A VERY DONOVAN-LIKE WIN AT THE O-DOME
It seems only fitting that on the night when the basketball court at the O-Dome was named after Billy Donovan that the Gators (16-9, 8-4 SEC) would give the sellout crowd a very Donovan-like performance in knocking off Vanderbilt, 84-66. With 28 former players including Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Brad Beal and Patric Young attending as well as former assistants Larry Shyatt and Donnie Jones, the Gators put together a second straight game in which the spacing and passing on offense was extraordinary. That opened the door for Noah Locke to continue his hot shooting streak, this time going 6-8 from the three-point line, a follow-up to last Wednesday’s 5-10 game against Texas A&M.
In winning their second straight game to stay two games behind SEC leader Kentucky and a game behind second-place LSU and Auburn, the Gators hit 51.9% of their shots overall and 10-20 from the three-point line. The Gators held Vanderbilt to 38.8% shooting and only a late game flurry of threes with the game well out of hand made the score respectable.
With Andrew Nembhard and Keyontae Johnson riding the pine with early foul trouble, the Gators streaked to a 48-19 first half lead, running the offense through Kerry Blackshear Jr. Whenever Vanderbilt tried to double up on Blackshear when he got the ball in the low blocks, he passed out to open shooters. Florida’s ball movement was exceptional because very few of the Gators’ shots were contested. Locke, especially, was the beneficiary. He’s hit 38-74 from the three-point line in Florida’s 12 conference games and he’s 43.7% for the season which is tied for 11th nationally.
Next up for the Gators is a Tuesday night encounter at the O-Dome with a reeling but dangerous Arkansas (16-9, 4-8 SEC) team that has lost four in a row and seven of its last nine games.
With six games remaining in the regular season, the Gators are playing for seeding at the SEC Tournament as well as for their NCAA Tournament lives. Currently, the Gators are tied with South Carolina for that top four spot in the SEC standings which would ensure a two-day bye in Nashville. Figure it will take a minimum of three wins to take the two-day bye away from South Carolina and a minimum of three wins plus maybe one in Nashville for UF to make the NCAA field.
SEC BASKETBALL Tuesday’s games Arkansas (16-9, 4-8 SEC) at FLORIDA (16-9, 8-4 SEC), ESPNU Vanderbilt (9-16, 1-11 SEC) at Tennessee (14-11, 6-6 SEC), SEC Network Ole Miss (13-12, 4-8 SEC) at Missouri (12-13, 4-8 SEC), SEC Network #12 Kentucky (20-5, 10-2 SEC) at #25 LSU (18-7, 9-3 SEC), ESPN Wednesday’s games #11 Auburn (22-3, 9-3 SEC) at Georgia (12-13, 2-10 SEC), ESPN2 Texas A&M (12-12, 6-6 SEC) at Alabama (14-11, 6-6 SEC), SEC Network South Carolina (16-9, 8-4 SEC) at Mississippi State (16-9, 7-5 SEC), SEC Network
GATORS OUTSCORE MARSHALL 34-10 IN THREE GAMES Kevin O’Sullivan has been saying he’s got some hitters. The Marshall Thundering Herd would probably agree after the Gators (3-0) swept their opening weekend series by outscoring the Herd, 34-10, with seven balls leaving the yard at McKethan Stadium. Florida took game one 9-2 and followed that up with a 10-0 win on Saturday. In both those wins, the Gators got outstanding pitching from starters Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich to go with great work out of the bullpen. Sunday, the ball was flying as Brady Smith homered twice while Austin Langworthy and Cory Acton each added their first home runs of the season.
In their Friday night win, Mace allowed eight hits and two runs while striking out six in six innings. Kris Armstrong hit a three-run homer and Josh Rivera hit a solo shot to back Mace. Saturday, Leftwich gave up three hits and struck out eight in six innings. He got all the support he needed in the fourth when Kendrick Calilao hit a two-run double. Sunday, Marshall jumped on the Gators for a 5-2 lead in the first two innings, but the Herd didn’t have the pitching to hold the Gators down. Smith hit a solo homer in the fourth and a three-run homer in the seventh as part of a five RBI game. Austin Langworthy had a two-run homer in the first and Cory Acton had a solo homer in the seventh.
For the weekend Kirby McMullen hit .625 with three doubles and three RBI.
Next up for the Gators is Jacksonville on the road Tuesday with the Dolphins coming to McKethan Stadium Wednesday evening.
Other UF sports: Florida’s 8th-ranked softball team improved to 11-1 by winning all six games of the Bubly Invitational at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium by a combined 41-2. Charla Echols went 11-19 with a homer and nine RBI while leadoff hitter Hannah Adams went 9-17 with a homer and four RBI. Florida pitchers delivered four shutouts and gave up only one run in the other two games. Natalie Lugo is now 4-1 with an 0.81 ERA while Rylee Trlicek is 4-0 with a 1.18 ERA ... Florida’s 14th-ranked lacrosse team (2-0) scored a 15-14 win over #1 Maryland, ending the Terps’ 86-game home winning streak. Shannon Kavanaugh scored eight goals including the game-winner with 49 seconds remaining.
MIND OVER MATTER ON A MONDAY (1) It’s a sign of the times that this is the final season the Gators play at McKethan Stadium before moving to their new palace of a ball yard on the west side of campus. At 95% of the schools that play baseball in NCAA Division I, McKethan would be considered the palace that the Gators will be moving into next season. Essentially, there isn’t all that much wrong with McKethan but if you’re going to compete with the rest of the SEC where you have extraordinary ball yards such as the ones at Mississippi State, Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M, you better have a great place to play. Florida’s new ball yard will deliver on that and where The Mac stands today will be Florida’s long overdue football facility.
(2) Whatever they are charging for admission to Florida gymnastics meets, Trinity Thomas is worth twice the price. Thomas scored her third 10 of the season – second on the balance beam – when the Gators absolutely poleaxed Auburn on the road Friday night, 197.875-194.750, which is like a football team winning by six or seven touchdowns. In addition to her perfect 10 on the beam, Thomas also won the bars, floor exercise and all-around at 39.775. Thomas ranks #1 nationally in the beam and floor exercise and she’s fifth in the all-around although her winning score against Auburn is the second highest of the season. The Gators, who have the highest team score in a meet this year (198.375) are ranked second nationally behind Oklahoma.
(3) The more I see of Baylor (23-1), the more I’m convinced the Bears have what it takes to win the NCAA basketball championship. Baylor is easily the nation’s best defensive team, allowing only 58.4 points per game. Only Villanova (78) and Oklahoma State (70) have scored 70 points against Baylor. Mark Vital is such a lock down defender that he doesn’t even have to score to be Baylor’s most valuable player … The second best team in the country – at least the way they’re playing right now – is Kansas (22-3. After that, the best teams I’ve seen are Gonzaga (26-1), San Diego State (26-0), Maryland (21-4) and Dayton (26-2).
(4) UEFA, which rules soccer in Europe, has fined Manchester City $32.5 million and banned the team from participating in the next two Champions League tournaments for what has been called “serious breaches” of spending rules. After seeing a tweet about the fine and ban, the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant chain tweeted out “That’s how you punish a team that cheats.” The tweet didn’t mention the Houston Astros by name but it was perfectly clear that’s who was the intended recipient of the barb. After Houston fans erupted in anger, Buffalo Wild Wings caved by tweeting, “So last night was the Roast of Buffalo Wild Wings, courtesy of the City of Houston. And honestly, we deserved it. Well done H-Town for coming to your team’s defense, and we’re sorry about what we posted.”
(5) After seeing what Mel Tucker got from Michigan State to bolt Colorado, I have to wonder how long the Pac-12 is going to be able to hold onto coaches like Mario Cristobal (Oregon) and Kyle Whittingham (Utah). Cristobal makes $2.6 million while Whittingham makes $3.3 million. Cristobal makes about $200,000 more than what Auburn pays defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. At $3.3 million, Whittingham would be the 13th highest paid head coach in the SEC. Cristobal went 12-2, won the Pac-12 and the Rose Bowl in his second season on the job. Whittingham has had two unbeaten seasons in his career. Put in better perspective, Eli Drinkwitz, whose only claim to fame is winning the Sun Belt Conference championship at Appalachian State in his only year as a head coach, is being paid $5.1 million by Missouri. The Pac-12s problem is money, as in not enough of it. The league distributes $30 million a year to its 12 members, almost $16 million less than the SEC and $20 million less than the Big Ten.
GOOD QUOTES FOR MONDAY
From Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann, there could be long term ramifications for Nike and for several NCAA basketball programs following the trial and conviction of lawyer Michael Avenatti: “While the trial was about Avenatti’s wrongdoing, Nike and its sponsored schools may have suffered collateral damage. This is particularly apparent with respect to testimony by [AAU basketball coach Gary] Franklin. While under oath and under penalty for perjury, Franklin acknowledged that he helped arrange for bribes to a number of amateur players or their family members. Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (who played for Arizona), Denver Nuggets center Bol Bol (Oregon) and G League center Brandon McCoy (UNLV) were all implicated by Franklin. He also said he took these actions on behalf of Nike. It stands to reason that the NCAA will look into the alma maters of players mentioned during the Avenatti trial.”
From Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, the absurdity of Houston Astros owner Jim Crane blaming his manager and GM while claiming that stealing signals in 2017 didn’t impact the outcome of games: “Jim Crane thinks his players are idiots apparently. So dumb they didn’t even know that getting tipped off to what pitch was coming was against the rules of a game they’ve played their entire life. That’s kind of humiliating to hear from your boss, but whatever. These are the Houston Astros. Self-inflicted humiliation is what they truly do best.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Alabama retired the basketball jersey of Wendell Hudson over the weekend. He was the first scholarship athlete in any sport at Alabama. He averaged 19.2 points and 12 rebounds per game and was the 1973 SEC Player of the Year … Michigan State’s new HBC Mel Tucker came after Kentucky D-line coach Vince Marrow but Marrow said no. Undaunted, Tucker tried again with a stronger monetary offer and Marrow again said no … How’s this for pressure? Shareef O’Neal will only have to pass by the statue of pops Shaquille O’Neal every time he walks by the Maravich Center now that he’s transferring from UCLA to LSU. Shareef is a 6-9, 220-pound power forward who played half a season at UCLA this year after taking a redshirt for open heart surgery in 2018-19 … Tony Fernandez, a 5-time all-star shortstop who had nine RBI to help the Toronto Blue Jays win the 1993 World Series, died of kidney failure. He was 57 years old.