February 23, 2017

Quick hits from Jim McElwain's pre-spring practice press conference

Florida coach Jim McElwain spoke with reporters for about a half hour Thursday morning to give a preview of spring practice, which begins Thursday. Here are some quick highlights.

Injuries

Seven players will be held out entirely from spring practice as they recover from injuries. They are: OL/DL Antonio Riles (torn ACL), WR Freddie Swain (shoulder), QB Luke Del Rio (non-throwing shoulder), DB Quincy Lenton (foot), DB Jeawon Taylor (shoulder), LB David Reese (wrist) and DL Jordan Sherit (knee). 

In addition to that group, three more players -- receiver Dre Massey, early enrollee linebacker James Houston and defensive back C.J. McWilliams -- will only participate in non-contact drills as they recover from ACL injuries.

The injuries leave Florida with just 56 healthy scholarship players heading into the 15-practice spring schedule, including just seven in the secondary.

Quarterback Competition

The battle for the starting quarterback spot will likely come down to redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask as most expect, but McElwain said early enrollee Kadarius Toney -- listed as an athlete on the roster -- will have some opportunities at quarterback this spring.

The third-year head coach said Thursday he is hoping to add a running element to his quarterback position, something he wasn't able to do much with during last season's SEC Championship run.

"It's something we did a little bit with Austin [Appleby], and yet this gives us a little bit more as we move forward," McElwain said. "I mean, we also had those packages in for Dre Massey that we worked on extensively and were able to use it for one kickoff, right?"

McElwain also added that he is looking to see which young player showcases the natural ability to lead the offense.

"The biggest piece we're looking for first and foremost is somebody to step up and say, 'You know what, I'm going to take this and I'm going to lead this team and help the parts around me play better,'" McElwain said. "Now with that, it can't be forced -- it's got to be natural. And really the understanding of how and what we need to do is really what we're looking for.  ... Whether it's routes on air, the accuracy of the throws and where it needs to be and all those type of things and understanding the importance of every moment means something, take advantage of it."

Position changes

Two scholarship players will be changing position groups this spring. Backup offensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones is moving to the defensive line, while tight end Cam Knight will play linebacker.

In addition, offensive lineman Martez Ivey will slide over to left tackle after primarily playing guard during his first two seasons. Defensive backs Duke Dawson and Chauncey Gardner will open the spring as Florida's primary outside corners. Dawson spent most of his Gators career playing in the nickel, while Gardner was a hybrid corner/nickel/safety as a freshman last season.

New Numbers

Florida's five early enrollees have been given their playing numbers. They are as follows:

Kadarius Toney - 17

James Houston - 41

Kyree Campbell - 55

Kadeem Telfort - 76

Kemore Gamble- 88

February 20, 2017

By the numbers: A breakdown of the men's basketball team's eight-game win streak

The No. 13 Florida Gators are riding an eight-game win streak heading into their Tuesday home matchup against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Since the win streak began on Jan. 25 some three weeks ago, the Gators (22-5, 12-2 SEC) have seen records fall and players accomplish career-best marks.

There were the two 100+-point conference wins currently bookending the streak, the school-record 19 3-pointers against LSU, the back-to-back-to-back 30+-point wins, the Chris Chiozza triple-double off the bench against Missouri and the 22-point win against Kentucky, to name a few.

But to get a deeper sense of just what this Florida team has accomplished over the past seven games, let’s allow the numbers to do the talking.

Continue reading "By the numbers: A breakdown of the men's basketball team's eight-game win streak" »

Florida Gators Baseball Week in Review: Week 1

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Photos by Jordan McPherson

Welcome to the first installment of the Florida Gators Baseball Week In Review. Every Monday, I will take a look back at the Gators’ performances, pull out some highlight performances and give a preview for what will be ahead in the following week.

Summary

The Gators, who opened the season as the No. 3 team in the Baseball America poll, swept William & Mary in a three-game weekend series to open the 2017 season. Florida rallied from a 4-1 deficit on opening night to take a 5-4 win before posting scores of 8-1 on Saturday and 11-6 on Sunday to complete the sweep. UF outhit the Tribe 33-19 over the three games and five players post batting averages at or above .400.

Continue reading "Florida Gators Baseball Week in Review: Week 1" »

February 16, 2017

Florida baseball season preview: Outfield

 

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- Photo by Jordan McPherson

In the final installation of our four-part season preview of the Florida Gators baseball team, let’s take a look at the outfielders.

Sophomore Nelson Maldonado

Career stats: .256 batting average, 30 RBI, 6 home runs, 1.000 fielding

Outlook: Maldonado will start in right field and serve as the most veteran presence in a youth-laden starting outfield. The 5-10 right-handed power hitter started 59 games as a freshman in the corner outfield positions. After a slow start freshman year, a 15-game stretch in which Maldonado was used solely used mostly as a pinch-hitter and given spot starts, he came into his own in three-game series vs. Harvard where he went 4-for-11 at the plate with five RBI and his first career home run. He showed sparks of his power from there, most notably during UF’s home win against Florida State on March 15 and with a two-homer game on the road against Kentucky. He’s generally a sound defender as well and will likely extend the territory he covers in right this year with the departure of defensive stalwart Buddy Reed.

Sophomore Blake Reese

Career stats: .286 batting average, 0 home runs, 1 RBI, 1.000 fielding

Outlook: Reese began his collegiate career as a backup middle infielder and primary pinch-runner. Come Friday, he’ll be starting in center field, looking to fill big shoes and a lot of ground like Buddy Reed, Florida’s top infielder before him. Reese is still perfecting his craft in the outfield, but the switch hitter has come into his own after months practicing at a foreign position. He can hit for power from both sides of the plate despite being just 5-11 and 180 and will be a threat on the basepaths once again this year.

Freshman Austin Langworthy

Career stats: N/A

Outlook: Langworthy will be the only freshman to start in the field on Opening Day for the Gators this year, doing so in left field. He’s a 5-9 left-handed batter who has had no problem clearing the McKethan Stadium fence during the fall and spring. Expect to see him in the back half of the order to start the year.

Senior Ryan Larson

Career stats: .260 batting average, one home run, 39 RBI, .983 fielding percentage

Outlook: For three years, Larson more or less platooned with in the corner outfield spots. This year, however, the senior will likely be used mostly as a defensive substitute late in games. Larson is a quality defender with a knack for getting base hits. He will also add depth as a middle infielder.

Freshman Andrew Baker

Career stats: N/A

Outlook: Baker will likely be limited to work on the mound for the first month of the season while he recovers from surgery on his non-throwing hand, but once he is fully cleared, the freshman will likely get spot starts in center field.

Junior Nick Horvath

Career stats: .143 batting average, 5 RBI, 2 home runs, 1.000 fielding

Outlook: Horvath is arguably Florida’s best defensive outfielder and will likely gets looks as a substitute late in games, similar to last year. Horvath, a lefty, will likely also have an extended role out of the bullpen.

Other Options

Freshman Kirby McMullen and freshman Austin Bodrato

Outlook: Both two-way playing freshmen were used more on the mound than in the field during scrimmages. They could get an occasional pinch-hit appearance, but it looks like they will be used more as pitchers than in the field.

Overall Evaluation

The group is young. The outfield lost a chunk of its depth due to a trio of transfers in Jeremy Vasquez, Danny Reyes and Eddy Demarius along with Buddy Reed being drafted. What the group lacks in experience, however, it can likely make up for in its potential. The trio of Langworthy, Reese and Maldonado has a lot of upside. The second weekend of the season against Miami will put the group to the test defensively.

To McElwain, new football assistants are 'natural fits'

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GAINESVILLE

The phrase kept popping up.

As Florida coach Jim McElwain on Thursday introduced his three new assistants -- defensive backs coach Corey Bell, offensive line coach Brad Davis and running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider -- he repetitively mentioned how they were natural fits for the program, exactly what he needs with spring camp opening up on Feb. 28.

There were plenty of candidates for each position, McElwain said.

But in the end, he kept coming back to these three.

“That’s something we hit a home run on,” McElwain said before the new members of his staff took to the lectern for his turn in the limelight.

Here’s a quick look at each of the three new hires. 

Continue reading "To McElwain, new football assistants are 'natural fits'" »

February 15, 2017

Gators starting center John Egbunu out for season with torn ACL

John Egbunu, the starting center for the 15th-ranked Florida men's basketball team, will be out for the remainder of the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during the first half of Florida's 114-95 road win over Auburn on Tuesday night.

“We’re all disappointed for John,” second-year UF head coach Mike White said in a release on Wednesday. “He’s been playing really well of late, so it’s a tough blow to him and our team. He’s a great young man, and unfortunately injuries are a part of basketball. He’ll be back even stronger.”

Egbunu, a redshirt junior and former transfer from the University of South Florida, averaged 7.8 points and a team-best 6.6 rebounds this season for the 15th-ranked Gators before the injury. He played in 24 games, including 19 starts. His expected recovery time is 10-12 months.

During Florida's seven-game win streak, the 6-11, 255-pound center was averaging 8.6 points and seven rebounds and committed just 11 total turnovers.

This marks the second straight year Egbunu's season ends with an injury. Egbunu tore a ligament in his right thumb in practice before the 2016 Southeastern Conference Tournament and did not play in Florida's three National Invitation Tournament games. He had surgery in the offseason.

With Egbunu sidelined for the rest of the season, the Gators will have to rely on sophomore Kevarrius Hayes and senior Schuyler Rimmer to carry the bulk of the production from the center position.

Hayes has been Egbunu's main backup this season and also started for a seven-game stretch earlier in the year while Egbunu recovered from a hamstring injury. The 6-9, 218-pound Hayes is averaging 6.2 points per game on a 63.6-percent shooting efficiency this year and is also contributing an average of 3.8 rebounds per game.

Rimmer has mostly been used this season when both Egbunu and Hayes were in foul trouble. In 15 total appearances, the 6-10 Stanford transfer has 22 total points and 14 rebounds.

Gorjok Gak, a 6-11 post player who has seen action in just 10 games as a freshman, is also out for 10-14 days with a foot sprain.

Florida baseball season preview: Infield

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-Photo by Jordan McPherson

The third part of our four-part series breaking down the Florida Gators baseball team takes a look at the infield. Florida lost just one mainstay from last year’s group in first baseman Peter Alonso, who was drafted by the New York Mets in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft.

Junior SS Dalton Guthrie

Career stats: .296 batting average, 3 home runs, 48 RBI, .976 fielding

Outlook: For the second straight season, Guthrie should be the go-to guy at shortstop and will likely hold down the leadoff spot in the batting order for the third year in a row. The right-handed contact hitter has a knack for getting on base (166 career hits, .364 on-base percentage) and easily sets the tone for the team on both offense and defense. In the field, Guthrie is laser-focused at shortstop, making nearly impossible grabs for groundballs through the left side seem routine and making routine plays look like a run-in-the-mill practice session.

Continue reading "Florida baseball season preview: Infield" »

February 14, 2017

Florida baseball season preview: Relief pitching

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-Photo by Jordan McPherson

The second part of our four-part series breaking down the UF baseball team focuses on Florida’s bullpen.

Senior Frank Rubio

Career stats: 3-2 record in 41 appearances, 3.77 ERA, 62 innings pitched, 32 strikeouts, 13 walks

Outlook: Expect to see a lot of Frank Rubio this season. The senior walk-on and former St. Thomas Aquinas standout is arguably the most polished of Florida’s bullpen pitchers, and coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he won’t be afraid to throw the sidearm righty on the mound. Rubio has seen his workload increase each year he has been with the team and has seen his arsenal of pitches become more polished as well. His fastball touches 93 mph and his slider is a quality strike-inducing pitch. 

 

Continue reading "Florida baseball season preview: Relief pitching" »

February 13, 2017

Florida baseball season preview: Starting pitching

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Photo by Jordan McPherson 

This is the first of a four-part series breaking down the Florida Gators baseball team ahead of its season opener against William & Mary on Friday. To start things off, let’s take a look at the starting pitchers, which will also include the possible midweek starters.

Weekend Rotation

Junior Alex Faedo

Career stats: 19-4 record in 39 appearances, 3.20 ERA, 166 innings pitched, 192 strikeouts, 37 walks

Outlook: For two years, Faedo was the third man in the rotation behind Logan Shore and A.J. Puk. Come Friday, Faedo will have his turn in the limelight. The junior righty uses a three-pitch mix headlined by his fastball that rests in the mid-90s. He’s coming off a sophomore season in which he led the team in wins (13) and strikeouts (133). Over the summer, the 6-5 righty played with the Team USA Collegiate National Team, during which he 3-0 and posted a 0.56 ERA, struck out 21 and walked just three walks in 16 innings of work. Faedo missed fall practice after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees, but has looked solid in the spring.

Quoteworthy: “[It’s] borderline impossible, at least for me, that’s how I feel when I go up there against him. I don’t know how any team can score a run off of him.” - Junior catcher/DH JJ Schwarz

Sophomore Brady Singer

Career stats: 2-2 record in 23 appearances (one start), 4.95 ERA, 43.2 innings pitched, 38 strikeouts, 17 walks

Outlook: Singer was relegated to the bullpen during his freshman and experienced the highs and lows anticipated of most first-year players. Over the course of fall and spring practice, though, Singer has been virtually untouchable. His fastball has touched 98 mph at points and he’s also throwing his slider and change-up for strikes. If Singer can continue locating his pitches like he has in scrimmages,  he has the potential to be a deadly force on the mound in the Saturday role.

Quoteworthy: “Everyone has trouble hitting him. It's just a power fastball and he's gotten so much better with his command over the fall and the spring, so I feel bad for the teams that have to face him this year because he's tough. He's tough to face." - Sophomore third baseman Jonathan India

Sophomore Jackson Kowar

Career stats: 3-0 record in 12 appearances (six starts), 3.37 ERA, 34.2 innings pitched, 44 strikeouts, 10 walks

Outlook: Kowar held his own early in his freshman year as a midweek starter, but a collapsed lung forced him to miss the back half of his freshman season. Now healthy, Kowar is back to form and is ready to lock down the third spot in the weekend rotation. His fastball rests in the 91-94 mph range and Kowar has been able to command it on both sides of the plate.

Quoteworthy: “[With] Jackson, you just never know. He's got an explosive fastball but you gotta worry about his changeup and his curveball and you just think along, and then you go, 'oh crap. that was 96.' So it's not fun.” - Junior shortstop Dalton Guthrie

Overall Evaluation

Florida’s weekend rotation is arguably one of, if not the, best in the country on paper heading into the season. Faedo has the potential to be the top overall pick in the draft once June rolls around, and Singer and Kowar could both be high first-round selections next year. The group may be as heralded as the starters from a year ago, but their potential is high.

“I don't think anybody's going to feel real sorry for us with Faedo, Singer and Kowar on the weekend,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “That's probably what we anticipate right now.”

Potential Midweek Starters

Freshman Nate Brown

Career stats: N/A

Outlook: Since spring practices have begun, Brown has started against Faedo in every scrimmage. O’Sullivan has raved about the freshman since Fall practices began in October. Brown is a 6-1 righty and comes to UF as the top-ranked right-handed pitcher from Wisconsin, according to Perfect Game. Teammates have compared his consistency to Logan Shore, who served as UF’s Friday-night starter for the better part of three seasons and set the school record for consecutive wins.

Freshman Tyler Dyson

Career stats: N/A

Outlook: Dyson has been a positive surprise since stepping on campus. His fastball has touched 95 mph and O’Sullivan pointed out his potential to have a big role on the team early at different points throughout camp. Dyson is a two-way player who transitioned from being an infielder (he played third base in high school) to a pitcher during his senior year at Bradenton’s Braden River High. He could easily log a few midweek starts early, especially in the first month when Florida has three consecutive weeks with Tuesday-Wednesday midweek matchups.

Freshman Nick Long

Career Stats: N/A

Outlook: Long had a rough time finding his groove during Fall scrimmages but has shown surprising improvements over the last couple weeks. He will likely find himself in the bullpen, but if his endurance is high enough, O’Sullivan might trot the 6-0 righty out for a start or two.

Overall Evaluation

Unlike last season, Florida doesn’t have a proven, tried-and-true pitcher to start on midweeks like they did with Dane Dunning. O’Sullivan will likely mix and match his top freshmen over the first month to see who he likes before deciding on a regular midweek guy.

On Tuesday, we will take a look at Florida’s bullpen.

February 12, 2017

A Q&A with Gators baseball assistant coach Craig Bell

Craig Bell has been one of UF baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan's right-hand men since Day 1.

Bell, along with fellow assistant coach Brad Weitzel, are now preparing with O'Sullivan for their 10th season together when No. 3 Florida opens its season on Friday against William & Mary.

The three have known each other for close to 30 years, their relationships beginning in the mid 1980s when all three were in the Palm Beach County area.

Below is a Q&A with Bell, in which he talks about his relationship with O’Sullivan, breaks down his experiences during his first nine years at UF, previews the season and explains what it will take for Florida to finally win a national championship.

JM: So how did your relationship with O’Sullivan start?

CB: “When Sully was at Clemson, I was covering their team for the Seattle Mariners. So I would see him, and we knew each other from Palm Beach County because we're both from there. Brad also going back from there as well. We've all known each other for a long, long time. Probably since the mid-80s.”

JM: What would you say is O’Sullivan’s most eye-popping attribute?

CB: “Very aggressive, which is his best attribute. He's very straightforward about everything, which is really good for the players and for us. He's easy to work for that way. But the aggressiveness with everything he does from recruiting to the way he coaches the players is very refreshing for me.”

JM: What was your reaction when he offered you an assistant coach job?

CB: “Very excited. Of course being from Florida, at that point I lived in North Carolina, working for the Seattle Mariners at that point. I was just really excited knowing the history at Florida, knowing a lot of guys who had played here at Florida. For me it was a no brainier move to come here.”

JM: You, Brad and O’Sullivan have been together since the start. Are you surprised you all have managed to stay together for 10 seasons?

CB: “I think it's very rare. A lot of guys look to do other things. For us, knowing each other, we know what we're going to teach. We know how we all coach. That makes it very easy. There are things as a staff that we do a little differently than other staffs just because we know each other and we know the way that we're going to coach. It makes it easier. And then we bring [volunteer assistant coach] Lars [Davis] in. He's kind of refreshed us on a few things that we've done. And we've done some different things that Lars has done from his days of playing pro ball and at Illinois.”

JM: With the season fast approaching, does it feel like it’s been seven months since you guys played a game?

CB: “Not really. The fall at times, you have new players come in. Thank goodness for that. You get new guys and you get to keep coaching. That way, it's fresh. It's new. You're trying to get the new guys acclimated. If we had the same guys over and over again, I can see where it could get really really boring. But since we've been back from the beginning of the new year, it's been *snaps* like that in a hurry. I looked at it and was like 'Woah. The season's coming in a hurry.’ Once the season starts, it flies.”

JM: The team has won SEC Championships, made the College World Series and had players earn a slew of national honors. All that’s missing is a national championship. What will it take to get there?

CB: “I think we have the team to do it this year. We’ve had teams that are maybe more heralded, that may be more pro-laden talented. This team has really good starting pitching, which you need. We’ve got really good defenders up and down the lineup. We have some left-handed batters and right-handed batters this year. Last year, we were a little right-handed heavy. We have a nice little split this year. You know, I think we’re just one play away. We’ve been one play away a couple of times from winning it all. There’s a little luck involved. You have to get a little bit lucky. This team, when it’s all said and done, we’re going to be in Omaha with a chance to win it. Now, a lot of things have to happen and you have to win games along the way, but this team has the type of makeup and the type of players on it where if we roll into Omaha, teams aren’t going to be real happy to see us.”

JM: What’s been your favorite moment of your UF tenure so far?

CB: “The first year, in 2010, that we went to the College World Series. I had never been before, doing anything in any capacity. I had never been to Rosenblatt Stadium. I just watched it on TV as a player, coach, scout, whatever, just watching games. The first time we went there, that was pretty cool. We faced Trevor Bauer right out of the shoot, which it was like do we face him or Gerrit Cole? We got Bauer. Either one. We get him and end up losing in a tough game, but to go there the first time with a very young team and there’s a bunch of big leaguers on that team. The first time we went -- and for it to be the last year there. If we had went for the first time the next year, I never would have gotten to experience Rosenblatt. To be able to go to Rosenblatt for the last year and to open up TD Ameritrade the next year was pretty cool. It’s going to be really nice to win one -- and we will. If we keep going, you’re just putting yourself in the position to where you’re going to be the team that’s good enough to win it that gets it done.”

Former Clemson coach Jack Leggett proud of Kevin O'Sullivan's success

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-Photo by Jordan McPherson

GAINESVILLE

With the Florida baseball team huddled along the right side of the first-base dugout before practice on Friday afternoon, Jack Leggett began to speak.

The 62-year-old was in the college baseball world for 38 years as a coach and has been friends with UF head coach Kevin O’Sullivan for close to 20 years now.

Leggett, who was fired from his post as Clemson after the 2015 season, has come to Gainesville each of the last two years now, getting a first-hand view of the team his former assistant has built.

On a nearly cloudless day a week before the No. 3 Gators open the season against William & Mary, the former coach gave his extended family a 10-minute pep talk, one with the same mantras they’ve probably heard from their current coach more than once.

“There’s going to be a little bit of a bulls-eye on your chest, which is how you want it if you’re a competitor,” Leggett, donning a grey t-shirt and a UF ball cap, said to the group of 30 players who sat silently and attentively in admiration. “If you’re a competitor, that’s why you came to Florida and that’s why you’re still here.”

That’s why O’Sullivan, who is heading into his 10th year as Florida’s head coach, is still here.

And that’s why Leggett, who helped groom and mentor O’Sullivan for the nine years before that at Clemson, is glad to keep this relationship alive.

“For him to be successful like he is,” Leggett said, “... it's extremely prideful."

The relationship goes back to 1998 when Leggett needed a new pitching coach.

Leggett, who just finished his fifth year as Clemson’s head coach at the time, turned to his assistant coach Tim Corbin and the two started thinking about possible candidates.

They kept circling back to one name: Kevin O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan was a relatively new coach in the college baseball world at the time. He had six years of experience as an assistant -- two apiece at his alma maters Florida Community College and Virginia with another two at Florida Atlantic sandwiched between them.

“Corbin, can Sully throw BP?” Leggett asked.

“I think he throws BP better than me,” Corbin replied.

It turned out O’Sullivan was able to do much more than that.

In his nine years at Clemson — the first four as an assistant, the final five as the associate head coach — the Tigers reached the NCAA Tournament every year and made it to the College World Series three times. O’Sullivan coached 29 pitchers during those nine years who were selected in the MLB Draft, including three first-round picks.

“The Xs and Os on the baseball part of it is one piece,” O’Sullivan said, “but the emphasis of education and how to conduct yourself on and off the field, how to run a program in a first-class manner from A-Z is really what I pulled away from my experience at Clemson and with Jack.”

When O’Sullivan accepted the head coaching job at Florida following the 2007 season, Leggett gave him one piece of advice: Just be you.

“Stick your nose to the grind,” Leggett said. “Take the things you learned in the past and apply them.”

As Leggett finished talking to his surrogate team before releasing them off to practice, O’Sullivan walked toward the dugout with his two kids.

He couldn’t help but smile.

“I lean on him still to this day all the time,” O’Sullivan said, “He's just been a great resource, a great mentor. I pick his brain all the time."

The two still talk on the phone all the time.

Sometimes it’s about baseball. Sometimes, it’s about practice. Most of the time, though, it’s just about life.

“He's like a best friend, a brother, a son all wrapped up in one,” Leggett said. “So it's always great to see him do well. I know how important this is to him.”

February 06, 2017

'Recommitted' Gators hoops ready for second game against Georgia

GAINESVILLE

After the 68-66 home loss against Vanderbilt on Jan. 21 — the game that put Florida at a crossroads and had the potential to cause a successful season to spiral out of control — coach Mike White approached his players in the locker room.

“Guys,” White said, “let’s pull up a chair and let’s just talk.”

White, the second-year UF head coach who was tasked with replacing Billy Donovan, talked.

Kasey Hill, the senior point guard and the lone player on the team who has ever played in the NCAA Tournament, talked.

John Egbunu, the normally quiet 6-11 center whose loudest contributions generally come when his powerful dunks nearly take a rim off the backboard, talked.

By the end of the conversation everyone talked. About their frustrations. About the positives. About what they needed to do to get back on track.

“Things needed to be said,” Hill told reporters Monday, “and we said them.”

Since that conversation on that day in January, the Gators have won four straight games by an average of 32 points culminating — for now — with an 88-66 upset win Saturday over then-No. 8 Kentucky.

Continue reading "'Recommitted' Gators hoops ready for second game against Georgia" »

February 05, 2017

Gators week in review: Men's tennis sweeps top-10 weekend

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-Photo by Jordan McPherson      

The Florida football team closed out National Signing Day with a top-10 class and the 24th-ranked men’s basketball team pulled off a huge 88-66 upset win over eighth-ranked Kentucky to give Mike White the biggest win of his two-year Gators career. But beyond the gridiron and the O’Dome court, other Florida teams had a successful week. Here are the highlights.

Perez becoming a force for men’s tennis

Alfredo Perez didn’t hold back.

The sophomore from Havana, Cuba, and the 13th-ranked player in the ITA college tennis rankings playing on the show court for the No. 11 Gators men’s tennis team fought through rally after rally, point after point, game after game with UCLA’s Gage Brymer, the No. 11 player in the ITA college tennis rankings.

With Perez serving for match point, the meet in his hands, he had one more battle to survive.

And when Brymer missed his final shot of the nearly minute-long rally, Perez let out a yell of excitement as his teammates ran toward him at full force.

Perez’s final successful rally clinched UF’s 4-2 win over the No. 6 Bruins on Sunday, marking Florida’s second top-10 wins in as many days. The Gators also defeated No. 8 Southern California 4-3 on Saturday.

“Beating two top-10 teams, it feels really good,” said Perez, who is undefeated on the No. 1 court after six dual matches this season. “It shows the rest of the country that we’re not here to mess around.”

The individual victory was also redemption for Perez, a graduate of Miami’s Coral Gables High.

The 6-3 right-hander faced Brymer in the Round of 32 at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships back in November. Perez lost in three sets (6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2). He wasn’t going to lose to Brymer again.

“For Alfredo to get that today, he had to dig deep,” UF coach Bryan Shelton said. “There were times in that match when he got behind in the first set a break and he never backed down.”

Also winning their singles matches for Florida (6-0) on Sunday were sophomore McClain Kessler, freshman Johannes Ingildsen and senior Elliott Orkin, who needed a tiebreak round to clinch the straight-set victory.

Against USC on Saturday, UF dropped the doubles point before the quartet of Perez, Orkin Ingildsen and Kesser won their singles matches. USC won final two singles matches after the win was already decided.

UF will next face defending national champion and top-ranked Virginia on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia. After that, UF will return to Charlottesville for the ITA National Indoor Championships.

Gymnastics puts up high road score in loss

Despite not having to count a score lower than 9.8 and putting up a season-high road score, the No. 3 Florida gymnastics team fell to No. 6 Alabama, 197.825-197.425, on Friday in Tuscaloosa.

The Gators (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) were consistent on all four events and had the chance to come away with a fifth straight win to open the year, but the Crimson Tide pulled away in the final rotation.

Alabama (3-3, 2-2 SEC), up by just .075 after three rotations, was almost flawless on the floor, posting a 49.625 while Florida managed a 49.3 on the balance beam to close out the even. The Crimson Tide were boosted by a perfect 10 by Kiana Winston and three more scores in the 9.9 range on the floor.

UF managed just one event title on the night, with junior transfer Rachel Slocum posting an event-high-tying 9.925 on the vault.

Despite the loss, Florida’s 197.425 was a solid road score that will more than likely only help them when rankings move from overall average scores to Regional Qualifying Scores after next week’s matches. With the RQS rankings, team rankings are based on six total scores: The team’s top three road scores and then the next three highest scores regardless of where the meet is held. From there, the top score is dropped and the remaining five scores are averaged.

UF hosts No. 9 Georgia on Friday.

Top-ranked Women’s Tennis defeats No. 3 Pepperdine

A west-coast swing didn’t slow down the top-ranked Florida women’s tennis team.

The Gators made quick work of No. 3 Pepperdine in Malibu, California, cruising to a 5-2 victory on Saturday.

After winning the doubles point, Florida (3-0) won its first two matches on Courts 4 and 5. Junior Josie Kuhlman cruised to a 6-4, 6-1 victory and was quickly followed by Brooke Austin, who won 7-6 (9-7), 6-3.

After Pepperdine took a win on Court 2, senior Kourtney Keegan clinched Florida’s win with a 6-1, 7-6 (7-0) win on the No. 6 court.

The victory was also coach Roland Thornqvist’s 450th of his UF career.

Next up for UF is the National Indoor Championships, which begin on Friday.

UF track and field weight throw record falls

Redshirt sophomore thrower AJ McFarland broke an almost five-year-old school record Saturday when he recorded a 21.67-meter toss in the weight throw at the Virginia Tech “Doc Hale” Elite Meet on Saturday. The previous record of 21.60 meters was set by Jeremy Postin in 2012.

Women’s basketball falls again

Despite a 25-point performance from freshman Delicia Washington, the Florida women’s basketball team fell 84-76 on the road to Texas A&M on Thursday.

Florida trailed by three at halftime (42-39) and cut its deficit to one on a couple occasions in the third quarter, but an 11-0 run from the Aggies midway through the frame essentially put the game away.

With the loss, Florida is now 11-11 on the year and 2-7 in conference play.

The Gators host Ole Miss on Monday night.

February 04, 2017

No. 24 Gators hoops upsets No. 8 Kentucky

GAINESVILLE

With less than 10 minutes left and Florida holding a 10-point lead over Kentucky on Saturday, Devin Robinson took the ball on the outside corner, faked out a Wildcat defender and let the ball fly.

It swirled through the net before finally going through the net and starting a 13-0 run.

Not even 15 seconds later, KeVaughn Allen stole a pass, ran down the court and fed the ball to John Egbunu, who ended the possession with a thundering dunk that sent the O’Connell Center into a frenzy. And then, like clockwork, Chris Chiozza stole a pass and chucked it down the court to Kasey Hill for an easy layup.

Nine minutes later, the No. 24 Florida Gators walked off their home court with the biggest win of the Mike White era -- an 88-66 win over No. 8 Kentucky.

"I didn't know it was going to be like that, but we knew we were going to win," Robinson said. "We had the confidence from the beginning. We're not scared of any program in the country."

Hill scored a career-high-tying 21 points, Robinson added 16 points and Canyon Barry scored 14 of his own in the second half to give White his second top-10 victory as Florida’s head coach and Florida its first win over Kentucky since the 2013-14 season when the Gators made it to the Final Four.

Florida’s defense was swarming, holding Kentucky to season low in points and shooting efficiency (37.7 percent). The Gators (18-5, 8-2 SEC) also blocked seven shots for the second straight game and outrebounded the Wildcats 54-29 -- including a 17-6 mark on the offensive glass.

The Rowdy Reptile student section -- along with the rest of the sellout crowd inside the O’Connell Center -- created an electrifying atmosphere that lived on from start to finish.

Florida’s offense was virtually unstoppable in the second half, with the Gators making 66.7 percent of their shots in the final 20 minutes.

And after four losses this year against teams who are currently in the top 25, Florida proved it can finish out big games and get an important win.

"We just did it together," Hill said. "This team, we're a family. We started to show it on the court."

De’Aaron Fox, who did not start the game and was a game-time decision after battling the flu this week, led Kentucky with 19 points. Freshman point guard Malik Monk, the SEC’s leading scorer heading into the game, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with 11 points.

Florida never trailed during the game and took a 34-26 lead into halftime despite turning the ball over 12 times and five players with two fouls. The eight-point advantage heading intermission was thanks mostly to a two-minute stretch late where UF made three consecutive three-pointers.

"Florida outplayed us, outcoached us," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "... They deserved to win. They wanted it worse than we wanted it."

And now, the Gators is tasked with putting the game behind them. They travel to face Georgia on Tuesday.

"We can't celebrate this for but an hour," White said. "I'm going to go home and hug my kids and have a big pizza with my wife and feel good about it.

"And then we're on to Georgia. That's it."

Etc.

14 NBA scouts were credentialed for the game. ... Canyon Barry made all four of his free-throw attempts, extending his streak to 31 consecutive makes. ... Robinson was one rebound away from his first double-double of the season and Chiozza needed one rebound and one assist to have a double-double of his own. ... Florida has now won four straight games by at least 20 points. 

McElwain rounds out staff with pair of assistant coach hires

One day after hiring Ju'Juan Seider to an assistant coach position, UF head football coach Jim McElwain rounded out his staff with two more hires.

Florida on Saturday announced the hiring of Brad Davis and Corey Bell as assistant coaches. While what positions the two will be coaching have not been openly stated, it looks as if Davis -- the former offensive line coach at both North Texas (2016) and East Carolina (2015) -- will replace Mike Summers as the offensive line coach. Bell should take over as defensive backs coach for Torrian Gray, who accepted a position with the Washington Redskins. Bell comes to UF just a month after being named the defensive backs coach for USF. Prior to that, he coached the position at FAU for two years and was a head coach at the high school level at both American Senior High (2011-2013) and Miami Edison Senior High (1997-2007). Bell will be McElwain's third defensive backs coach in as many years.

"We are excited to have Corey and Brad join our staff," McElwain said in a release. "Corey has played in the SEC and has deep roots in the state of Florida. Brad also has strong relationship in our recruiting areas and has won championships as a player. Both are good teachers who will help our players be successful on the field and beyond their playing days.”

February 03, 2017

Riding a three-game win streak, No. 24 Gators prepping for No. 8 Kentucky

Florida coach Mike White knows his team is confident after their past three games.

To quickly summarize:

  • A 106-71 road win over LSU in which the Gators hit a program-record 19 three-pointers.
  • An 84-52 road win over Oklahoma in which Florida made 43 percent of its shots and held the Sooners to a lackluster 27.7 percent from the floor.
  • And a 93-54 home win against Missouri on Thursday in which backup point guard Chris Chiozza posted just the fourth triple-double in program history (12 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists). 

"We are in a pretty good place," White said Friday.

But confidence alone isn't going to get it done on Saturday, when No. 24 Florida hosts eighth-ranked Kentucky for an 8:15 p.m. showdown in what will probably be the Gators' biggest home game of the year.

College GameDay will be in town. Students have already begun camping out outside to the arena to stake their entrance claim. 

And the Gators (17-5, 7-2 SEC) know what a win over the Wildcats (18-4, 8-1 SEC) would do for their resume, especially considering the fact that Florida has lost all four of its games against teams that are currently ranked in the top 25.

"It’d be a huge breakthrough win for us," White said, "if we can get it done."

To get it done, though, Florida has to find a way to stop all the weapons Kentucky has on its roster.

There's Malik Monk, the sharpshooting freshman guard who is averaging 22.5 points per game (ninth best in the nation) and has already made 70 three-point baskets.

There's De'Aron Fox, the sophomore point guard who fills up the statsheet (15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game) and has a 2.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

And there's Edrice Adebayo, a 6-10 forward who is suffocating in the paint on both sides of the floor. The freshman is averaging 13.2 points per game on a 61.7-percent shooting efficiency and has blocked 36 shots. 

“Kentucky has got more talent," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. "They’ve got lottery talent on their team so they’re the more talented group. But Florida is a really good defensive team. They play really hard and I think they’ve come a long way from last year."

For Florida to pull off the upset on its home court and defeat Kentucky for the first time since the 2013-14 season when UF made it all the way to the Final Four, Bilas said the Gators will need to continue their staunch defensive effort and have a strong offensive night from shooting guard KeVaughn Allen.

Allen, a reserved and quiet sophomore with a knack for draining shots, is UF's top scorer at 13.6 points per game. He has five 20+-point scoring games this year, boasts a team-best 40.3-percent shooting efficiency from beyond the arc and has made 85.1-percent of his free throws.

But Allen at times lacks aggressiveness when on the court, opting to pass the ball to a teammate instead of taking an open shot or driving to the basket.

"When you are not a prolific scoring team," Bilas said, "your best scorer has got to score. If he's constantly looking to score, he opens things up for others and that's important."

White, on the other hand, isn't looking for just one player to step up. The second-year UF head coach knows it will take a full team effort to leave with a win.

"This is one of those teams," White said, "that you can still play pretty well and still not win."

Etc.

UF redshirt freshman Keith Stone (viral infection) is day-to-day heading into Saturday's game. He did not play on Thursday against Missouri. ... Canyon Barry, a graduate transfer and the son of NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry, has made 27 consecutive free throws heading into Saturday. ... Florida is 5-2 all time when playing a game where College GameDay is hosted, including 3-1 in Gainesville. All but one of those matchups came against Kentucky.

UF hires Ja'Juan Seider as assistant coach

Florida announced on Friday that it has hired former West Virginia running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider as an assistant.

Seider, a Belle Glade native and strong recruiter in the South Florida area, spent the past four seasons as an assistant for the Mountaineers. West Virginia has finished in the top 25 nationally in rushing offense each of the past two seasons. He helped three different running backs rush for at least 1,000 yards during his four seasons.

"I've always had an affinity for this university and am honored to have the opportunity to join the Florida Gators family. I look forward to working with Coach Mac and his staff," Seider said in a release. "I can't wait to meet the players, spend time with them and help them achieve their goals."

Prior to his time at WVU, Seider served as the recruiting coordinator for Marshall for three years and before that was the offensive coordinator at Palm Beach Lakes High.

"We are excited to have Ja'Juan in the Gator family," UF coach Jim McElwain said in a release. "A lot is talked about his ability to recruit, but he is more than that – he is a great coach as well. Recruiting is about relationships and he does a great job of connecting and relating to players not only while is recruiting them, but while they are play for him and well after their playing days are over."

While UF's release did not specify what position Seider will be coaching, it is expected that he will take over running back coach duties. This means current running backs coach Tim Skipper will likely move to linebackers coach, an assistant spot that is currently empty with the promotion of Randy Shannon to full-time defensive coordinator. Skipper has 16 overall years of experience as an assistant coach, 11 of which were spent coaching the defense including six as a linebackers coach at Colorado State (2012-14) and Fresno State (2009-11).

With the Seider hire, Florida is now searching solely for an offensive line coach to round out McElwain's coaching staff.

February 02, 2017

Chris Chiozza's triple-double leads No. 24 UF over Missouri

With about nine minutes left in No. 24 Florida’s 93-54 win over Missouri on Thursday night, junior Chris Chiozza approached coach Mike White on the sideline.

“Coach, you need to put me back in,” White recalled Chiozza saying. “I’m going to get a triple-double.”

The backup point guard already had 10 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists at that point. He wanted to finish the job.

“I told everybody ‘Just shoot it when you catch it,’” Chiozza said.

And with 31 seconds left, Chiozza fired a pass to teammate Devin Robinson, who hit a wide-open three-pointer to seal Florida’s rout of the Tigers, put Chiozza into an elite class in Florida men’s basketball history and send the announced crowd of 10,153 and the Florida bench into a riveting frenzy.

Chiozza’s final stat line: 12 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists. The fourth triple-double from a UF player and first since Nick Calathes in 2009.

“Wow,” White said. “Chris was amazing. … He played incredibly tonight and I’m happy for him.”

Robinson added: “We just got him the ball and told him to make a play. We were going to knock the shots down.”

Florida (17-5, 7-2 SEC) knocked shots down all game while making sure Missouri’s offensive woes continued. The Gators scored on their first nine offensive possessions and allowed Missouri (5-16, 0-9 SEC) to make just three of its first 22 attempts. Within 10 minutes, UF already had a 30-9 lead.

Florida inched its lead to as much as 43 points in the second half in order to seal its third straight win by more than 30 points -- just the third time the team has accomplished that feat in program history and the first time doing so against three major conference teams.

UF shot 45.5 percent from the field in the game, outrebounded Missouri 56-32 and had most of its reserves in the game with more than 10 minutes to play. Four players scored in double figures, with Canyon Barry leading the way with 17 off the bench.

“We got better tonight,” White said. “We defended better than we have all year at home. I’m proud of our maturity and focus.”

Florida will now take its three-game win streak into a Saturday-night matchup against No. 8 Kentucky.

Former South Dade receiver C.J. Worton transferring from UF

Wide receiver C.J. Worton will play his senior season of college football away from the University of Florida 

The former South Dade standout announced Thursday on his personal Twitter account that he will be transferring from UF after the spring semester concludes.

Worton played in 13 games during his three seasons at UF. He finished his Gators career with 10 catches, 126 yards and two touchdowns -- both of which came during his sophomore year.

The biggest play of his collegiate career thus far came in the 2015 SEC Championship Game, where he caught a 46-yard touchdown pass from Treon Harris in the end zone between a pair of Crimson Tide defenders.

Worton's full message that he posted on his Twitter page is below.

"To everyone who is wondering what is going on, I am no longer on the University of Florida football team. With much guidance and help from this coaching staff I will end up at a top university and continue to play football. I did not want to draw any negative attention to the school with signing day so close and risk giving any commits second thoughts. I love this school, the fans, and most importantly the guys I've gone to work with everyday for the past 3 years. My teammates are the biggest reason for this move, without the steady encouragement from them I do not know where I would be. I've competed against the best and know that I am capable of playing at a high level. I am getting the most out of my scholarship and staying enrolled at school in order to stay eligible and will be moving on after the spring semester. Thank you everyone for the support."

February 01, 2017

Florida Gators National Signing Day Live Blog

3:24 p.m.: In a shocking turn of events, UF just received wide receiver James Robinson's letter of intent just before coach Jim McElwain's press conference. It was previously reported that the UF administration was not going to let the Gators sign the four-star Lakeland High football player, who was cited for marijuana possession while on an official visit at Ohio State. Apparently, there has been a change of heart or change of decision somewhere along the lines. Robinson, a 6-4, 205-pound receiver is ranked as the No. 14 receiver in the Class of 2017, the No. 21 prospect in the state of Florida and the No. 114 player nationally. 

1:42 p.m.: Three-star cornerback Brian Edwards from Miramar High committed to Florida over the University of Miami and others at his school's signing day ceremony. The 6-3, 195-pound Edwards checks in as the No. 58 cornerback in the class and the No. 77 product overall in the state of Florida. He is the fifth cornerback to sign with the Gators, joining Marco Wilson (American Heritage), Shawn Davis (Miami Southridge), Brad Stewart (New Orleans McDonogh 35) and C.J. Henderson (Miami Columbus). Edwards is also the third recruit Florida picked up on Signing Day, joining Henderson and American Heritage's T.J. Slaton.

12:35 p.m.: Three-star outside linebacker prospect Nick Smith has sent in his letter of intent to UF. Smith, the No. 78 ranked outside linebacker in the country, verbally committed to UF on Saturday. With his signing, every Florida player who verbally committed to Florida heading into National Signing Day is on board with the exception of tight end Zech Byrd, who reportedly will not be signing today. Florida is still hoping to snag a couple more recruits -- most notably Miramar cornerback Brian Edwards and Clearwater High running back Adarius Lemons.

 

Continue reading "Florida Gators National Signing Day Live Blog" »


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