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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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 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

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 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.  

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Foley: Muschamp is "free to make a living"

GAINESVILLE -- Florida finished National Signing Day with a flurry, but after a number of ballyhooed in-state targets signed with Auburn, a former friend-turned-foe became the focal point of frustration in the Gator Nation.

Former UF coach Will Muschamp, now the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, helped AU land five-star defensive end Byron Coward, as well as four-star linebacker Jeffery Holland and four-star wideouts Ryan Davis and Javarius Davis. He also flipped UF offensive tackle commit Mike Horton. 

Gator fans were infuriated. Muschamp was recruiting against his former employer, while still getting paid by Florida. 

UF athletic director Jeremy Foley, who’s been criticized for not structuring a contract to protect the university against such possibilities, said he understands fans’ “angst” but that “it’s part of the deal.”

"First of all, it's a one-year conversation,” Foley said. 

“I get the angst that that causes. But at the end of the day, we terminated Will. It's not like he moved on on his own. We terminated his contract. We said we needed to go in a different direction. He's free to work. He's free to go get a job. He's free to go get a job. He's free to do his job.”

Muschamp was fired after four topsy turvy seasons in Gainesville, and Florida is on the hook for nearly $6.3 million. Auburn made Muschamp the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the country, but Florida did not receive any relief in the buyout due to zero mitigation in Muschamp’s contract.  

“Will didn’t work at all and we’re still paying him the same amount of money,” Foley said. 

“That’s the world we live in. This is the big leagues. These coaches have a tough job, these coaches are in demand. When you’re negotiating contracts with them. I’m not really worried about that. I also expected Will coach here a long, long time. I certainly expect Mac to be here a long, long time.”

Instead of focusing on fans’ frustrations, Foley acknowledged coach Jim McElwain’s successful inaugural class. 

“I imagine Auburn was recruiting some of those guys before he got up there. And Will's a good recruiter,” Foley said. 

“But so is Jim McElwain. Look what he did on signing day, look at what he did a couple of day prior to signing day. We’re all fine. I get, like I said, it’s good conversation, it’s angst, but, you know, we terminated Will’s contract. He’s free to go make a living like anybody else.”

Florida finished No. 21 nationally in team rankings after sitting in the 70’s a week before NSD.

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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.”

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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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January 31, 2015

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

Where Things Stand: Week+ before NSD

GAINESVILLE -- Jim McElwain said, “I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. … We’ve got a lot of ground to make up. When we took the job, we knew that there would be some [challenges.] It’s going to take a while.”

The “it” is rebuilding Florida, and based on the school’s 2015 recruiting class the foundation for the future might not come from its current crop of pledges.  

With National Signing Day rapidly approaching, the Gators have just 10 verbal commitments. They will sign their smallest class in years, and Monday, 247Sports reported that UF has its fewest commitments in a decade with just a week before NSD.

The Gators’ class is ranked last in the SEC by every recruiting service.

It gets worse. 

Florida has just 58 scholarship players for next season, and a 2015 class low in quantity (and quality at the moment) isn’t going to help the team’s numbers issue.  

But all is not dire, yet.

Florida should get a NSD bump -- UF is among the “leaders” for a trio of consensus 5-star prospects and a number of other recruits -- even though the Gators won't sign a real ballyhooed group. 

Over the weekend, they hosted top-ranked defensive end Byron Cowart and No. 1 offensive tackle Martez Ivey, as well as a number of other key targets. 

They picked up a verbal pledge from three-star linebacker Rayshad Jackson (a Miami Norland High standout) and flipped three-star defensive end Jabari Zuniga, hoping to make a final surge over the next week. 

But it’s late in the process, and UF is reportedly losing ground on Cowart (who favors Auburn) and five-star DL CeCe Jefferson (who favors Ole Miss). It would be a major blow to swing and miss on such talented in-state prospects, but thus is the hand McElwain has been dealt. 

With staff turnover and the school’s recent win/loss struggles, it’s no mystery why McElwain is fighting an uphill battle. 

Transition classes are traditionally weaker anyways, and UF’s struggles have been magnified due to McElwain’s lack of developed relationships, few Southern ties and little name recognition. 

The Gators are trying to salvage their class over the next nine days, but 2016 has already become a more important priority.

McElwain knows he must sign and deliver a monster class next season. Otherwise, the transition (or transformation) won’t truly take shape. 

Florida can sign upwards of 30 prospects next season (depending on normal attrition and the NFL Draft). 

UF has just eight seniors, but it could lose a number of players to the league (namely Vernon Hargreaves III, Demarcus Robinson, Alex McCalister and Keanu Neal) for the second straight year. 

The emphasis on 2016 starts now. McElwain can’t afford to have two subpar classes in a row -- especially one without a quarterback, elite skill position players and quality offensive linemen -- so if Florida is struggling with top prospects in the next recruiting cycle then the Gator Nation will really start worrying.

UF already has three verbal commitments for 2016, including Jacksonville Raines wideout Rick Wells, who committed Monday night. 

2015 VERBAL COMMITMENTS 

TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe - North Gwinnett (Ga.) ***

WR Kalif Jackson - Duncan U. Fletcher ***

WR Derrick Dillion - Pine (La.) ****

OL Tyler Jordan - Bishop Kenny ***

OL Brandon Sandifer - Norhside (Ga.) ***

TE Camrin Knight - Lincoln ***

DT Andrew Ivie - Pasco ***

DE Jabari Zuniga - Sparyberry (Ga.) ***

Rayshad Jackson - Norland ***

(Imatorbhebhe and Jackson are early enrollees)

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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). 

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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

January 06, 2015

Morrison spurns NFL, injury extent remains unclear

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s leading tackler Antonio Morrison will return for his senior season, the school announced Tuesday.

The middle linebacker, an All-SEC second-team selection, finished the year with 101 stops, but Morrison left Saturday’s 28-20 win in the Birmingham Bowl with a potentially serious knee injury.

Florida has yet to update the extent of Morrison’s injury, or whether it impacted the linebacker's decision to forgo an early entry into 2015 NFL Draft.

"I'm returning to Florida, and I will be getting my degree in 2015. That plays a big role in why I'm returning,'' Morrison said in a statement. 

"And as a leader of this team, I want to lead my team to Atlanta and possibly a national championship. Coach McElwain has put together a great staff and I'm looking forward to working with them this year."

Morrison was named to the SEC Honor Roll this fall.

On the field, he overcame his sophomore slump (spurred by improved conditioning and quickness) to become Florida’s most dependable linebacker.

The junior’s 101 tackles were the most by a Gator player since safety Ahmad Black recorded 108 stops in 2010. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Five-star freshman DE Gerald Willis to transfer

GAINESVILLE -- Florida dismissed former five-star defensive end Gerald Willis III on Tuesday.

Three days after forcing a fumble at the goal line in Florida’s win in the Birmingham Bowl, the freshman defensive lineman is no longer a Gator.

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 6.51.37 PM

According to multiple reports, Willis was involved in “another altercation with a teammate.”

The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder flashed his future potential in minimal playing time this season, but Willis was mainly a malcontent, frustrating coaches with his attitude.

He didn’t dress against Kentucky or Alabama for undisclosed reasons, and was involved in a notable fist-fight over cleats with reserve quarterback Skyler Morningweg.

In Florida’s regular-season finale against Florida State, former coach Will Muschamp benched Willis for delivering a sideline cheap shot on FSU quarterback Jameis Winston.  

Afterwards, Muschamp said, “If I was still the head coach, he’d be kicked off the team.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

 


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