UF WIN LIKE THREE SEPARATE GAMES WITHIN ONE
Florida’s 73-59 win over Arkansas Tuesday night at the O-Dome was like three separate games within the game. There was the first 12:30 of the first half when the Gators did nearly everything right at both ends of the court in building a 30-11 lead over the Razorbacks. The second game lasted from that 7:30 mark in the first half until 12:45 remaining in the game in which Arkansas outscored the Gators 31-14 to cut the lead to 44-42. The third game was the final 12:45 when the Gators woke up from their funk to outscore the Razorbacks 29-17 to win going away.
In all three parts of the game within the game, the Gators played exceptional defense. Had they not, this one would have gone into the loss column, but by holding Arkansas (16-10, 4-9 SEC) to 40% shooting overall and just 18.8% from the three-point line, the Gators (17-9, 9-4 SEC) won their third straight game to stay on track to earn the two-day bye at the SEC Tournament.
What allowed Arkansas to get back in the game and eventually cut 17 points off Florida’s 19-point lead had more to do with the Gators getting out of an offensive rhythm while battling through foul trouble. With Kerry Blackshear Jr. on the bench with two quick offensive fouls and with Keyontae Johnson picking up his second with 9:55 left in the half, Mike White played long stretches with four freshmen on the floor. The combination of only one made shot in the last 7:57, three turnovers and several questionable shooting decisions allowed Arkansas to cut the gap to 33-26 at the break.
It was after Arkansas cut the UF margin to 44-42 with 12:45 left in the game that the Gators began awakening from their offensive slumber behind Andrew Nembhard and Johnson, who combined to score 23 of Florida’s final 29 points. Nembhard score 12 during that final stretch while Johnson scored 11, hitting 9-10 from the foul line.
Once the offense began to find itself, the defense turned things up several notches. Florida held a 56-52 lead at the 7:00 mark before ripping off nine straight points for a 65-52. During that stretch the Gators held Arkansas to 0-3 from the field plus forced a shot clock violation at the 3:39 mark. From that point forward it was just a matter of maintaining composure and making some free throws.
Winning in the way they did speaks volumes of how the Gators are starting to mature as a team. White will be all over the team in practice on Thursday and Friday about that nearly 15 minute stretch in the middle of the game in which offensive breakdowns allowed the Razorbacks to chip away at a 19-point deficit but he has to be pleased that they regained their composure and put the game away in the last seven minutes. He also has to be pleased that the defense was stout throughout the game, particularly down the stretch.
This also marked the third straight game in which the Gators have shot 50% or better from the field. They didn’t force it up from behind the three-point line (6-16 shooting) and when they got to the foul line they made their shots (21-25).
Johnson led the way with 24 points, most of them coming from the foul line (15-17), and 10 rebounds. Johnson had eight points and three rebounds at the half. Nembhard scored 17 while Noah Locke had 11 including 3-4 from the three-point line. In Florida’s last three wins, Locke is 14-22 on his three-pointers. Blackshear played only 12:22, picking up four offensive fouls, all called by the same zebra.
Next up for the Gators is 10th-ranked Kentucky (21-5, 11-2 SEC) in Lexington Saturday evening.
SEC BASKETBALL Tuesday’s scores FLORIDA (17-9, 9-4 SEC) 73, Arkansas (16-10, 4-9 SEC) 59 Tennessee (15-11, 7-6 SEC) 65, Vanderbilt (9-17, 1-12 SEC) 61 Missouri 13-13, 5-8 SEC) 71, Ole Miss (13-13, 4-9 SEC) 68 #10 Kentucky (21-5, 11-2 SEC) 79, LSU (18-8, 9-4 SEC) 76 Wednesday’s games #13 Auburn (22-3, 9-3 SEC) at Georgia (12-13, 2-10 SEC), ESPNU 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
#2 GATORS HAMMER JU 13-3, IMPROVE TO 4-0 One day after moving up to the #2 national ranking in the D1baseball.com and Baseball America polls, the Gators improved to 4-0 with a 13-3 win over Jacksonville. Through four games the Gators have scored 47 runs, the second best offensive output through the first four games of the season in Kevin O’Sullivan’s 13 seasons. Only the 2015 Gators (50 runs in the first four) scored more.
Florida was clinging to a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning when they sent 15 batters to the plate and scored seven runs to break the game wide open. Freshman shortstop Josh Rivera, who had three hits on the night, had the big blow of the inning, a two-run double to deep center field. Coming into the game, Rivera was 1-10 to start the season.
The Gators return home to McKethan Stadium tonight to face JU once again. This weekend Florida will face #1 Miami (D1Baseball.com) in Coral Gables for a three-game series.
A WANDERING WEDNESDAY MIND
(1) Charlie Strong is the latest to join St. Nick’s Rehab Center for Former Head Coaches. There were numerous reports that Strong was all set to join the Florida staff as an analyst but Saban and Alabama came calling to lure Strong to Tuscaloosa where he will join other former head coaches such as Steve Sarkisian (formerly Washington and Southern Cal, now Bama OC), Kyle Flood (formerly Rutgers, now Bama OL), Major Applewhite (formerly Houston, now offensive analyst) and Butch Jones (formerly Tennessee, now offensive analyst). While it’s entirely possible Strong will be elevated to an on-the-field position due to some potential poaching of Saban’s defensive staff by Mel Tucker at Michigan State or possibly whoever lands the HBC job at Colorado, he won’t have to sweat the cable bill if he remains an analyst. He’s owed $3.1 million by South Florida and he was paid a hefty buyout by Texas.
(2) It’s a matter of if, not when, the NCAA penalizes schools involved in the basketball corruption scandal. Coaches caught on wiretap having conversations about buying players (See Will Wade, LSU; Sean Miller, Arizona; and others) won’t survive in the long run, but they’ll be coaching in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The reason is quite simple. The NCAA has a limited enforcement staff that presents a Notice of Allegations. Once received the school has 90 days to respond. Extensions are allowed and usually granted if the school says it needs some time to gather evidence that would support its defense but it’s not an unlimited amount of time, usually another 90 days maximum. At that time a hearing before the Committee on Infractions is scheduled. The committee meets six times a year. Once the hearing is concluded, it has eight to 12 weeks to submit a decision and, of course, the decision can be appealed. There are several cases being scheduled already so this is not going to be a quick process. It’s rare when a school gets an NOA that it gets off without penalties. Because the federal government was able to gather evidence and present in court under penalty of perjury, expect harsh penalties.
(3) I’m reminded of Alabama football getting hammered for its recruitment of Albert Means. Evidence in federal court showed that prominent Alabama booster Logan Young paid $150,000 to Memphis Trezvant coach Lynn Lang and his assistant Milton Kirk to steer Means to Alabama. Since the NCAA has no powers of subpoena it can’t get bank records or other evidence, but since all the evidence needed was introduced under oath in federal court, the NCAA simply had to wait for the trial to be over, after which it used the collected evidence to hammer Alabama with a 21-scholarship reduction. The Alabama model is what the NCAA will follow when it brings the current basketball culprits to justice.
(4) A day after the Atlantic Coast Conference voiced its approval of a Big Ten proposal that would allow a one-time transfer without penalty in all sports, the NCAA announced that it plans to take the proposal under consideration at its April meetings and would target approval for the 2020-21 academic year. Although it hasn’t been mentioned, the NCAA is likely to be sued by players who have been denied waivers that would allow them to play immediately after transferring. The process has been unevenly handled and we’ve seen kids who can afford to hire a high-powered attorney such as Tom Mars (Justin Fields and Tate Martell come to mind) get waivers while some kids with legitimate reasons to transfer have been denied. Adopting the rule change would be healthy if for no other reason leveling the playing field for all athletes in all NCAA sponsored sports.
GOOD QUOTES FOR WEDNESDAY
From Nicole Auerbach, a text message from an ACC athletic director regarding the conference backing the Big Ten proposal to allow a one-time transfer without penalty for athletes in every NCAA sponsored sport: “We cannot justify why some students can transfer and others cannot without sitting out. It is also hard to reconcile coaches moving from school to school, although there is a buyout usually, while still trying to limit student transfers.”
From Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, former UF assistant Anthony Grant has Dayton sitting at 24-2, ranked 5th nationally and in the national championship picture thanks to an offense that was refined during his two seasons working for Billy Donovan with the Oklahoma City Thunder: “The outlandish statistic that defines this Dayton season is that they’ve hit 62.2% of their two-point shots. To put in proper context, that’s more than four percent better than Gonzaga’s 57.8 percent which is second best in the country. Grant didn’t find pixie dust or magic sets in the NBA, but it did help refine his offense. Dayton is the collegiate version of a fever dream of Rockets GM Daryl Morey, as less than five percent of the teams’ shots come from between the paint and the 3-point line.”
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred on why he didn’t punish Houston Astros players for their role in the sign-stealing scandal although he would have liked to: “Independent of what the GM did the manager did, [the players] have an obligation to play by the rules and they didn’t do it. I understand when people say the players should’ve been punished. I understand why they feel that way … If I was in a world where I could’ve found all the facts without granting immunity, I would’ve done that.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Clemson and Georgia will open their 2021 season in a neutral site game in Charlotte … Former Clemson defensive end Xavier Kelly is joining Arkansas as a graduate transfer. Kelly was a 4-star prospect out of high school … Kentucky D-line coach Vince Marrow parlayed the flirtations with Mel Tucker and Michigan State into a $300,000 a year raise. He’s set to make $900,000 which will make him college football’s highest paid non-coordinator assistant … Drew Brees announced he’s playing in 2020 and not retiring. He’s already earned $244.7 million in his career and his new paycheck will allow him to surpass Eli Manning ($252.3 million) and Peyton Manning ($248.7 million) as the highest paid player in NFL history … Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey got the 600th win over her career Tuesday night against Texas Tech. She got to 600 in just 700 games and only 20 seasons, making her the fastest coach in history whether men or women, to get to that mark.