Florida Gators 67 – Tennessee Volunteers 58: Second Half Surge Leads to Victory, Again

Florida has this second half thing down. Tight first halves, followed by second halves during which the Gators march to victory after victory are becoming the norm. Florida did so again on Tuesday night, defeating Tennessee 67-58 in Knoxville.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The Volunteers took a 34-33 lead into the locker room thanks to 62.5 percent shooting. Then the Gators tightened the reigns and pressed on defense. Tennessee’s hot shooting night quickly went sour as the Vols managed to shoot just 29.2 percent in the second half.

“…I thought we pressed predominantly most of the second half. We didn’t turn them over a lot, but it was just disruptive in terms of flow,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

The victory was the Gators’ 16th in a row and helped Florida improve its record to 22-2 (11-0 SEC). The Vols fell to 15-9 (6-5 SEC). The Gators have just seven regular season game remaining before the SEC Tournament. Up next for No. 3 Florida is a visit to No. 14 Kentucky.

The Gators relied heavily on a seven-man rotation throughout with all five starters and two reserves—sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith and freshman guard Kasey Hill—all seeing at least 20 minutes on the court. Freshman forward Chris Walker was able to get in for the third-straight game, but only saw five minutes of action.

Florida was led by senior guard Scottie Wilbekin who had 21 points and six assists. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II was the only other player to score in double digits with 11. The Gators managed to pull off the victory despite shooting just 36.2 percent from the floor.

Florida Gators 78 – Alabama Crimson Tide 69: Gators Need Second Half to Pull Away

When Florida jumped out to an early 12-2 lead over Alabama on Saturday, it looked like the Gators were on their way to a blowout. That lead evaporated almost as fast as it grew and Florida would head into the locker room at halftime tied with the Crimson Tide.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The second half saw Bama give Florida much of the same as the Gators’ defense didn’t play up to it’s usual standards.

“If you play defense the way we did tonight, you’re not going to win. Thank God we had some offense today that helped us,” said Florida head coach Billy Donovan.

That offense came in the form of 62 percent shooting from the field and a second-half surge that saw the No. 3 Gators improve to 21-2 (10-0 SEC) on the season. The loss dropped the Anthony Grant-led Tide to 9-14 (3-7 SEC).

For the first time in over two months, all five Florida starters scored in double digits. The Gators were led senior guard Scottie Wilbekin’s 16. Senior center Patric Young added 11 and a highlight-reel block.

The Gators set a season high with 22 assists, but according to one Florida player, you aren’t going to hear Donovan praise them for that.

“Coach D is not going to tell us about that. As a coach, he wants us to see what we did wrong and get better from that. I think this game can help us learn. It better. Other teams are going to watch this film and see how we broke down and they’re going to run the same stuff,” said senior forward Will Yeguete.

The Gators have Sunday and Monday off before traveling to Knoxville, TN on Tuesday to take on 15-8 (6-4 SEC) Tennessee.

Florida Gators 68 – Missouri Tigers 58: Gators Victorious in Chris Walker’s Debut

A strong second half powered Florida to it’s 14th-straight win. The Gators defeated Missouri 68-58 in freshman forward Chris Walker’s orange and blue debut.

Chris Walker, Florida Gators

As expected, Walker was brought along slowly. The freshman was on the court for just seven minutes, but played well enough that he will be sure to be seeing more time soon. Walker finished with four points on two dunks that brought the crowd in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center to its feet. Walker also added two defensive rebounds, two blocks, and two personal fouls.

“Just happy he can finally get on the floor and contribute a little bit,” head coach Billy Donovan said.

While all eyes were on Walker, Florida’s best performances of the night came from guards Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II. Wilbekin played 36 of 40 minutes and finished with 19 points after going 13-of-16 from the free-throw line. Frazier II added four three-pointers and finished with 14 points.

While freshman guard Kasey Hill has yet to find his scoring touch since returning from injury in December, he showed marked improvement in distributing the ball. Hill finished with six assists to only one turnover in 21 minutes on the court.

In addition to its 14th-consecutive win, the Gators won their 28th in a row at home. That’s a school record Florida hopes to keep building on.

At 20-2 (9-0 SEC), the No. 3 Gators are two games ahead of 17-5 (7-2 SEC) Kentucky. With Walker added to the mix, Florida has a strong chance of holding on to that lead over the No. 18 Wildcats. The two teams face each other for the first time on February 15, but first up for the Gators is 9-12 (3-5 SEC) Alabama on Saturday, February 8.

Florida Gators 67 – Richmond Spiders 58: Gators Win Final Non-Conference Game

With one final game before conference play begins, Florida defeated Richmond 67-58 on Saturday. The Gators improved to 11-2 and will head into SEC play in the top 13 of both major polls.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators

The Spiders kept the game closer throughout than the Gators would have liked, and even led with less than six minutes to play. But when it mattered, Florida stepped up on both offense and defense. For nearly four full minutes near the end of the game, the Gators went on a 12-0 run, taking a lead they wouldn’t give up. Richmond was able to score eight points in the final 1:06, but it wasn’t enough and Florida would prevail.

The Gators were led by sophomore guard Michael Frazier II, who scored 18 points. He went 3-for-7 from behind the arc with all three makes coming in the second half. He was joined in the double-digit scoring column by senior forward/center Patric Young (15), senior forward Casey Prather (12), and senior guard Scottie Wilbekin (10). Prather has scored in double digits in every single Gators’ game this season.

Head coach Billy Donovan appears to have his lineup set for hard-fought games. Senior forward Will Yeguete was the only starter to not log at least 20 minutes, but did play 18. Coming off of the bench, sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith played 28 minutes and freshman guard Kasey Hill was on the court for 21. Sophomore guard/forward DeVon Walker was the only other Florida player to see the court. He logged nine minutes. The rotation could change slightly when freshman forward Chris Walker finally makes his debut, but, for the most part, the Gators appear to be set assuming everyone stays healthy.

The Gators’ begin SEC play on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 when South Carolina comes to Gainesville.

Florida Gators 76 – Savannah State Tigers 34: Patric Young Scores 1,000th Career Point in Blowout

Florida ended 2013 on a high note, defeating Savannah State 76-34 on Sunday in Gainesville. The Gators jumped out to a 34-11 halftime lead and never took their foot off of the gas. The 42-point win is by far the largest victory margin of the season for Florida.

Patric Young, Florida Gators

The spotlight was planted firmly on senior forward/center Patric Young. Young became the 50th Florida men’s basketball player to score 1,000 career points. He would finish the game with a team-high 15 points and add six rebounds.

“I have just been very fortunate to be on winning teams and just to be here under Coach [Billy] Donovan, one of the guys who is going to help develop his players. I can praise him for that. I couldn’t walk and chew gum when I first got here. I can do a few more things now. I just want to thank him for believing in me and helping me get better,” said Young.

After scoring the basket that put him over 1,000 points, Young would score again, ending the game with 1,003 career points. That moved him to 49th-place on the all-time list. With the majority of the season remaining, Young will have plenty of opportunities to rise even higher in the Florida history books.

Three other players joined Young in the double-digit scoring club in the win. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II had 11 points and senior forward Casey Prather and senior guard Scottie Wilbekin both had 10. Sophomore foward Dorian Finney-Smith and sophomore guard/forward DeVon Walker tied for the team lead with seven rebounds.

The Gators led the Tigers in every major statistically category, but the most telling was field goal percentage. Florida shot 49.0% from the field while holding Savannah State to 24.5% shooting. Only two players on the Tigers’ entire roster managed to make at least half of their shots and eight players that attempted field goals didn’t connect on a single one.

At 10-2, the Gators have won four in a row heading into 2014. That momentum should serve them well in their final non-conference game of the regular season on Saturday, January 4, 2014 against Richmond. Following that, the Gators host South Carolina on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 to kick off their SEC schedule.

Gators Lose Kasey Hill for a Month in 67-53 Win over Southern

The Florida Gators men’s basketball team won on Monday night, but they may have actually lost. Early in the second half of the Gators’ 67-53 victory over the Southern Jaguars, freshman guard Kasey Hill rolled his ankle sidelining him for a month. The injury turned out to not be as bad as it looked, but we still have to add a hopefully to the end of that statement. Hill suffered a high ankle sprain that could keep him out for the remainder of the 2013 calendar year.

Kasey Hill - Florida Gators

The Gators have now won two in a row since falling to Wisconsin last week. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we really have no idea who will be on the court for Florida going forward. With Hill gone for at least a month, Dillon Graham out for the season (head coach Billy Donovan announced this on Monday), Eli Carter possibly out for an extended period of time, and Scottie Wilbekin still suspended, there may be an open call for any student that can play the guard position.

After Hill went down on Monday night, the Gators’ offense looked lost and Donovan looked for ways to fix it. While the Gators’ scoring output didn’t change much with the loss of Hill—Florida scored 35 with him available in the first half and 32 without him in the second—they weren’t able to control the flow of the game. Southern actually outscored Florida 34-32 over the final 20 minutes.

We’ll go with what we’ve got. We’ll have to do some different things, make some lineup adjustments and changes, protect some guys in foul trouble and probably have multiple guys handle the ball. We’ve got to be able to flow and function on offense.

– Billy Donovan, Florida Gators Head Coach

One of Florida’s three incoming transfers—Dorian Finney-Smith—has seen his playing time increase from his first game to his second, but he is solely a forward. One of the others—Damontre Harris—remains suspended and from the sounds of it, he will remain so for quite some time. With Carter’s minutes limited, the Gators may move forward with just two scholarship guards—Michael Frazier II and Devon Walker. Immediately, Florida may be able to handle it, but a four-game stretch with contests against Florida State, Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis is right around the corner.

Six of the Gators’ top seven scorers remain available despite the injuries and suspensions, but who will get them the ball? Frazier II is a pure shooter and Florida’s primary weapon from behind the three-point line. Now, he may be the one bringing the ball up the court. What started as a top-10 team may quickly become a roster pieced together by out-of-position players. While talent is still available, plenty of it will be watching from the bench.

It’s too early in the season to curse the football team for passing along its whatever bad mojo it has just yet, but if anyone else is carried off of the court or suspended any time soon, we may be seeing significant minutes from names that are new to us. For instance, we know who Jacob Kurtz is, but before this season, his career high in minutes played was 4 against South Carolina on January 30, 2013. In four games this season, Kurtz is averaging 18.5 minutes per game. That’s not to say he hasn’t earned more playing time, but his story would be different with a full roster.

The Gators get two days to process Hill’s injury and Carter’s future. On Thursday, they host Middle Tennessee. A win is expected, but no one has any idea what form it will take.

Wisconsin Badgers 59 – Florida Gators 53; Point Guard-Less Gators Come Up Short

This wasn’t a game that the Florida Gators should have won, but it also wasn’t a game where a win was unattainable either. The Gators had plenty of opportunities to seize the game but instead came up short with a 59-53 loss in Madison, WI against the Wisconsin Badgers.

Billy Donovan, Florida Gators

I’m going to try to break down the game in terms of positives and negatives, through the notes I took during the game.

Positives:

• Florida didn’t get killed. Seriously, the team went into a hostile environment without a point guard for much of the game and handled it reasonably well given the circumstances.
• Michael Frazier II put forth a magnificent effort, scoring 20 points on 11 shots with 5 three-pointers, and you could say he’s the primary reason that Florida was able to stay in the game. He also assumed a lot of the ball-handling duties when Kasey Hill was out.
• Casey Prather (12 points) continued to be one of the top offensive options. I’d say that he is easily the most improved player from last year to this year and he’s made tremendous strides over his career.
• The defense wasn’t bad. In fact, it looked better than it did against North Florida.

Negatives:

• Kasey Hill struggled to get into a groove, and most of his layups were strong off the backboard, though he really showed off his athleticism and burst in the open floor. Wisconsin was also playing very loose defense on Hill and he failed to hit a shot that forced the defense to guard him closely. He fouled out in the second half.
• DeVon Walker still isn’t there yet. He showed flashes of athleticism, with a nice block in transition, but turned over the ball too much and looked like a young player who just isn’t ready.
• No back-up point guard: Prather and Walker handled the ball often and accounted for 8 of Florida’s 11 turnovers.
• Depth. Not much of it, whatsoever. That will change though.
• The Gators left way too many Wisconsin shooters open. Perimeter defense has struggled this year without Scottie Wilbekin and Kenny Boynton.
• Patric Young is struggling to play good basketball. If the Gators had more depth, this would be a situation where Donovan benches Young in order to motivate him.

Overall, isn’t wasn’t a bad effort for a depleted basketball team against a decent team in Wisconsin. The Florida Gators showed a lot of fight and should improve on the loss. While Scottie Wilbekin remains suspended, key transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Demontre Harris should be available for Florida on Saturday against the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans in the O’Connell Center.

The State of the Swamp – 6/11/13

A look at the past week in the land of the Florida Gators.

The State of the Swamp is a day late and it looks like that was a good thing. Sometimes the star align and missing a (self-imposed) deadline works out. There is big news sweeping the sports world and Gator Nation and it focuses on no one other than Tim Tebow.

Tim Tebow - New England Patriots

Tebow has signed a two-year deal with the New England Patriots. The former Florida star will get another shot at the NFL, and with one of the league’s top franchises. Only one week after we were led to believe Tebow’s NFL career may have come to an end, it’s been given a jumpstart by Bill Belichick and the Pats. Tebow has a great chance to make the roster, though at what position remains to be seen. There is something about his drive and determination that made three NFL seasons seem like too few. Tebow may never make it as a full-time quarterback in the league, but Belichick and New England will give him the opportunity to play the game at the highest level again. There will be those in favor of this and, as always with Tebow, there will be detractors, but there will be no end to Tebowmania. (At least not anytime soon.)

J.C. Jackson makes the right choice, commits to Florida. After deciding that Florida State wasn’t the right fit, Jackson–a cornerback out of Immokalee, FL (Immokalee)–flipped to the Gators. ($) Florida was always on the top of Jackson’s list, but his train was derailed temporarily. He has now made the decision he was expected to make all along. The Gators’ pursuit of Jackson and the fact that Florida plays in the SEC were deciding factors for the CB. (And why wouldn’t they be?) He maintains that this latest commitment is solid, but we’ll rest easy come National Signing Day. Not that I’m no confident in his commitment, but…well…recruiting…

Add another to the list; Taven Bryan is the latest Gator. Florida went much farther than Immokalee to nab their latest commitment. On Tuesday, Bryan–an offensive tackle from Casper, WY (Natrona County)–was added to the 2014 class. At 6’5″, 250 lbs., Bryan has the height to play on the line at the next level, but needs to add a good deal of bulk. At 250, SEC defensive lines will eat him up. At 350, he could be a valuable asset in the nation’s top conference. Bryan has plenty of offers from out west, but decided to make the trek to Gainesville. And I can’t really blame him.

Keep an eye on Adoree’ Jackson. He won’t make his decision known until National Signing day, but keep an eye on one of the nation’s top athletes. Jackson is another cornerback very interested in the Gators’ football program ($) and also Florida’s recent men’s track and field outdoor championship. He would like to compete in both at the college level and Florida’s success with both programs is a plus. There are plenty of others hoping to land the star, but the Gators are among the few that stand a real chance. Jackson wants to visit Florida for the Gators’ final regular season game against Florida State.

Scottie Wilbekin suspended, again. The Gators’ point guard has violated team rules again and has subsequently been suspended again. Wilbekin missed the first three games of the 2012-13 season due to a suspension, meaning this one could see him out for more time. Billy Donovan can’t be happy with the PG and fans aren’t either, although many think this might mean a clearer path to playing time for super recruit Kasey Hill.

With the 20th pick in the 2013 MLB Draft the Detroit Tigers select junior pitcher Jonathon Crawford. Not expected to return for his senior season, Crawford’s fate was sealed when the Tigers drafted him in the first round. In other news, the Boston Red Sox drafted Gators’ starting quarterback Jeff Driskel in the 29th round. While Crawford is leaving, I’m guessing Driskel will remain in Gainesville for a while longer.

The men’s track and field squad wins the NCAA Outdoor Championship. Mentioned ever so briefly above, I have to give a round of applause to the men’s track team for bringing home the trophy for the second year in a row. Good job gentlemen. Go Gators!

Patric Young to Return to Florida Gators for Senior Season

For the second-straight year, the Florida Gators can breathe a sigh of relief. Center Patric Young has announced he will return for another season.

Patric Young - Florida Gators

Once thought to be a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft, Young may have seen his stock fall slightly over the course of his junior season. While Young is a physical specimen with plenty of potential at the professional level, he is no longer a lock for the first round of the draft. That, along with other factors, may have made it easy for Young to decide to return for one final season donning the orange and blue of the good guys.

Academics could have been one of those other factors. Young has been selected as the SEC’s Men’s Basketball Scholar Athlete of the Year following each of the last two seasons. The studious Young may be looking to bring home the three-peat.

The Gators’ finish at the end of each of Young’s seasons may be yet another reason. Florida took its final bow in the Elite Eight of the last three NCAA Tournaments, leaving Young exactly one game away from reaching the Final Four on three different occasions. Despite an extremely different Gators’ team set to take to the court in 2013-14, Florida should have another great opportunity to advance far in the tourney again.

Head coach Billy Donovan has some work to do, but having Young back should make it all a little easier. Young brings leadership and experience to a largely overhauled roster. With incoming freshmen and transfers set to join the likes of Young, Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin, Michael Frazier II and the rest of the roster, the Gators are poised to make another deep run.

Kentucky Wildcats 61 – Florida Gators 57: Gators Fall In Regular Season Finale

The Florida Gators will head into the SEC Tournament without the momentum they were hoping to carry. After two big conference wins, the Gators fell to the Kentucky Wildcats 61-57 in the regular season finale. The loss drops Florida to 24-6 (14-4 SEC), while Kentucky improves to 21-11 (11-6 SEC). The Gators hadn’t won at Rupp Arena since 2007 and will have to wait another season for a chance to break that streak.

Billy Donovan - Florida Gators

The game was one of streaks as both teams jumped out to big leads only to have the other fight back. It was good for Florida at times and bad at others. Unfortunately, the last of the bad times encompassed the final 7:36 of the game. With that much time left on the clock, the Gators went up 57-50. Florida would not score again. Yes, you read that correctly. The Gators would not add a single point to their total for the final seven minutes and 36 seconds. In that time, the Wildcats went on an 11-0 run to close out the regular season on the SEC champs.

The Gators shot better than the Wildcats across the board, but it wasn’t enough. Senior forward Erik Murphy and junior center Patric Young combined for 27 points on 11-for-22 shooting, but they weren’t helped by the other Florida starters. Senior guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario and junior guard Scottie Wilbekin combined to go 8-for-24 from the field and 2-for-7 from behind the three-point line. None of the three were able to get into double digits in scoring.

While Kentucky didn’t shoot as well as Florida overall, they did when it mattered. The Wildcats only went 13-for-22 from the free-throw line on the day, but were 3-for-4 in the final 25 seconds. The Gators struggled to find a good look at the basket as time was running down as Kentucky kept up the defensive pressure and didn’t allow Florida anything easy.

The Gators regular season has to be considered a successful one, but ultimately it’s all about how you finish. Florida is 3-3 over the final six games and all three losses came to unranked opponents. While the Gators do have quality wins, the selection committee will be taking recent play into account and the end to the season will hurt Florida when it comes to seeding.

Florida has a chance to shake off the Kentucky loss before the SEC Tournament, but that will be here soon. The Gators should find themselves in the conference tourney title game, but they have to get there first. The regular season is over. It’s tourney time. There’s no excuse for losses of any kind.