it as a freshman): “I like ‘em both. They’re different. But I think I like Will’s better. It’s nice and shaped up.”
* John Pelphrey, assistant coach: “Will’s looks like some piece of armor. Like a helmet some warrior would have worn centuries ago. Scottie’s is more GQ.”
* Kenny Boynton: "Gimme Scottie's. Look at Will's. It's too big."
* Pat Young, who went mohawk for the NCAA Tournament his freshman: “I’m staying out of this.”
* Preston Greene, strength and conditioning coach: “Neither. They’re both stupid. Gimme the standard military look -- high and tight.”
* Michael Frazier: “Will’s is bigger, but I like Scottie’s. Nice and short and shaped.”
* Matt McCall, assistant coach: “Will put the patent on the thing. Look at it. He’s rockin’ the ‘hawk. With Scottie you just never know. One day he goes 'hawk, the next he doesn’t.”
* Mike Rosario: “I kind of like Scottie’s better because it’s not too much hair on top, but Will’s is definitely more legit. Just one big line on top of his head.”
* Dorian “Doe-Doe” Finney-Smith: “Will is known for the ‘hawk, man. But Scottie’s is pretty smooth. He’s got the curly hair and keeps it close and tight.”
* Rashon Burno, assistant coach: "Will. It's higher. You gotta have height."
* David “Duke” Werner, trainer. “Definitely Will’s. Bigger, more pronounced.
* Erik Murphy: “I could care less.”
In the spirit of Yeguete’s power ‘hawk and Wilbekin’s pretty boy ‘hawk, here’s a look at some other famous mohawks.
Mr. T. Went 1-1 vs Rocky.
Wes Studi as the evil Magua in "Last of the Mohicans." Killed Madeline Stowe's father ... then ate the guy's heart. Mean dude.
2012 National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper. Has since trimmed it back. Goin' with the mature, veteran look ... at age 20.
Actress Demi Moore. Not sure if this was before or after the pregnant nude pose (or maybe halfway to the "G.I. Jane" look).
Soccer icon David Beckham. Needed to bend his hawk a little more.
Robert DiNiro as the infamous Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver. You talkin' to him?
Chris "Birdman" Anderson. Absolutely no offensive game, but a colorful player.
NFL Hall-of-Famer and Super Bowl XVII MVP John Riggins, then with the Jets. Also colorful. "Loosen up, Sandy baby! You're too tight."
Former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson, who will never be in the Hall of Fame.
Extreme skier Glen Plake. Extreme mohawk.
Rapper P Diddy. The understated 'hawk. Probably what Yeguete's looked in its infancy.
@GatorZoneChris (at Wednesday's shoot-around). ... OK, not so famous, but you get the idea. There will be a 1,000 of 'em in the house tonight.