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Friday July 13, 2012Harry: Top 10 Gator Team Performances of 2011-12 Athletic Year

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Round 3 of our look back at the 2011-12 athletic year for the Gators makes mention of a lot of the moments referenced in Rounds 1 and 2. But overlap is OK. 


And necessary.  


This time, it’s top team performances. 


Several are obvious. 


A couple others have been tweaked to fit my template. And since it’s my template, I can do what I want. 


Feel free to agree. Better yet, to disagree (here)


1. Bridesmaids no more 


Only Coach Mike Holloway could tell us whether it was worth the wait, but after finishing either second or third in 2009, ’10 and 11, how satisfying must it have been to know his 4x400-meter relay team -- after a blistering anchor leg by Olympian Tony McQuay -- pushed the Florida men to the team title at NCAA Track and Field Championships?


Since the Gators also won the team indoor title in the spring, UF became the first team since Arkansas in 2003 to sweep both track crowns in a single season. 



2. Twice as dominant  


Roland Thornqvist barely blinked when his reigning national-championship and top-ranked women’s team lost 5-2 at Stanford, the team the Gators defeated for the title the year before, early in the season. 


Clearly, he knew how good (and how deep) his squad was for the long haul. 


UF won the next 23 straight matches -- 16 of them by shutout, including five of six NCAA matches -- to become just the third program in school history to claim back-to-back NCAA crowns. 



3. Northwestern exposure  


Stick, schmick. 


What the UF women’s lacrosse team has accomplished in just three seasons is remarkable. Take a bow, Coach Mandee O’Leary. 


Defeating Northwestern, winner of seven of the last eight NCAA titles, for both the regular-season and postseason tournament titles -- and advance to the Final Four for the first time -- was a statement-making feat. 


Yes, those achievements were watered down by the tragic collapse in the national semifinals (and that controversial stick penalty that nullified the game-winning goal against Syracuse), along with the fact the Wildcats went on to win yet another NCAA crown. 


But those disappointments gave the Gators plenty to think about heading to next season when they’ll welcome back -- um, let’s see -- every player and fortify that group with one of the top recruiting classes in the country. 



4. Fractions from a championship 


Alabama 197.85. 


Florida 197.775.


Difference: 0.075 


Rhonda Faehn not only deserves a world of credit for getting the Gators oh-so-close to winning the school’s first gymnastics title, but also for being able to come to terms -- and not lay awake at night -- after such a narrow margin at the NCAA Championships. 


They’ve knocked on the door so many times (sort of like Holloway’s track team), maybe the next time -- with Honda Award winner Kytra Hunter back for a sophomore season and incoming freshman Bridget Sloan, the 2009 world champion -- the Gators will kick the door in.



5. The first 152 “March Madness” minutes 


The seventh-seeded Gators won their first NCAA Tournament game by 26 points, the second by 34 and the third by 10 against a very good (and favored) Marquette team. UF led its West Regional title game against Louisville by 11 points with eight minutes to go. 


Then things went haywire. 


The positive spin is that Florida reached the Elite Eight for a second straight season. The only other teams to do that: Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina. 


The reality spin, however, is that the Gators for a second straight year blew a big lead mere minutes from a Final Four berth. That’s going to come up a bunch next March, believe me. 


Another exciting and high-achieving season, though, for Billy Donovan and his troops. Make that 14 straight seasons with at least 20 wins.  



6. Ain’t it great to be back in Omaha (even for a couple days) 


Like basketball, the UF baseball season will be recalled for its disappointing end more than its overall body of work. 


That won’t change the fact the Gators have been to the College World Series three straight seasons now under Coach Kevin O’Sullivan. 


Thanks to a killer schedule, Florida was the No. 1 overall seed, but fell victim to the dreaded two-and-barbecue scenario, losing to two-time defending NCAA champion South Carolina in the opening game and playing one of its sloppiest games of the year in a loss to Cinderella Kent State in the second game.


The Gators had almost their entire starting lineup drafted, which is a testament to the recruiting skills of O’Sullivan and his staff.  



7. Saving a season at the Gator Bowl 


Absolutely had to have it. 


Imagine the perception among Florida fans the last few months had the Gators been on the wrong side of that 24-17 score against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. 


No, the offense wasn’t very good (again). The game basically was won by special teams (two touchdowns) and a defense that bullied a Buckeyes bunch racked by suspensions. 


But the must-have victory gave the Gators a 7-6 record, instead of the first losing season in 32 years. No wonder there was so much celebrating in the UF locker room afterward. 


Happy New Year, fellas.



8.  Hog Gator wild in Fayetteville 


Too bad this version of the Florida backcourt didn’t show up in, say, Lexington. 


Or in that Elite Eight game. 


On Feb. 18, Florida went to Arkansas to face a Razorbacks team that was unbeaten in 17 home games. All the Gators did was score 53 first-half points -- shooting 61.5 percent from the floor and a blistering 64.3 from 3-point range -- on the way to an historically lopsided 98-68 wipeout win that marked the Hogs’ worst loss ever at Bud Walton Arena. 


Point guard Erving Walker scored a career-high 31 points, Kenny Boynton had 25 and freshman Bradley Beal had 21 and nine rebounds. That’s 77 points just from the guards, keying a club that went 13-for-23 from the arc. 


There was no better team in America that day. 


Maybe no better UF team in any single-day event over the course of the year. 



9. Aces on the diamond vs. their rivalries  


We already acknowledged the baseball team and that third straight march to the CWS, but along the way something else happened worth noting. 


Perfection against Florida State and Miami. 


UF swept both the Seminoles (three games in three different cities) and the Hurricanes (all at Coral Gables), a feat never accomplished in the history of the Florida baseball program. 


Think of all those years when the Gators (and Athletic Director Jeremy Foley) were so thoroughly frustrated by the disparity between their program and those in Tallahassee and South Florida. 


Not anymore. Probably not for a while, either. 



10. Women’s basketball last two home games 


After consecutive heartbreaking road losses to a pair of ranked SEC foes (South Carolina and Vanderbilt), the UF women’s basketball team faced two must-wins to close out its home schedule in March. 


One against 18th-ranked Georgia, the other against Mississippi State in the final home game for the senior class. 


An NCAA Tournament berth was in the balance. 


The Gators played one of their finest games of the season in beating the Bulldogs 61-57, then put it all together in a 79-45 thrashing of the league’s other Bulldogs. 


The latter ended with all the seniors on the floor, whooping it up with big shots and celebrating the 18th win of the season and a securing a break-even mark in the rugged SEC. 


Florida got that NCAA berth, upset Ohio State in Round 1, then lost to eventually national champ Baylor in second-round play. 



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