Florida Gators Vs. Kentucky Wildcats: Gators Look To Close Out Regular Season With Win Over SEC Rival

We’ve made it to the end of the regular season. On Saturday, the Florida Gators will close out the regular season with a trip to Kentucky to take on the defending national champion Wildcats. We’ve discussed this before, but it’s worth mentioning again, Kentucky is not the Kentucky of last season. The players that won that title are in the NBA for the most part and this is a very different Wildcat squad the Gators will face.

Patric Young - Florida Gators

Florida, on the other hand, is not all that different from last season’s Elite Eight squad. Gone are Bradley Beal–drafted immediately following two former Wildcats–and Erving Walker, but the other major parts from last season’s roster are all intact. Even with Beal and Walker, the Gators went 0-3 against the Wildcats during the 2011-12 season. This season, without the two former starters, Florida is 1-0 with a 17-point victory over the new look Kentucky squad. A Kentucky squad desperately needing a win if they even hope to sniff the NCAA Tournament.

The 24-5 (14-3 SEC) Gators are in regardless of what happens. They could lose to the Wildcats and immediately exit the SEC Tournament with a loss in their first game and still make it to the big dance. Kentucky, though, needs help. At 20-10 (11-6 SEC), the Wildcats needed a strong finish to the regular season. Instead, they have gone 3-4 over the last seven, including bad losses to Arkansas and Georgia in their last two. Both teams want a victory, but one team needs it infinitely more.

That shouldn’t mean much though. The Gators won’t roll over just because they don’t necessarily need the win. A victory would help them secure a higher seed, but so would multiple wins in the conference tournament and an SEC tourney crown. Defeating this season’s Kentucky team doesn’t have the impact that beating last season’s would have, but going into Lexington and getting a win is still something to remember.

The Gators haven’t won at Rupp Arena since 2007 and are 0-2 in their last two SEC road games. Florida plays great at home, but has been shaky on the road in conference play. This is the time of the season to get over that. The Gators must play as they know they can. They defeated Kentucky once this season, and by a good margin, and should do so again. There’s no reason for a letdown, road game or not. Florida rebounded from a loss to Tennessee with a thin lineup to win two in a row in solid fashion. That momentum must be carried into Lexington and beyond. The regular season will be over in a few short hours, but the Gators shouldn’t look to the SEC and NCAA tournaments until that point.

2012 Basketball Recruiting Report: Braxton Ogbueze – Point Guard – Charlotte, NC

In a year the Florida Gators were to lose their starting point guard Erving Walker to graduation, Billy Donovan picked up his top commit of the 2012 recruiting cycle in United Faith Christian Academy point guard Braxton Ogbueze. A solid athlete, Ogbueze looks to step into immediate playing time at Florida and share point guard duties with junior Scottie Wilbekin.

The Rundown

Name: Braxton Ogbueze
Position: Point Guard
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 185
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
High School: United Faith Christian Academy
Class: 2012
Rankings: 247Sports – 4 stars, No. 6 PG, No. 52 Overall | ESPN – 4 stars, No. 7 PG, No. 50 Overall | Scout – 4 stars, No. 5 PG | Rivals – 4 stars, No. 14 PG, No. 78 Overall
Status: Committed to Florida

The Report

After considering Baylor, Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wake Forest, the Charlotte guard Braxton Ogbueze narrowed his recruitment down to the Gators and the Bears, though he would eventually commit to Florida. His official commitment would come following a Gators’ win over Alabama. Ogbueze was then the second player to join the 2012 recruiting class.

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Erving Walker’s Stolen Taco Costs The Former Florida Gators Guard $301

Former Florida Gators guard Erving Walker knows it was a mistake to steal a taco from a street vendor on March 30. In addition to the lesson he hopefully learned, Walker’s wallet is now substantially lighter because of the theft.

On Thursday, Walker pleaded no contest to the charges stemming from the stolen taco. He was ordered to pay $301 for what ultimately was a $3 taco. The other charge – resisting arrest without violence – was dropped as part of the agreement for the payment to be made.

“It was just a silly mistake.” – Erving Walker, Former Florida Gators Guard

A mistake Walker is sure not to make again. After the vendor handed Walker the taco, he ran and continued to after being approached by a police officers. He was eventually caught and claimed he was just kidding around and wasn’t really stealing the taco. It ended up being a fairly expensive joke; one we hope Walker has learned from.

Norm Roberts Leaves Florida; Gators Assistant Accepts Position With Kansas Jayhawks

After only one season with the Florida Gators men’s basketball team, assistant coach Norm Roberts has left to rejoin his old boss – Bill Self – with the Kansas Jayhawks. Roberts had previously worked under Self at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas. He will replace former Jayhawks’ star player and assistant coach Danny Manning on Self’s staff. Along with the added bonus of working for Self again, Roberts will get to coach his son at Kansas. Niko Roberts will be a junior walk-on in the fall.

Billy Donovan will now begin his search to replace Roberts. The Gators’ head coach has developed a reputation for hiring high-potential assistants that go on to head coaching positions themselves. Due to that, it won’t be hard for Donovan to find someone to fill Roberts’ role. There’s also the added bonus of being part of a staff on a team that has reached the Elite Eight in consecutive years and – despite losing Erving Walker and possibly Bradley Beal – has a good nucleus coming back for the 2012-13 season.

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Kenny Boynton To Return To Gators For Senior Season

The Florida Gators basketball team received good news on Thursday in the form of junior guard Kenny Boynton announcing his intention to return to the university for his senior season.

One of the nation’s top recruits coming out of American Heritage (Pompano Beach, FL), it was initially difficult to imagine Boynton remaining in a Gators uniform all this time, but the 6’2″ guard has become a great fit for the college game. Through his three seasons, Boynton has scored 1,589 points, which is good for seventh on the career scoring list at Florida.

While Boynton has a realistic shot at claiming the scoring record – he’s 501 behind Gators legend Ronnie Williams – there’s another record that could become his very early in the 2012-13 season. Boynton needs only 24 three-pointers to pass former teammate Erving Walker atop the list.

Boynton was streaky during his junior season, but continued to be one of the Gators most important weapons. A deadly shooter, Boynton could claim the role of outright leader on and off of the court as a senior. With Walker’s career coming to an end and the likelihood of Bradley Beal taking his talents to the NBA, much of the scoring load will fall to Boynton.

While we wait for Beal’s decision, we can be comforted with the knowledge that one of the stars from two straight Elite Eight teams will return. We’re fairly sure Billy Donovan was pleased with the news as well.

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Florida Gators 68 – Marquette Golden Eagles 58; Gators Basketball Advances To Elite Eight

The Florida Gators’ basketball team extended its 2012 NCAA Tournament run on Thursday night with a 68-58 win over the Marquette Golden Eagles in the Sweet 16. With the win, the Gators advance to face the Louisville Cardinals in the Elite Eight on Saturday at 4:30 PM.

Freshman guard Bradley Beal was once again the glue that held the Gators together. Florida shot 40.7% from the floor, 25.9% from behind the three-point line, and 86.7% from the free-throw line. Beal topped all of those percentages. In his third-ever tourney game, the freshman went 8-for-10 from the field, hit three three-pointers on five attempts, and made both of his free throw. After averaging 14 points in the first two games of the tourney, Beal led the Gators with 21 in the victory. Despite playing in the Big Dance for the first time, Beal is getting better each time out.

Junior guard Kenny Boynton and senior guard Erving Walker joined Beal in the double-digit scoring column. Both had 11 points despite combining to go 5-for-19 from the field. Add junior forward Erik Murphy’s 3-for-13 performance to the mix and it’s impossible to say shooting won the game for Florida. What did win it was scoring when it mattered and Marquette’s collapse from the field. The Golden Eagles only connected on 30.8% of their shots, nearly 10 full percentage points lower than the Gators. Neither team was great from the field, but Marquette was downright awful. While stars Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom combined to score 29 points, they did it on 10-for-30 shooting.

Billy Donovan improved to 5-1 in the Sweet 16 with the Gators. His only loss in the round came in his third season as the Florida head coach, which also happened to be the first season he led the Gators to the NCAA Tournament. This time around, Donovan was able to do it with a team that struggled to close out the regular season, but is playing on its raw talent to continue to advance in the tourney.

The win was the Gators’ 26th of the season. Only four Donovan-coached Florida teams had previously won more than 25 games. Last season’s was one of them and has the distinction of being the only won to not play for a national title.

Florida has an oddity of sorts because they will face a lower seed in the Elite Eight than they did in the Sweet 16. Marquette was the West Region’s No. 3 seed while Louisville is the No. 4. A similiar occurance happened to the Gators in the third round when they faced No. 15 Norfolk State after defeating No. 10 Virginia in the second round.

We move ahead to Saturday and a new round.

Florida Gators 71 – Virginia Cavaliers 45; Gators Advance To Face A Surprise Opponent

We’ll try our best to make this about the Florida Gators’ 71-45 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but something that delayed this recap being written is occupying all of our minds. With the Gators win, most expected them to face the Missouri Tigers in the third round – a No. 2 seed by the way – but that won’t happen after they were upset by the Norfolk State Spartans. But let’s focus on the victory.

Over the past few days, Gator Nation has fallen in love with sophomore forward Casey Prather. First, there was this. Now, there is his performance in the win over the Cavaliers. All Prather did on Friday was play 22 minutes, make six of his seven field goal attempts, and score 14 points. Those were all season highs and the points were a career high. Prather didn’t have to be the hero – the Gators did win by 26 after all – but he was regardless. In mere days, the legend of Casey Prather has been born.

Playing in his first tourney game, freshman guard Bradley Beal was impressive. Beal had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds and had his shot while the other guards didn’t. We hate to have to bring it up again, but with the exception of Beal, shots from other guards were hit or miss with miss coming up more often than not. Erving Walker: 3-for-8. Kenny Boynton: 3-for-10. Mike Rosario: 1-for-4. Patric Young, Prather and Beal more than made up for it, but IT MUST CHANGE! Sorry, it’s Friday evening and that high of winning and then experiencing an upset is still there, so we’re all easily excitable.

On to the weekend and, come Sunday, game two.

Men’s Basketball Recap: Kentucky Wildcats 74 – Florida Gators 59; No. 1 Too Much For Gators

On Sunday afternoon, the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats defeated the No. 13/16 Florida Gators for the second time this season. The Gators fought valiantly through parts of the game and even sparked a stunning comeback at the start of the second half, but it wouldn’t be enough. The Wildcats’ talent ruled all and the nation’s top team won yet again.

For the Gators, that’s three losses in a row to end the regular season. The 3-4 record over the last seven is not an impressive one for the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Florida will make the tournament, but may need a win or two in the SEC Tournament to state their case for a decent seed and region. That may be easier said than done. The Gators have a bye, but if they and the Wildcats both win their first games, the two will meet again.

As for Sunday’s game, Florida was done in by shooting .382 from the field and .273 from downtown. Numbers like that won’t keep you in a game against Kentucky for long. The Gators’ three-headed guard monster contributed to those percentages and not in the way you would want them to. Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal combined to go 5-for-29 from the floor and 4-for-17 from behind the three-point line. That type of performance will do you in against practically every team in the conference and will downright destroy you against the Wildcats.

Patric Young did come to life though and was a spark for Florida heading into the conference tournament. Young had 21 points to go along with nine rebounds. Seeing that type of outing from the sophomore is pleasing to fans and surely to Billy Donovan as well. All fingers will be crossed to see if Young can carry momentum into the Gators’ next game.

Florida will play in the second round of the SEC Tournament on Friday, March 9 at 3:30 PM. The Gators will face the winner of Alabama and South Carolina.

Men’s Basketball Preview: Florida Gators Vs. Kentucky Wildcats – March 4, 2012

The regular season comes down to this. The No. 13/16 Florida Gators host the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats in the regular season finale. Since these teams first faced off nearly one month ago, the Gators have gone 3-3 and seen their play come under question. Today presents an opporunity for Florida to surge forward toward the SEC Tournament and beyond. Or yet another chance for Kentucky to prove their worth as the nation’s best team.

The Facts

Opponent: Kentucky Wildcats
When: Saturday, March 4, 2012 – 12:00 PM
Where: Gainesville, FL
Broadcast: CBS, GatorVision, Sirius/XM 91
Records: Florida: 22-8 (10-5 SEC, 14-1 Home), Kentucky: 29-1 (15-0 SEC, 7-1 Away)
Rankings: Florida: 13/16, Kentucky: 1/1
Current Streak: Florida: L2, Kentucky: W21
Point Spread: Kentucky -5
Over/Under: 139.5
Calculated Score: Kentucky 72-67
Points Scored: Florida: 77.4, Kentucky: 77.8
Points Allowed: Florida: 65.6, Kentucky: 58.5
Last Meeting: Kentucky 78-58 (February 7, 2012)

The Preview

It’s hard to know what to expect from the Gators at this point in the season. One month ago today, Florida beat Vanderbilt for the Gators seventh straight victory. Florida was 19-4 (7-1 SEC) at the time and there was serious talk about a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A loss to then and always No. 1 Kentucky hurt, but didn’t derail those hopes. After losing to Tennessee for the second time this season, the Gators looked better in wins over Alabama and Arkansas. The win over Auburn was a win, but was far from pretty and then there was the downright embarrassing loss to Georgia. That was followed with a loss to Vanderbilt and suddenly Florida had five conference losses. The SEC and NCAA tournaments are on the horizon as the Gators face the country’s hottest team on Sunday.

Billy Donovan and the Gators will need to focus on a number of things, the first of which is slowing down the Wildcats the best they can. Kentucky can run and when they do, they blow games wide open. They haven’t had a game with a point differential of less than six since January 14 and in that same time frame have won six games by 20 or more. The Gators need to do their best to stay in it for 40 minutes because any Wildcat run will be difficult to come back from.

There’s Erving Walker and his need to be a leader. There’s Kenny Boynton and his need to get hot early from outside. There’s Bradley Beal and his need to find his stroke from the opening tip. There’s Patric Young and his need to be a force down low. And there’s the bench and their need to contribute and not waste valuable minutes. Every single person in orange and blue on Sunday (even the fans) plays an important role in this one. It can be a statement game and one during which the Gators can prove they are worthy of that top-10 ranking they received at various times throughout the season. Play hard for 40 minutes. The tournaments are right around the corner, but Kentucky comes first.

Billy Donovan Needs More Fire Out Of Erving Walker

With the season winding down, now is an odd time to be searching for an emotional leader. The No. 13/16 Florida Gators are guaranteed only one thing: three more games. Beyond that, it’s up to Billy Donovan to get as much as he can – both in terms of talent and leadership – from his players to add to the number of times the Gators play.

That all starts with Erving Walker. The guard is the lone senior and the only remaining member of the Gators’ 2008 recruiting class. According to Rivals.com, that class consisted of four four-star players and one three-star athlete. That three-star – Walker – is all that remains. The other four all transferred, shutting the door on their Florida legacies long ago. But Walker still has time. That time is limited, but he has one last chance to prove himself as a leader.

“There are times where your team can reflect the personality of the guy in charge, and with him being in charge and when things are not going well for our team, there are times that we need some more fire out of him.” – Billy Donovan

Walker has had his share of big games. The small guard has come up huge in key moments. But he’s had his downs as well. Inconsistent is a label you could apply. Just look back a few weeks when the Gators went 1-2 in a three-game stretch against Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. Walker went 5-for-22 from the floor in those games, totaled 14 points, and had 10 total assists to eight turnovers. Then suddenly against Arkansas, he blew up: 9-for12 shooting, 5-for-6 from three-point land, 8-for-8 from the free-throw line, seven assists, ZERO turnovers, and 31 points. He had only scored 25 total in the previous four games combined.

That Arkansas game proved yet again that Walker can play, but it also showed that much of what he does on the court is done silently. Walker not described as a leader or an emotional player. That’s not necessarily something you can teach. You can’t ingrain emotion, but Donovan has to find a way to fire up his senior point guard for Sunday, for the SEC Tournament, and for the NCAA Tournament.

Time is running out on not only the Gators’ season, but also on Walker’s career. He will be remembered for his big games and as Florida’s career assists leader, but he’ll mostly be remembered for the next few weeks.