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. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

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.

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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.

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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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February 10, 2015

Florida finalizes staff, hires Dixon as WR coach

GAINESVILLE -- Jim McElwain’s inaugural coaching staff is finally complete. 

Florida named Kerry Dixon II its wide receivers coach Tuesday, poaching the former Florida International running backs assistant. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 11.40.09 AMDixon coached tailbacks at FIU in 2014 and FAU in 2012-13, but he has never coached wide receivers in his eight years as a collegiate assistant. He's regarded as a valuable recruiter, with strong ties to South Florida and Texas.   

“Kerry is a young, energetic, up-and-coming coach, McElwain said in a statement. 

“He has strong recruiting ties throughout the state and as a former offensive coordinator he will bring value to the offensive game plan.”

Dixon, from Booker T. Washington High in Texas, played quarterback at Baylor in 2002 before transferring to Hampton and starring as a wideout. 

The Gators desperately need stability and leadership at the position, as Dixon is now Florida’s seventh wide receivers coach in as many seasons.

Like McElwain, Dixon has history in the Big Sky Conference, spending two seasons at Montana State coaching running backs.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 06, 2015

Rumph officially named defensive line coach

GAINESVILLE -- Florida hired Texas defensive line coach Chris Rumph to the same position, the school announced Friday. 

Rumph, a ballyhooed recruiter with extensive Southern ties, replaces Terrell Williams, who didn’t last a month on Florida’s staff after taking a job with Miami Dolphins on Thursday

The move reunites Gators coach Jim McElwain with a former co-worker on a championship team, as Rumph and McElwain were on Alabama’s staff in 2011. 

“Chris and I obviously have some experience working together from our days at Alabama,” McElwain said in a statement. 

“He joins a group of like thinkers on our staff and is someone who will positively affect our players’ lives -- both on and off the field.”

Rumph spent the past season on Charlie Strong’s staff at Texas, but the former South Carolina linebacker has mostly made a name for himself as an assistant in the South, working at Clemson (2006-10) and Alabama (2011-13) for the bulk of his collegiate coaching career. 

The hire should also bring some closure to the CeCe Jefferson saga

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 3.57.26 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 4.03.36 PMFlorida still needs to hire a wide receivers assistant, but McElwain said Wednesday, “We’ll have one here real shortly.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

 

February 05, 2015

Williams leaves for Dolphins, Gators to hire Rumph?

GAINESVILLE -- Florida defensive line Terrell Williams didn’t last a month on the job. 

The former NFL assistant is returning to the professional ranks less than 24 hours after National Signing Day (a college football yearly tradition!!!), taking a job with the Miami Dolphins, per multiple reports

Florida officially hired Williams from the Oakland Raiders on Jan. 5th, and the defensive assistant spoke on his excitement returning to the college game and working closer to family. 

“I just felt that Florida was a great opportunity for me and my family right now," Williams said, several weeks ago. 

"My wife is from Fernandina Beach. She went to Florida A&M. Both of her parents are Gators. They have engineering degrees from here. I just felt like it was a great opportunity. I talked to Coach [Jim McElwain] on the phone and with Coach [Geoff] Collins, and felt like it was the right thing to do. You just don't leave the NFL to go coach at any college. I felt like this was a special opportunity for me at this time."

Perhaps he got a better offer?  

Now, Florida is reportedly interested in Texas defensive line coach Chris Rumph. 

Rumph, a former Alabama assistant with McElwain in 2011, was reportedly an original target for the open position in December. 

The Gainesville Sun tweeted Thursday that Rumph has been offered the job but yet to accept. 

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February 02, 2015

Scarlett, Williamson commit to Florida

GAINESVILLE -- Florida finally reeled in some offensive firepower.

Four-star tailback Jordan Scarlett -- a star at St. Thomas Aquinas -- committed to UF over Miami and Florida State on Monday night.

The Army All-American instantly becomes the crown jewel of Florida’s class, as Scarlett is (currently) ranked as its highest prospect after scoring 79 touchdowns and leading the Raiders to a state title in 2014. 

The 5-foot-10, 205-pound back actually verbally pledged to Miami in July of last year, but he decommitted from the Hurricanes over the weekend following an official visit to FSU. 

With a number of other commitments (highlighted by three-star athlete Chris Williamson) in the last two days, UF’s class now has 16 members and is ranked 42nd nationally, per 247Sports. 

2015 VERBAL COMMITMENTS 

*** Daniel Imatorbhebhe – TE – North Gwinnett (Ga.) – 6-4, 227

*** Kalif Jackson – WR - Duncan U. Fletcher – 6-5, 200

**** Derrick Dillion – WR – Pine (La.) – 5-11, 173

*** Tyler Jordan – OL – Bishop Kenny – 6-4, 280

*** Brandon Sandifer – OL – Northside (Ga.) – 6-4, 335

*** Camrin Knight – TE – Lincoln – 6-4, 225

*** Andrew Ivie – DT – Pasco – 6-1, 265

*** Jabari Zuniga – DE – Sparyberry (Ga.) – 6-3, 255

*** Rayshad Jackson – LB – Norland – 6-2, 215

**** Jordan Scarlett – RB – St. Thomas Aquinas – 5-10, 222

*** Mike Horton – OT – Lakeside (Ga.) – 6-4, 310

*** Richerd Desir-Jones – DT – St. Thomas Aquinas – 6-4, 285

*** Kylan Johnson – S – Skyline (Texas) – 6-3, 202

*** Fredrick Johnson – OT – Royal Palm Beach – 6-6, 301

*** Luke Ancrum – DE – Sebring – 6-5, 230

*** Chris Williamson – CB – Gainesville (Ga.) – 6-1, 190 

January 31, 2015

Frazier sinks clutch FTs, lifts UF past Arkansas

GAINESVILLE -- Michael Frazier II sank two clutch free throws with 1.9 seconds remaining, as Florida escaped with a 57-56 win over Arkansas on Saturday afternoon in the O’Connell Center. 

Gators (12-9, 5-3 SEC) freshman guard Chris Chiozza missed a layup late, but Frazier corralled the offensive rebound and was questionably fouled by Arkansas (16-5, 5-3 SEC) guard Aldandise Harris. 

Despite a second straight game without a 3-pointer, Florida's junior sharpshooter displayed poise overcoming another tough night (2-of-9 from the field, 0-for-5 from downtown) and a halftime benching.

Frazier drilled both freebies, and gave the Gators their second straight conference thrilling win this week. 

“What has happened to these guys is that when it has not gone well for them they lose their competitive spirit and they don’t fight,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. 

“They don’t scratch. They don’t claw. They get down, and there was a couple moments late where we were teetering a little bit and we were back to that mindset. But I thought they really battled as hard as they could.”

The Gators moved to 5-3 in the SEC. Their NCAA hopes remain faint, but a win over the Razorbacks did give UF its first top-25 RPI win on the year. The Gators are now 1-7 against the RPI top 50. 

Florida plays at Vanderbilt on Tuesday.  

BY THE NUMBERS

10.7 - seconds remaining when Anton Beard grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a baseline layup to put Razorbacks up one late. 

34.6 — UF’s field goal percentage, its second worst in a win this season. Despite another late-game scoring lull, the Gators survived the Razorbacks’ 12-3 run late with some timely free throw shooting (17-of-25) by Frazier and Jacob Kurtz. 

23 - Missed shots by Florida’s backcourt (Frazier, Kasey Hill and Eli Carter). The trio combined for just five made field goals and 13 points. 

14 - NBA scouts, most (or all) of whom witnessed Razorbacks forward Bobby Portis dominate all afternoon. The 6-11 sophomore led all scorers with 21 points, adding 10 rebounds and two blocks.  

4 - Dunks by Dorian Finney-Smith, who had two thunderous tomahawk slams that really energized both the crowd and team. Finned-Smith finished the afternoon with 16 points — UF’s lone scorer in double figures. The junior forward led the Gators in points, rebounds (9), assists (4) and turnovers (3).  

15.8 percent - The combined 3-point shooting percentage (6-for-38) for SEC’s best two teams (statistically) downtown. 

8-0 - Florida’s sprint to end the first half, taking some much-needed momentum and a two-point lead into the locker room. 

QUOTABLES

“Credit to Florida, they hung in there and found a way to win. But I was disappointed with the officiating going down the stretch. A guy that I’ve seen before, John Hampton, made one of the more critical calls in the game. The last play, I was not satisfied with [the call].”

-- Arkansas coach Mike Anderson 

“We just kept fighting. Things didn’t go our way every time. …  Honestly, I knew [the free throws] were going in. Michael had a tough night shooting, but I told him earlier in the game he was going to make a game-winning play. He stayed in the game.”

-- UF forward Dorian Finney-Smith    

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McElwain draws cheers with spirited comments

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 3.09.17 PM

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Jim McElwain took a brief break from a crucial recruiting weekend to address the Gator Nation on Saturday afternoon. 

UF's new football coach spirited the crowd at halftime of Florida's 57-56 thriller over Arkansas, ending his speech with “we’re going to get the Gators back where they belong, and that’s at the national championship.”

247Sports caught the moment on film.

 

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January 27, 2015

Orange & Blue Debut scheduled for April 11

GAINESVILLE -- Florida announced its spring game date Tuesday, scheduling the annual Orange & Blue Debut for April 11. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 6.17.56 PM

 

New coach Jim McElwain probably hopes the spring scrimmage is a tad more traditional than the previous two years. In 2013, UF didn't even play a glorified game due to an extensive injury list, and last season the scrimmage laughably ended in a tie. 

As the tweet stated, additional details will be announced in the near future. 

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January 21, 2015

UF announces plans to build indoor practice facility

GAINESVILLE -- Florida football’s reboot is just getting started. 

As the Gators usher in a new era, the University Athletic Association announced plans Wednesday to start construction on an indoor practice facility, giving coach Jim McElwain some new digs in his inaugural season. 

The facility -- a $15 million project slated for completion by “early September” -- will house a 120-yard, synthetic turf field, additional space for drills, three camera platforms, training-room facilities and storage. 

The project will be built on the site of the Sanders Football Practice Fields, and will feature a newly redesigned entrance to McKethan Stadium -- the baseball field located adjacent to the facility. 

“This is something we have talked about internally for some time,” UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. 

“We have always been able to utilize the O’Connell Center as an indoor option for the football team, but with the renovation starting this spring, it will no longer be available.”

Florida estimated that “30 practices were lost or altered” due to inclement weather last season. The facility also allows the school to keep up with Joneses in recruiting, as every other program in the conference has an indoor practice facility or plans to build one. 

According to the release, Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors out of Birmingham, Ala., will oversee the project and the facility will be funded “through private gifts and capital financing.”

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January 20, 2015

NCAA grants McGee a sixth year?

GAINESVILLE — Roughly two weeks before National Signing Day, Florida’s offense received an early boost for next season. 

On Tuesday, Jake McGee, a senior tight end who broke his leg in UF’s season-opener against Eastern Michigan last year, tweeted he’s returning to school -- granted a medical hardship by the NCAA. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 5.37.10 PM

The school has yet to confirm the tight end’s waiver status, but McGee applied for a sixth year of eligibility in December.

McGee’s Florida career appeared over before it ever began in 2014, as the former Virginia standout was injured on a routine blocking play early in UF’s opener. 

He immediately upgrades UF’s tight end position -- one that figures to play a prominent role in the new staff’s offensive scheme. 

The 6-foot-6, 245-pound graduate student was pass-catching threat with the Cavaliers, leading the team in receptions (43) and yards (395) in 2013. He recorded 71 catches for 769 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons at UV. 

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January 15, 2015

Florida rolls Auburn, moves to 3-0 in SEC play

GAINESVILLE -- The Rowdy Reptiles chanted “Sweaty Bruce” all night, and Florida cruised past Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers without much fuss.

Pearl's jacket never even came off. 

The Gators (10-6, 3-0 SEC) trounced the Tigers 75-55, winning their 24th straight Southeastern Conference game Thursday. 

All ten regulars scored for Florida, with four players registering double figures -- led by junior Dorian Finney-Smith’s 14 points.

The versatile forward scored 12 points in the second half, overcoming early foul trouble.

“We’re a hard team to beat when we have four guys in double figures,” Finney-Smith said.

Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill was brilliant, stuffing the stat sheet with 12 points, seven assists, three steals, five rebounds and zero turnovers.

“I thought Kasey was really good tonight,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.

“Really it’s been two games now coming off that one assist, six turnovers against South Carolina that he’s had 14 assists and one turnover. You’re got to really give him credit. He’s done a great job running our team.

Florida never trailed Thursday, leading by as many as 24 points. The Gators stormed to a 24-8 advantage early, fueled by a 15-0 run midway through the first half.

Hill constantly got the hoop against AU’s matador defense in the early goings, speeding off screens for layups and easy assists.

The Gators got solid production off the bench, too, as Eli Carter (12 points) and Michael Frazier II (11 points, nine rebounds) chipped in noteworthy performances.

Meanwhile, Pearl's reintroduction to the O'Connell Center was rarely pleasant. 

The former Tennessee coach's team struggled to generate quality shots (tallying just 16 made field goals and shooting 32.7 percent) or impose his pressing defense.  

Cinmeon Bowers had 11 points and 11 rebounds for his 10th double-double on the year, while Antoine Mason led the Tigers (9-7, 1-2 SEC) in scoring with 13 points. 

The Tigers had a seven-minute field goal drought in the first half, and later went nearly 10 minutes without a bucket.

At one point after halftime, they had more turnovers (10) than made field goals (six).

The Gators held a 37-20 lead in the first half, but sloppy play (five turnovers, 11 fouls) allowed the Tigers to hang around. Auburn rallied for a 10-0 sprint to cut UF’s lead to 10 with 5:52 to play.

"There’s a lack of immaturity, a lack of understanding,” said Donovan, on Florida’s difficulty maintaining concentration and composure with late leads.

“We’re up 19 points and we have three empty possessions and they come down and make three-straight threes. All of a sudden the lead goes down to 10 and they look around and are like, ‘What happened?’ Like they have no concept. … My biggest problem right now is I felt like the last two years we were one of the best teams in the country playing defense without fouling. We are now fouling at an astronomical and alarming rate. It’s 20 fouls every game. Every game.” 

Florida did answer AU’s surge with a quick 6-0 dash, regaining control and effectively icing the game.

UF plays at Georgia on Saturday at 2 p.m. (CBS). 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

January 10, 2015

Gators cruise, extend SEC win streak to 23 straight

GAINESVILLE -- With junior sharpshooter Michael Frazier II limited by a respiratory illness, Florida (9-6, 2-0 SEC) turned to Eli Carter for some scoring punch.

Carter did his best Frazier impression, scoring 20 points (4-of-6 from downtown) off the bench on just eight shots, leading UF to a 72-47 thrashing over Mississippi State (7-8, 0-2 SEC) on Saturday night in the O’Connell Center.

“It felt good,” said Carter, who’s battled a myriad of injuries the last two seasons.

“It’s a weight off my shoulders.” 

Carter scored his most points (21) since UF’s loss to Miami, chipping in three assists and a couple nifty defensive plays, too.

The potential super-sub takes the Gators' offense to another level (extra ball-handler, legitimate perimeter threat), and Saturday's results beared fruit.  

“Eli Carter’s shot chart over his career is like EKG exam. He’s one of those guys that when his shot is not falling there have been other parts of his game that have fallen off,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.  

“This is a game where his shots were going it. It’s always easy to be engaged in a game when you’re making shots, or if it’s going well offensively.  … When he does not shoot the ball well we’ve got to get those other things from him and in the past he has not done that. He’s worming hard to become more [consistent]. He can make the game easy for other guts. We need that out of him.”

Meanwhile, Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith continued as UF's lone steady contributor, adding 16 points, six rebounds and two blocks.

Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill rebounded from a tough performance at South Carolina (six turnovers, one assists) to chip in seven points and seven assists with just one turnover.

The Gators never trailed and were never even threatened against MSU, storming to an early 22-7 lead thanks to some blistering shooting (9-of-10 start).

Bulldogs swingman Demetrius Houston drilled a 65-foot heave at halftime buzzer, but the miracle shot only cut the Gators’ lead to 20 points and was MSU’s lone highlight of the night.

UF led 39-19 at halftime and easily extended its school-record SEC winning streak to 23.

"I think we're getting better," Donovan said. "I think the best thing for this team, and who knows how the year finishes out, but the best thing in my opinion for this team, was the fact our schedule was so challenging."

MSU entered the night ranked last or near the bottom in nearly every offensive category in the conference, and Florida’s pressure defense made the Bulldogs’ putrid attack look even worse.

The Gators locked down the Bulldogs, forcing hurried shots and 15 turnovers and scoring 26 points off takeaways.

Meanwhile, UF’s offense was fluid and full of crisp passing. The Gators shot 52 percent and had 19 assists -- tying a season high.

"We played very unselfishly," Donovan said. 

"We really shared [the ball]."

UF hosts Auburn on Thursday at 7 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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