A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
THIS IS WHAT YOU CALL DOMINANCE When Florida’s No. 1 ranked tennis team methodically took out 22nd-ranked Kentucky, 5-2, Sunday afternoon at the Ring Tennis Complex, it marked the Gators 250th Southeastern Conference championship, which is 94 more SEC titles than second place Tennessee and 100 more than Georgia. There are schools that dominate in one sport such as Alabama in football and Kentucky in men’s basketball, but there is not another SEC school with the all-around excellence of the University of Florida.
In addition to the tennis title, the Gators have also claimed SEC titles in swimming and gymnastics. Florida has won at least one SEC title every year for the past 43 seasons.
Here is a list of SEC championships by school: Florida 250; Tennessee 156; Georgia 150; LSU 143; Arkansas 118; Alabama 95; Auburn 83; Kentucky 78; Mississippi State 31; Ole Miss 23; South Carolina 19; Vanderbilt 19; Texas A&M 18; Missouri 2.
Additionally, Florida has won 41 national championships: Women’s tennis 7; men’s indoor track and field 5; men’s outdoor track and field 4; gymnastics 4; men’s golf 4; football 3; women’s swimming 3; men’s swimming 2; men’s basketball 2; softball 2; women’s golf 2; soccer 1; baseball 1.
WHEN THE CLOCK STRUCK MIDNIGHT, WE GOT THE MATCHUP WE WANTED The Baylor Bears (27-2) were already comfortably secure in their quest to win the first national championship in school history after they bludgeoned a rather good Houston (28-4) team into submission. Baylor isn’t Cinderella, just the product of a brick-by-brick approach to building a program that is capable of playing and winning on college basketball’s biggest stage.
It’s hard to use the term Cinderella in the same gasp as UCLA and Gonzaga but there they were in Indianapolis Saturday night exchanging one body blow after another when the clock struck midnight, at which moment UCLA turned into a pumpkin and the glass slipper fit Gonzaga perfectly. It is very difficult to associate Cinderella with a school that has 11 NCAA championship trophies from its storied past collecting dust but what else can you say about UCLA’s 5-game odyssey from 11th-seed play-in to Final Four semifinal? Common sense says the Bruins shouldn’t have been there, playing in a third tournament overtime game, this one for the chance to not only advance to the national championship game for the first time since 2006 (lost to Florida that year) but to knock off the undefeated, No. 1 ranked Zags. As Jalen Suggs’ bank shot from 35 or so feet plunged through the nets when the scoreboard clock flatlined at 00.00 in overtime, the fairy tale ended for UCLA.
For Gonzaga, is it really fair to call a school whose coach has AVERAGED 28.5 wins per year (32 per season since 2012-13) Cinderella? Yet there were the Zags, 3.3 seconds away from a second overtime and a fleeting feeling that their glass slipper was about to feel like a worn out combat boot. That’s when Suggs took an inbounds pass, streaked pass midcourt and let fly with a shot that he knew was good the nano-second it left his hand. Thanks to a shot that will be replayed more often than the 9-inch stiletto Christian Laettner stuck in Kentucky’s heard back in 1992, Gonzaga won, 93-90, and made it to the NCAA championship game for the second time in school history. For all their success, the Zags represent the Cinderella hopes of every school from the non-power conferences that pray they can make it to midnight without the hat pin being stuck in their balloon.
Tonight’s national championship game is the one we’ve been waiting for all season. These are the two best teams in the country and it’s only fitting they will duke it out although in the end, when one of them claims the first NCAA basketball title in its school history, there will be a wild celebration for one team, heartbreak for the other.
If it is Baylor, there will be endless stories about how Scott Drew took over the program worst situation in the country in 2003. How bad was it? Patrick Dennehy murdered teammate Carlton Dotson. Then coach Dave Bliss tried to cover up the fact he had paid Dennehy under the table and complicated matters by claiming Dennehy got the money because he was a drug dealer. Baylor spent two years in the NCAA jailhouse over that scandal, able to play only Big 12 conference games. Here we are 18 years later and the Bears are not only playing for the national championship, but they made it past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012. The fans at a lot of schools would be calling for Drew’s head even though the only year in the last 10 he didn’t make the postseason was 2020 when the pandemic eliminated the tournament.
If it is Gonzaga, not only will there be celebration in Spokane, but in every one of those leagues whose names you can’t recall and whose ranks are dominated by directional and religious-affiliated schools. If it is Gonzaga, the monkey will finally be off Mark Few’s back. No one will be able to use that silly, worn out phrase “he’s the best coach who never won the big one.” If the Zags win, the talking heads will proclaim they are a team for the ages and most of us will agree.
Prediction: A week ago I thought the Zags would beat any team in the country by 15 or 20 points. After seeing the two semifinal games, I think it’s white knuckles but until the bitter end, but when the clock strikes midnight, I think it is the Zags dancing in their glass slippers.
GATOR BASEBALL: TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD The 10th-ranked Gators (18-9, 5-4 SEC) made the memory of last week’s disastrous road trip to South Carolina a thing of the past over the weekend when they sandwiched a pair of wins over Ole Miss (21-6, 7-2 SEC) around a Saturday loss to the 3rd-ranked Rebels.
Franco Aleman (1-1, 3.74 ERA) and Tommy Mace (2.54 ERA) combined to limit Ole Miss to four hits while striking out 10 in the Gators’ 4-1 win Friday night. Saturday, the Gators built a 6-2 lead then held off an Ole Miss rally for a 6-5 win. Nathan Hickey and Jordan Carrion homered for the Gators. Getting the win was Hunter Barco (4-2, 5.30 ERA) while Ryan Cabarcus picked up his first save of the season.
The Gators will play two mid-week games – Stetson Tuesday night and FAMU Wednesday, both at Florida Ballpark – and travel next weekend to Knoxville to face 9th-ranked Tennessee (24-5, 7-2 SEC East).
RE-STOCKING THROUGH THE TRANSFER PORTAL From a purely statistical standpoint, the incoming transfer duo of Brandon McKissick (Missouri-Kansas City) and C.J. Felder (Boston College) are an upgrade over the four – Noah Locke, Omar Payne, Ques Glover, Osayi Osifo – outgoing transfers on the Florida basketball team. McKissick (17.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.1 blocks per game) and Felder (9.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.2 blocks) combined for 26.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.5 steals and 2.3 blocked shots per game.
Locke (10.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.2 blocks), Payne (3.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.2 blocks), Glover (2.5 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.0 blocks) and Osifo (1.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.1 blocks) combined for 18.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocked shots.
So maybe we have a case of addition by subtraction. Florida could be adding Penn State transfer Myreon Jones (15.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.1 blocks) in the next couple of days. A native of Birmingham, the 6-3 Jones is choosing between the Gators, Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss with Florida thought to be the favorite. The Gators are in the final eight for 6-8, 210-pound Furman transfer Noah Gurley (15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.1 blocks), who will make his choice next Sunday between UF, Alabama, Auburn, Duke, Tennessee, Marquette, San Diego State and Miami. Gurley is a native of Fayetteville, Georgia.
Should Mike White land Jones and Gurley, he will have 11 scholarship players on what just a week ago seemed to be a very depleted roster.
UF SPRING SPORTS Gymnastics: Even with Trinity Thomas limited to one event to protect her health for the NCAA championships, the Gators won both nights of the competition in the Athens Regional over the weekend. Florida won the first session with a 197.75 score and then came back on Saturday with a 197.70, to advance along with Minnesota to the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas. It was the 19th regional championship in Florida history. Thomas scored a 9.95 on the uneven bars Friday night and came back with a 9.9 Saturday. She is expected to be healthy and able to compete in all four events at the NCAA championships where the Gators are the overall No. 1 seed in the nation.
Men’s tennis: The No. 1 ranked Gators (17-1, 11-0 SEC) clinched the SEC regular season championship with a 5-2 win over No. 22 Kentucky (15-6, 5-5 SEC). The win was the 14th straight for the Gators, who are idle until next Sunday when they travel to South Carolina (11-7, 6-4 SEC) for their final regular season match.
Softball: The 5th-ranked Gators (26-4, 9-2 SEC) parlayed 12 hits, 13 walks and a hit batter into a 17-1 run-rule win over Georgia (23-6, 4-4 SEC) Sunday afternoon. The Gators gave Natalie Lugo (8-1, 1.59 ERA) all the support she needed in the first inning when Charla Echols launched a 2-run homer followed by a solo shot by Julia Cottrill. It was a big day at the plate for Cheyenne Lindsey, who had a pair of doubles among her three hits and five RBI. Lugo gave up only three hits to get the win. The Gators and 20th-ranked Georgia will finish their series tonight at 7 p.m. (SEC Network). The Gators will play a midweek doubleheader against South Florida on Wednesday.
Volleyball: The Gators (19-3) earned a No. 8 seed and a spot in the Omaha Regional in the NCAA Tournament where they will play the winner of a first round match between Creighton and Morehead State Thursday night. This is Florida’s 30th consecutive year making the NCAA Tournament field … Four Gators were named All-SEC – Holly Carlton, Lauren Forte, T’ara Caesar and Thayer Hall – while Elli McKissock was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
Lacrosse: The 10th-ranked Gators (9-2, 6-0 AAC) remained unbeaten in American Athletic Conference play with a 19-7 win over East Carolina (3-9, 1-5 AAC) at Donald Dizney Stadium Saturday. The Gators are idle until Vanderbilt comes to Gainesville the weekend of April 16 for a pair of AAC matches.
Women’s tennis: The 15th-ranked Gators (11-6, 9-3 SEC) won their sixth straight match Saturday when they whacked 19th-ranked Vanderbilt (12-7, 4-7 SEC), 4-2, at the Ring Tennis Complex. The Gators travel to South Carolina next Saturday for their final match before the SEC Tournament in Tuscaloosa. Any combination of a Florida win or one loss by LSU and Auburn (both 7-4 in SEC play) will assure the Gators of a second place finish in the regular season.
Soccer: Becky Burleigh’s final game as the only soccer coach in University of Florida history was a roaring success as the Gators shut out Miami, 2-0, to finish the season 6-8-3. Burleigh, who started the UF program from scratch in 1995 and won the NCAA championship in 1998, finishes her career with a 431-137-40 record.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Miley Cyrus is the best CBS could do to kill time between the Baylor-Houston and UCLA-Gonzaga games Saturday night? Calling her dreadful would be giving her way too much credit. It almost made me wish I could relive Justin Timberlake trying to do Prince at the 2018 Super Bowl, 15 minutes of my life that I can never get back. It took me all of about 30 seconds to ditch Miley Cyrus. She lost me when she attempted to cover Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” And who’s the genius who thought it would be cool to have white people with no rhythm dancing in those idiotic social distance rectangles?