March 27, 2015

Reports: Frazier to skip senior year, enter NBA Draft

GAINESVILLE -- Florida sharpshooter Michael Frazier II declared for the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports. 

The 6-foot-4 guard opted (somewhat surprisingly) to bypass his senior season after a junior campaign marred by injuries and inconsistencies. 

Neither Frazier or Florida has confirmed the purported decision, but Frazier’s father spoke with the Orlando Sentinel and said the report is true. 

********** UPDATE **********

Frazier tweeted his official decision late Friday afternoon. 

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Frazier, a two-year starter, averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 rebounds this past season, but his shooting numbers dipped as defenses keyed on UF’s top scoring option.

He labored through an ankle injury, missing seven games and he struggled rounding out other aspects of his game.

Frazier shot a SEC-best 47 and 45 percent from behind the arc as a freshman and sophomore, but he hit 38 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2014-15. 

As a sophomore, Frazier nailed a school-record 118 treys during Florida’s run to the Final Four. He is the first underclassmen to leave UF since Bradley Beal in 2012-13. 

Frazier is considered a fringe draftable prospect, ranking just 84th on ESPN Chad Ford’s Top 100. 

“Frazier began drawing serious interest from NBA scouts during his sophomore season when he averaged 12 points per game and shot a terrific 45 percent from three,” Ford wrote.

“However, his game stagnated a bit as a junior. His scoring averaged dipped slightly and his 3-point percentage slipped to 38 percent. Not terrible numbers, but not the normal progression scouts typically want to see either. He lacks elite size for his position and is a bit one-dimensional, but his 3-point shooting will get him serious looks in the second round. Look for him to land in the 40 to 60 range in the draft.”

Frazier may be simply the first shoe to drop, too, as junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith and sophomore big-man Chris Walker could go pro as well. 

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March 26, 2015

Adam Lane embraces 'accident,' eyes breakout season

GAINESVILLE -- Adam Lane was mainly a scout team reserve his first two seasons at Florida.

But in the Gators’ Jan. 3 Birmingham Bowl victory, the redshirt freshman tailback finally left a mark. 

Twice. 

Lane earned MVP honors after rushing for 109 yards and a touchdown against East Carolina, but he also soiled his pants on national television and became the butt of jokes across the Internet. 

Lane says it was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. 

“It got a lot of attention and just put me in a place where I was out there publicly and people knew who I was,” said Lane, truly embracing an embarrassing moment for most. 

“I really didn't get a lot of grief from it. A lot of people were really more focused on how well I did in the game than anything. I feel like it was that way because I embraced it."

Lane wasn’t sure how or exactly when the ‘accident’ occurred, but following his two-yard score he hustled to the locker room and changed pants. 

“That's actually the first time something like that has ever happened,” he said. 

"Even running off the field after it happened, I waved at the crowd after I ran off to go change. And I waved when I came back. … I really don't think it dawned on them until after it happened, after I got back in the game."

The 5-foot-7, 215-pound battering ram is happy for the notoriety (even considering the circumstances) and now he’s competing for a legitimate role new coach Jim McElwain’s offense.

Lane, who missed Wednesday’s practice with a minor leg injury, is battling junior Kelvin Taylor for carries. He believes his breakout bowl performance is simply the first of many showcases. 

“I’m just glad the new coaches are giving me an opportunity and I’m ready to start the season off right,” he said.    

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March 25, 2015

Notebook: Celebrating together, Jackson praised

GAINESVILLE -- The Gators haven't had a lot of reasons to celebrate last couple seasons, but even when they did it was often done individually. 

New defensive coordinator Geoff Collins wants to change that. 

“We kind of went back and watched some of last season, there would be a lot of great plays being made defensively, but then you would see at times, celebrations being kind of individualized, kind of running away from each other,” Collins explained.  

No more. 

Florida's new staff is emphasizing reveling with teammates, and it's working. 

“The big focus for us this spring, is coming together and celebrating together," Collins said. 

"Not necessarily just ‘look at me, look at me,’ but ‘look at my buddy who just made a play, let’s go get excited about that.’ You start seeing that every single day and get a little bit better, whether it’s 10 or 11 off the sideline to celebrate with each other.”  

TEAM’S BEST ATH?

A year ago, J.C. Jackson was expected to compete for a starting cornerback spot as a true freshman, but a shoulder injury forced a redshirt season. 

Now, the former Immokalee standout is healthy and making waves as a playmaking defensive back in camp. 

“J.C. is probably one of the most athletic kids, possibly, that I’ve ever been around,” Collins said. 

“He’s done a good job for us, playing corner, playing some nickel. [He's] very fast, very physical and very athletic. Technique, he gets better every day. Sometimes some of the technical things that he might not be 100-percent on he can make up for with sheer athletic ability.”

With Jackson’s explosive physical skills, many wondered if the former two-way star would play wideout on a team desperate for playmaking talent. But Collins sidestepped the question Tuesday, saying, “That’s for the head coach, and coach [Jim McElwain] does a great job.”

QUOTABLE

“We went over there and it was awfully muddy.” 

-- McElwain, on checking out the indoor practice facility site during Monday’s inclement weather. 

THIS & THAT

Collins singled out defensive linemen Alex McCalister and Taven Bryan as two players who have “really come on” this spring. … Ideally, McElwain wants to utilize nine wideouts in the rotation come fall. … The Gators will hold a few full contact sessions Wednesday and scrimmage some Saturday.  

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March 21, 2015

No longer offensive? UF's offense "embracing" change

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s offense the last four seasons -- ranked No. 96, No. 115, No. 104 and No. 105 -- was a joke that needed no punchline. 

Former coach Will Muschamp juggled through three different offense coordinators, never figuring out how to revamp a toothless attack. It cost him his job.  

Now, Jim McEwain, UF’s new coach, believes he can resurrect an inept attack and he’s going to do it his way. 

How different will the offense be compared to a year ago?

“Quite a bit,” McElwain said, emphatically. 

“No doubt about it.”

Considering the uncertainty at quarterback and the roster's limitations, solving Florida's own Sphinx stands as a daunting challenge.

Still, Doug Nussmeier -- the Gators’ fifth offensive coordinator in six years -- has been impressed with the players’ eagerness early this spring to put their past struggles in the rear view mirror. 

"The biggest thing that jumps out to me is how hard our kids compete and how eager and willing they are,” he said. 

“Change is inevitable in life. You can either resist it or you can embrace it. They've done an outstanding job of that, couldn't be happier."

Nussmeier said the offense's transition requires a "steep" learning curve and that "it's going to take a little time," but the former Alabama and Michigan OC feels positive about the early progress. 

“Anytime you install a new offense, there’s a large transition," he said.

"The idea is to give them a lot of information, put them in a situation where they’re forced to think and try to play fast. Then you go back and reteach and they’ll get it. You continue to build from there.”

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March 16, 2015

Spring six-pack: Camp starts with lots of questions

GAINESVILLE -- Florida kicks-off spring practice Monday, with 15 practices scheduled between today and April 11’s Orange and Blue Debut. 

All practices are closed to the public, but there’s a laundry list of questions and storylines to follow from afar. 

It’s an important month for UF, as the Gators take the field for the first time under new coach Jim McElwain and hope to resurrect a stagnating program. 

There’s sure to be the usual platitudes of “the strength and conditioning program has never been better!”

And “I’ve never seen a closer group of guys. Everyone has really bought in,” but ideally some meaningful information will be gleaned over the next month. Here's a six-pack of questions as the Gators' transitional era officially starts. 

1. Who is going to block?

The Gators open camp with just seven scholarship offensive linemen and have already advertised walk-on spots. With Trip Thurman sidelined (chronic shoulder injury), who will play center? Will Roderick Johnson, a promising tackle, play guard to make room for five-star prospect Martez Ivey? For the second time in three seasons, Florida won’t hold a traditional spring game because of roster management (and injury) issues. Still, the offensive line needs to form some sort of cohesion heading into the summer. 

2. Can McElwain & Co. revamp UF’s bumbling offense? What will its identity be?

McElwain has repeatedly stated he’ll adapt his offensive philosophy to Florida’s personnel. So really, it remains unclear what scheme the Gators will primarily run. Will it be lots of one-back sets with a heavy focus on running the football, or will UF run a pistol spread with a quick passing attack? We don’t know, and Florida’s quarterback quandary only muddles the question more.  

3. The quarterback conundrum. Can anyone separate themselves? 

The battle between Treon Harris and Will Grier will continue past spring camp, but McEwain hopes someone creates some distance so the team has an idea who will be under center (depending on the scheme!) in the fall. Grier (seemingly) is more suited for McElwain’s past offenses, but perhaps Florida’s staff will design an attack tailored to Harris’ playmaking skill-set. Complicating the competition are the issues surrounding the quarterbacks. Aside from the potential offensive line woes,  can tailbacks Kelvin Taylor or Adam Lane develop into consistent threats? Who can catch the ball aside from Demarcus Robinson? 

4. Will the Ministry of Mayhem look different under a new “Master?”

Former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins oversees a unit stocked with talent. Collins runs a hybrid scheme not all that different from former UF coach Will Muschamp. He inherits a secondary that could be among the nation’s best, while the front-seven is littered with promising prospects. But there’s issues at linebacker (no Antonio Morrison or Jarrad Davis this spring) and the Gators must replace three defensive tackles and Dante Fowler’s production. 

5. Can the Gators avoid the injury bug?

Florida’s roster is already low on numbers, so the Gators cannot afford a spring filled with major injuries or even lots of bumps and bruises. The new staff will have to be creative in designing practices due to so few available bodies at offensive line and linebacker. Will there be positional changes because of limited numbers?

6. Spring stars equal fall frauds … so who’s next? Or will someone break the trend?

Spring practice is all about optimism, expectations, hope … and eventual disappointment. Every year, a number of players shine in March only to disappear when the real lights turn on. There’s a litany of candidates to choose from, but Lane, defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick, wideout Brandon Powell and cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Quincy Wilson appear poised for breakout camps under the team’s new direction. But will they have any staying power?

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March 11, 2015

Brandon Powell shifting to WR this spring

GAINESVILLE -- Former Deerfield Beach star tailback Brandon Powell will transition to wide receiver this spring, Florida coach Jim McElwain announced Tuesday. 

The sophomore, who lined up at both running back and slot wideout last season, played sparingly as a freshman despite UF’s staff labeling the shifty 5-foot-9 playmaker as one of the team’s most explosive skill guys. 

"Moving forward, probably the biggest one in there is trying to figure out exactly where Brandon Powell is going to kind of fit from a wide receiver/running back," McElwain explained.

"He kind of played both a little bit. We’re going to primarily put him at wideout and give us an opportunity there."

Powell nabbed 15 receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown last year, while also rushing for 70 yards and a score on only 16 carries. 

He flashed in both spots, but appeared more dangerous lined up outside. 

"That obviously makes us thin at running back, but at the same time, you kind of do a guy a disservice when you try to do a little bit of both," McElwain said.

"So we’re going to try and take a look at that first and then we’ll go from there."

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March 10, 2015

Finney-Smith, Robinson earn All-SEC accolades

GAINESVILLE -- Florida forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and freshman Devin Robinson each earned 2015 All-SEC honors, the league announced Tuesday. 

Finney-Smith, the Gators' top all-around player and the 2014 SEC Sixth Man of the Year, was named to the All-SEC second team. 

The redshirt junior leads the Gators in scoring (13.1 ppg) and rebounds (6.0 rpg). 

Meanwhile, Robinson garnered All-Freshman honors, averaging 6.4 points and 2.9 rebounds this season. The 6-foot-9 swingman started 17 games and scored in double-figures in five of his last eight appearances. 

No. 1 Kentucky swept the majority of the postseason awards, as John Calipari took home SEC Coach of the Year, center Willie Cauley-Stein earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Karl-Anthony Towns was tabbed the SEC’s Freshman of the Year and freshman guard Devin Booker was voted the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year.  

In a bit of a surprise, Arkansas’ Bobby Portis was named the league’s Player of the Year. 

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Another blow: OL Trip Thurman OUT for spring

GAINESVILLE -- Florida is extremely low in numbers along the offensive line.

So much so, new coach Jim McElwain wants “cry,” adding,”There’s been some sleepless nights.”

The situation has worsened. 

Fifth-year senior Trip Thurman will miss all of spring practice with a chronic shoulder injury, another blow to an already beleaguered and thin unit. 

“His shoulder is such that if we can get an eight-month cycle off of it, then maybe we’re able to piece some things together with him next fall,” McElwain said Monday. 

“We’re very, very thin at offensive line, to the point that -- we all knew this was coming, so it’s not a shock -- but we’re going to have to adjust how we practice, the amount of reps we get and the different ways in which we do things from a practice structure.”

Thurman, who started 10 games at guard in 2014, was the team’s presumed starter at center next season. Now, Florida has just seven scholarship offensive lineman available this spring -- with a total of three career starts. 

Recently, the Gators released tryout dates for walk-on linemen.  

“That’s the cards we were dealt,” McElwain said. 

“It will be all right. The key is to making sure we get as much work as we can with as many people as we can to kind of establish who we are and what we’re all about and the direction we’re going to head with this football team as we move in from spring ball and into the summer sessions.”

Due to the roster’s low numbers, for the second time in three years the Gators won’t hold a traditional Orange & Blue Debut on April 11. 

Meanwhile, linebackers Antonio Morrison (ACL injury) and Jarrad Davis (meniscus) and defensive end Bryan Cox (hip surgery) will be out this spring, too. Morrison, the Gators’ leading-tackler (101) last year, tore his ACL in the Birmingham Bowl and could miss the start of next season. 

“Things are going well [for Antonio],” McElwain said. 

“He’s really attacking his rehab, and has been a big lift to us. I’ve got to tell you what, here’s a guy, he doesn’t miss a meeting. He’s out there at practice doing everything he can do. That’s really good to see.”

As for the others, McElwain said, “They’re hurt. There’s a pretty good chance they won’t practice much.” 

Lastly, sixth-year senior tight end Jake McGee, who broke his leg Sep. 6 against Eastern Michigan, is running well and expected to participate in drill work. Still, McGee remains non-contact and will not play in any live scrimmages. 

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March 09, 2015

SEC Tourney: UF-Alabama showdown set for Thursday

GAINESVILLE -- Last March, Florida entered the SEC Tournament as the crown jewel of college hoops.

Led by a quartet of seniors, the Gators -- undefeated in conference play -- swept the tournament and became the first team in league history to go 21-0. 

A year later, UF is desperate to simply extend a disappointing season. 

The Gators landed the No. 8 seed in this week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville, with a 1 p.m. Thursday tipoff against 9th-seeded Alabama (18-13, 8-10 SEC).  

The winner earns the pleasure of facing unbeaten Kentucky in the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon.

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Florida (15-16, 8-10 SEC) lost 67-50 at No. 1 UK over the weekend, and may miss the postseason for the first time since Billy Donovan’s inaugural season in Gainesville in 1996-97.  

Donovan is 9-0 all-time against Alabama coach Anthony Grant, a longtime lieutenant under Donovan at Florida. 

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March 06, 2015

Frazier available against top-ranked Kentucky

GAINESVILLE -- Florida faces No. 1 Kentucky as a 15.5-point underdog Saturday (2 p.m., CBS), but the Gators should be boosted by the return of leading scorer Michael Frazier II. 

UF coach Billy Donovan is optimistic the junior sharpshooter will play after missing seven games with a  high-ankle sprain. 

Still, Donovan is unsure how much Frazier will contribute. 

“How much he will play, I don’t know,” Donovan said Friday. 

"I wasn’t really looking at his timing, shooting, rhythm those kinds of things. I was more interested in seeing how he was moving, and I thought he moved pretty well in practice.” 

Frazier has missed seven straight game since sustaining the injury in a Feb. 7 loss against Kentucky. Frazier scored 10 points in the first half versus the Wildcats before exiting the 68-61 defeat early in the second half. 

The Gators (15-15, 8-9 SEC) have won two straight conference games for the first time since late January, but they’ve really missed Frazier’s ability to stretch the defense and space the floor. 

Despite an inconsistent season, Frazier leads UF in scoring (13.2 ppg) and is shooting 40.1 percent from behind the arc. 

The Gators were 3-4 without Frazier in the lineup. 

“How much we’ll be about to get out of him, if anything, I don’t know,” Donovan said. 

“I’m going into the game with him available, but I think for me to go in there and say, ‘Ok, he’s back right now. He’s going to play 30 minutes and he’s going to be back where he was before he got injured,’ I think would be a mistake. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 04, 2015

Florida holds on, knocks off Texas A&M in home finale

GAINESVILLE -- Florida squeaked past Texas A&M 66-62 in excruciating fashion, nearly coughing up a 14-point lead in the final 1:58 at home Tuesday evening.

But Eli Carter sank two clutch free throws with 13.4 seconds remaining, sending the Gators to their second consecutive conference victory and a .500 record on the year. 

The Gators (15-15, 8-9) bullied the Aggies -- a potential NCAA Tournament team at 20-9 -- for much of the game before misadventures at the charity stripe nearly proved disastrous. Florida hit just 5-of-14 free throws down the stretch until Carter ended a serious drought. 

UF shot a woeful 52.8 percent (20-for-38) from the free throw line on the night, turning a potential rout in a nail-biter as Texas A&M scored on eight of 11 possessions. 

“It’s happened to our team a lot this season,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “We’re not a mentally strong team. ... I don’t think there’s any excuse for that.” 

Still, the Gators survived thanks to a balanced scoring effort and a tenacious defense, with four players scoring in double-figures led by forward Dorian Finney-Smith’s 12 points. 

The junior also chipped in seven rebounds, three steals and two assists off the bench. Carter added 11 points with five turnovers. 

UF actually opened the game in a 10-0 hole, failing to get on the scoreboard for the first 5:28 of the opening period. 

Then Finney-Smith entered the contest, and the Gators immediately went on a 17-4 spurt, as the Aggies couldn’t buy a bucket. 

A seesaw affair early in the second half quickly became a blowout, as UF took control with a 14-0 sprint. 

UF’s half court defense was suffocating for the second straight game, holding the Aggies’ top playmaker Danuel House scoreless (0-for-10) for the first time all season.

The Gators frustrated House with traps and aggressive looks, with UF point guard Kasey Hill (eight assists, two steals) doing an excellent job in 1-on-1 situations. 

Texas A&M point guard Alex Caruso led all scorers with 20 points, while swingman Jalen Jones added 15 points and nine boards. 

“There’s times and glimpses where we play at a very, very high level,” said Donovan on Florida’s stingy defense.

“Mentally this was a game where we felt like we did a terrific job sustaining defensive intensity the whole entire time.” 

UF honored walk-ons Lexx Edwards and Jacob Kurtz during a Senior Night ceremony before the game.   

Kurtz, a key glue-guy the last two years, earned the start and scored a nifty hustle layup late in the first half, only to get injured on the play. 

The forward, who finished with two points and two assists, was poked in the right eye and barely played the rest of the night with his eye nearly swollen shut. 

NOTES

Freshmen Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson both scored 10 points. Florida shot 48 percent from the field, and hit 8-of-20 shots from downtown … Alex Murphy chipped in nine points, including seven straight during a mini-run in the second half. Murphy ignited a sparse crowd with a monstrous two-handed jam during a 12-0 run. … UF also played its seventh straight game without leading scorer Michael Frazier II (high-ankle sprain). 

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February 28, 2015

Donovan nets 500th win, as Florida cruises past UT

GAINESVILLE -- Billy Donovan swears win No. 500 wasn’t on his mind. 

He’s not even sure when Florida's next victory will even come. 

But in a forgettable and frustrating season, Donovan finally reached the elusive milestone, as UF smashed Tennessee 66-49 Saturday night in the O’Connell Center. 

In a special night worth remembering, the man who turned Florida into a national powerhouse became the second-youngest men’s D-1 coach to win 500 games.

“I’ve been part of at least a lot of unbelievable experiences in that building. Tonight was very, very meaningful,” Donovan, 49, said. 

It’s been a tough season for the Gators, but in the rout’s closing seconds the Rowdy Reptiles chanted “Billy D. Billy D. Billy D,” and Florida celebrated Donovan’s achievement with a postgame video montage. 

“I thought there was a great crowd tonight, and obviously our team has struggled this year," he said.

"For the amount of people to come out like they did to watch our team play, I was very, very appreciative and very thankful for that. I thought we had a great environment, a great crowd. Then to be kind of honored like that at the end of the game was extremely touching, and I was very, very thankful for that."

The Gators snapped a two-game skid, as Dorian Finney-Smith returned from a three-game suspension to lead all players with 20 points and 10 rebounds. 

The redshirt junior didn’t start, but recorded his second double-double on the season and his most points since Jan. 7 against South Carolina. 

“I just wanted to come out here and play with a lot of energy,” Finney-Smith said. 

“I owed it to these guys to come and have a good game.”

Florida (14-15, 7-9 SEC) led wire-to-wire, shooting a blistering 57.1 percent from the field.

The Vols’ matchup-zone defense was a sieve, yielding a barrage of dunks and 3-pointers for the Gators’ best offensive performance in over 10 weeks. 

UF point guard Kasey Hill rebounded from a miserable effort in Wednesday’s loss at Missouri, slicing Tennessee’s zone for eight dimes and seven points. Gators center Jon Horford chipped in 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting.   

“We were balanced,” Donovan said. 

“We just weren’t just all 3-point bomb shots, we had some layups, we did some good things. … Overall offensively the thing I was most pleased about was the 21 assists.”

The Gators opened the game on a 15-5 run and never looked back. Tennessee (14-14, 6-10 SEC) trailed 40-22 at halftime, as UF’s red-hot start led to seven treys, seven dunks and an astounding 14 assists on 15 field goals. 

The second half became mainly a perfunctory exercise, as UF’s lead ballooned to 23 points and UT never cut the deficit to single digits.   

Florida’s defensive effort was nearly as impressive, suffocating UT’s halfcourt attack. The Vols’ leading scorer Josh Richardson (15.9 ppg) never found a rhythm, scoring just nine points -- none in the first half. 

The Gators forced 14 turnovers and finished with a 27-19 advantage on the glass. 

Junior forward Armani Moore led Tennessee with 18 points, scoring the team’s first eight points to start the game. 

UF hosts Texas A&M at 9 p.m. Tuesday.  

NOTES

Gators junior guard Eli Carter joined the 1,000-point club with 11, including a trio of first-half 3-pointers. Carter, who missed practice this week with strep throat, also added six assists. … The Vols lost their fifth straight game and seven of eight. … The Gators’ balanced effort led to a 33-18 advantage in bench points.

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February 27, 2015

Finney-Smith reinstated, will play Saturday against UT

GAINESVILLE -- Florida reinstated versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith after a three-game suspension, coach Billy Donovan announced Friday. 

Finney-Smith will play (and potentially start) Saturday when UF hosts Tennessee at 6 p.m. on ESPN2. 

“He served his penalty,” Donovan said. 

“He did all the things we asked him to do and expected him to do. When I first suspended him, we kept him out of practice for about five days. Brought him back into practice and had him to do some things. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do up to this time. 

The redshirt junior, also suspended to start the 2013-14 season for violating team rules, is averaging 12.9 points and a team-leading 5.8 rebounds.  

“I apologize to my family, my coaches, my teammates and the university,” Finney-Smith said in a release.  

“I made a mistake and I will learn from it. Hopefully, I can move on.”

The Gators desperately need Finney-Smith’s production, losing six of seven and failing to score more than 65 points in over a month. 

Meanwhile, Florida’s leading scorer (13.2 ppg) Michael Frazier II remains doubtful with a high-ankle sprain and redshirt junior guard Eli Carter’s status is unknown following another bout of strep throat. 

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Gators spring practice to start March 16

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators will start spring practice March 16, commencing its first football workouts under new coach Jim McElwain. 

Unlike the last several years though, no practices will be open to the public, as McElwain is following the footprints of mentor Nick Saban and closing all workouts. 

The Gators’ annual Orange & Blue Debut is April 11, but with just seven scholarship offensive linemen currently in school it’s unclear if UF will hold a traditional spring game.  

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February 25, 2015

O'Connell Center renovations delayed a year

GAINESVILLE -- The O’Connell Center’s massive renovations will be put on hold. 

Florida and the University Athletic Association announced Wednesday construction on the O’Dome will be delayed one year. 

The UAA cited the $60 million project’s “aggressive schedule, escalating costs associated with the rehabilitation project and a change in the construction management team” as reasons for the postponement. 

The renovation was scheduled to begin in early March, immediately after the conclusion of the men’s basketball season. 

“We remain 100 percent committed to this project,” UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a release.  

“The $60 million that we have already earmarked for the project is indicative of this commitment.”

Although UF has “earmarked” the funds, the UAA has yet to raise (via private donors) the estimated $60 million. 

A new construction manager has been hired and a budget and timeline are expected “in the next couple months.” The current design plays are roughly 60 percent complete, with a new entrance, renovated concession stands, club seating and chair backs already included. 

“The renovation proposal is a major renewal of one of our campus’s most iconic buildings. It’s incumbent on us to take the time and do it right,” UF president Kent Fuchs said.

Florida’s basketball team was not scheduled to play its non-conference games during the 2015-16 season in the O'Dome, planning a barnstorming tour across the state. 

Now, UF will play all its home games in the O’Dome and any other changes to events “generally held in the O’Connell Center will be made once information is confirmed.” 

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February 24, 2015

Fowler, Humphries shine, improve stock at combine

GAINESVILLE -- Nine Florida football players participated in 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, and star defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. continues to soar up teams’ draft boards after an impressive weekend. 

The 6-foot-3, 261-pound junior is already a consensus top-15 pick. But after running a 4.61 40-yard dash (in style no less with a gold watch and leopard cleats), showcasing his versatility (and quickness) in agility drills and rocking interviews, Fowler has risen as high as No. 2 overall in some mock drafts. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 11.49.01 AMMeanwhile, tailback Matt Jones, left tackle D.J. Humphries, offensive lineman Trenton Brown, center Max Garcia, offensive lineman Chaz Green, linebacker Nerion Ball, punter Kyle Christy and defensive tackle Leon Orr were also in attendance in Indianapolis this weekend. 

Aside from Fowler, Humphries flashed the most impressive performance of Florida’s contingent, weighing in at 307 pounds (nearly 20 pounds heavier than his collegiate playing weight) and performing well in various drills.

Humphries, who struggled with injuries and inconsistencies during three years in Gainesville, hit 26 reps on the bench press and is suddenly considered a sleeper first round draft pick. 

Jones, at 6-2, 231 pounds, ran OK for a tailback his size (4.61 40-yard dash), but overall he had a nice showing and remains a likely Day 3 selection.    

The other remaining Gators (Green, Garcia, Orr, Brown, Ball) participated at various degrees due to injuries and didn’t do much to improve (or worsen for that matter) their draft stocks. 

The Gators will host their annual Pro Day on April 7, with several players (Darious Cummings, Mack Brown, Andre Debose) not invited to the combine expected to attend, too. Florida’s Orange & Blue Debut is scheduled for April 11.  

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February 21, 2015

Florida not penalized for NCAA violation

GAINESVILLE -- Former University of Florida football assistant Joker Phillips committed a Level II NCAA violation last summer for having “impermissible contact with a prospect,” but UF wasn’t penalized after properly handling the situation.

In a ruling released Friday, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions determined “the corrective actions and penalties self-imposed by the school were appropriate and assigned no additional penalties or measures.”

Phillips, who served as the Gators’ wide receivers coach in 2013, resigned from UF on June 11, citing “personal reasons.”

But the former Kentucky head coach had already been suspended by the school from all off-campus recruiting for 30 days beginning on April 10, 2014.

Florida also ended the recruitment of the prospect involved in the illegal “bump.”

Phillips was not named in the report, but details describe a restaurant meeting with a recruit during a mandated dead period. According to the NCAA, Phillips’ “bump” --  notably arranged by a recruiting service reporter -- resulted in a recruiting advantage for the Gators and “exceeded the boundaries of permissible recruiting.”

Still, UF wasn’t levied penalties due to its swift action and the determination Phillips acted alone and without direction. 

“The University of Florida Athletic Association takes pride in the culture of compliance it has built over the years. Integrity is one of the core values of our organization -- we act in a fair, ethical and honest manner and we strive to do things the right way every day,” UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said.

“That is why we took quick and decisive action after we learned of a recruiting contact rule violation involving one of our assistant football coaches in January 2014. We stopped recruiting the involved student-athlete, we removed the assistant coach from all recruiting activities, and later secured his resignation. We thank the NCAA Committee on Infractions for their thoughtful deliberation. We look forward to putting this issue behind us and we will continue to operate with the highest level of integrity and compliance.”

Phillips is currently the wide receivers coach for the Cleveland Browns. 

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February 18, 2015

Sans DFS, Gators halt skid & win on late dunk

GAINESVILLE -- Florida snapped its four-game losing skid without its top all-around player, knocking off Vanderbilt 50-47 on Wednesday in an ugly, seesaw affair sans forward Dorian Finney-Smith. 

UF’s redshirt junior -- the team’s second leading scorer (12.9) and top rebounder (5.8) -- was suspended “indefinitely” for violating team rules, but freshman forward Devin Robinson stepped up in Finney-Smith’s absence and registered the game-winning dunk on a nifty baseline feed from point guard Kasey Hil with 2.1 seconds.

Robinson scored a team-high 12 points, 10 after halftime, responding after another first-half benching following a myriad of defensive lapses. 

“Kasey penetrated and got the big man in the air,” Robinson said.

“I was just in the right spot at the right time. ... [The benching] was hard. Donovan was tough on me. He said a couple words that probably hurt my feelings, but I didn’t put my head down. I just went out there and took it as a challenge.”

"A challenge" is exactly what Wednesday's game amounted to, as baskets were a premium. 

Florida, losers of two consecutive games by a single point, overcame a ghastly shooting effort without Finney-Smith or leading scorer Michael Frazier (high ankle-sprain). 

The Gators hit just 36 percent from the field and 50 percent (10-of-20) from the free throw line, scoring a measly 19 points in the first half. 

The Commodores, led by freshman sharpshooter Riley LaChance, crawled into halftime on a 13-0 run, as Florida failed to score in the final 8:37 of the period (0-of-10 FG). 

Still, UF was able to hang around because Vandy wasn’t any better (33 percent).

The SEC's top 3-point shooting team went just 6-of-20 from behind the arc. 

The Gators eventually righted the ship (sort of), as Robinson and Alex Murphy hit key shots and allowed UF’s defense to setup a suffocating press. The Commodores’ youth struggled with the pressure, committing 6 second-half turnovers and forcing poor shots early in the clock.  

“Offensively it is an absolute struggle,” Donovan said.  

“A struggle. … It was a tough shooting night by both teams. I thought both teams struggled to score.” 

The Gators went on a 13-0 run midway through the second half, only to see the Commodores trigger a 12-4 sprint late and take a 47-46 lead with 50 seconds left. 

But Florida (13-13, 6-7 SEC) finally found a way to win a last-possession game with a key play by a pair of underclassmen. 

Meanwhile, Finney-Smith was suspended for the second time in his UF career, missing three games at the start of the 2013-14 season. 

“He’s not playing against LSU [on Saturday],” Donovan said. “Then I’ll revisit it on Monday. … Dorian’s decisions represent a lack of commitment.” 

NOTES

Murphy and freshman guard Chris Chiozza were a combined 3-for-31 from downtown in SEC play entering the contest, but the two reserves combined to shoot 4-of-8 from 3-point range on Wednesday. Murphy’s 11 points matched a career-high … Sophomore center/forward Chris Walker registered a career-high five blocks. … Vandy is now 0-6 in games decided by a single possession this season, while UF moved to 3-6 in such contests. … Frazier “might” miss the remainder of the year with his high-ankle sprain, per Donovan. … Donovan won his 499th career game. … LaChance led all players with 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting. 

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Pipeline continues: Two SoFla recruits commit to UF

GAINESVILLE -- The Gators’ new football staff continues to make inroads in South Florida, landing a pair of unknown 2016 defensive prospects Wednesday. 

Miami Norland linebacker Vosean Joseph -- a three-star recruit according to 247Sports -- verbally committed to Florida via Twitter.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 2.18.13 PM
Later, Joseph’s former teammate and current Miami Central defensive end/outside linebacker Eric Mitchell, an unrated prospect, also pledged his oral commitment to the Gators.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 2.18.47 PM
Both prospects played at Norland High last season and were personally recruited by Randy Shannon, a former Vikings alum.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 2.19.35 PMAfter landing just a single linebacker commit during the 2015 cycle (Norland standout Rayshad Jackson), the Gators must stock up on the position in 2016 with five upperclassmen ready to graduate in the next two seasons. 

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February 12, 2015

Heartbreaker: Moody buries deep trey to stun Gators

GAINESVILLE -- The heartbreaking losses continue to pile up for the Florida Gators. 

Stefan Moody drilled an off-balance 25-footer with just 2.7 seconds to send Ole Miss to a 62-61 road win over Florida on Tuesday night.

The Rebels trailed by two points with 18.7 seconds before the junior guard buried the deep, contested game-winner to send the Gators (12-12, 5-6 SEC) to their third straight loss -- and fifth stunning defeat by one possession in 2014-15.

Ole Miss is now 2-0 versus Florida this season -- by a combined two points.

“We played good defense,” UF freshman forward Devin Robinson said, frustratingly admitting the team feels snake-bitten.

“He just bombed it and it went in.”

Moody led all scorers with 18 points (4-of-7 from 3-point range), but Robinson nearly spurred the upset with a breakout performance starting in place of injured sharpshooter Michael Frazier II (high-ankle sprain).

Florida’s freshman forward scored a team-high 14 points, stuffing the stat sheet with seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal in a losing effort.

“I thought it was his most complete game,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who is now 12-12 for the first time since his inaugural season in Gainesville. 

“He did some really good things.”

Still, it wasn’t quite enough.

Florida led 61-57 with 2:30 remaining after forward Dorian Finney-Smith hit a corner trey. But the Gators wasted a pair of possessions down the stretch, drawing a shot-clock violation and nearly air-balling another attempt.

“The problem was the two previous ones we got standing waiting for someone else to make a play,” Donovan said. 

“Everyone was waiting for someone else to make a play. We have to learn to do it collectively together. … We don’t have a Moody to [step up] and make a play.”

Ole Miss (17-7, 8-3 SEC) trailed 38-33 at halftime, but the Rebels opened the second half on an 11-5 sprint. Florida was able to stabilize itself, retake the lead and slowly grind the game away thanks to some timely offense by Robinson and Finney-Smith (14 points, 7 boards).

But up 54-49 with 7:30 remaining, Donovan sat the pair for some brief rest, and it ultimately cost the Gators. The Rebels quickly went on a 6-0 run to setup a back-and-forth final few minutes and the thrilling finish.

UF plays at Texas A&M on Saturday.

NOTES:

Moody, a FAU transfer, hit the winner in front of family and friends. … Rebels reserve LaDarius White scored 11 first-half points, finishing with 16. … The Gators used their 10th different starting lineup this year. …  Without Frazier, the team’s leading scorer at 13.2 ppg, Florida struggled from the field, shooting just 37.7 percent.

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