A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
ANOTHER ROCKY FINISH, BUT THE GATORS STILL WIN
For the third consecutive game, the Florida Gators were rotten down the stretch only Saturday, they survived and pulled off a 70-63 win over Georgia at the O-Dome. To call the Gators fortunate would be the understatement of the year. This could have easily turned out to be Florida’s third consecutive loss. That it wasn’t had everything to do with making a few free throws down the stretch and Georgia’s inability to make plays when plays were there to be had.
With 3:57 to go in the game, the Gators led 64-49 on a pair of free throws by Colin Castleton. In those final minutes, the Gators squeezed off only two shots – made one by Scottie Lewis, missed one by Tyree Appleby – because they turned the ball over four times. Down on the defensive end, the Gators transmorgified from a team that was forcing Georgia into one bad shot or mistake into another into one that couldn’t stop anyone, especially Savhir Wheeler, who was quicker than anyone on the Florida roster.
In the end, the Gators avoided losing because Georgia missed just enough makeable shots and UF didn’t miss at the foul line.
Take a moment and look at the final minutes in each of the last three games.
South Carolina: The Gators led by as many as 15 points in the second half. They were up by six when Omar Payne dunked with 6:37 to go in the game to make it 65-59. UF didn’t make another shot from the field and only one free throw the rest of the way. In the final 6:37 the Gators were 0-7 from the field and they turned the ball over four times. The final score was 72-66.
Arkansas: The Gators trailed most of the game but they rallied from 15 down to take the lead 62-61 on a Tyree Appleby floater with 4:40 to go. Arkansas outscored the Gators 14-2 the rest of the way. In the final 4:40 the Gators were 0-5 from the field and they committed five turnovers. Florida also fouled a lot because Arkansas scored nine of its 14 points at the line. The final score was 75-64.
We’ve seen what the Gators are capable of doing in wins over Tennessee and West Virginia. In those games, the Gators took good shots down the stretch, protected the basketball and made some defensive plays, things they didn’t do against either South Carolina or Arkansas. Once again, the Gators are fortunate to have beaten Georgia because when you’re sloppy with the basketball – 20 turnovers for the whole game – and the defense goes AWOL down the stretch, you usually lose.
Consider what the situation would be for the Gators had they won even two out of the last three. Instead of 11-6 with a 7-5 SEC record, UF would be 12-5 with an 8-4 record. Had they won both the South Carolina and Arkansas games, UF would be sitting 9-3 in league play, in sole possession of second place and still with a chance to win the SEC regular season title. As it stands, with three games to go and none of them easy, Florida is a precarious fourth place in the SEC.
Fourth is important because if the Gators can finish in the top four of the regular season, they will not have to play until Friday night of the SEC Tournament in Nashville. If they finish fifth or worse, they will have to play Thursday go get to the Friday quarterfinals.
In defense of Mike White and the Gators, they’ve had to endure the trauma of losing Keyontae Johnson, who could have died on the court in Tallahassee if not for exceptional and quick medical attention. That cost the Gators 18 days and the best player in the SEC for the rest of the season. Additionally, they lost 13 straight days and two games due to a Covid-19 pause. Not many teams could still be in the hunt for a top four finish in a very good league and an NCAA Tournament berth under those circumstances, but still, the bad play down the stretch has to come to an end if UF is to finish the season strong.
There isn’t an SEC team the Gators can’t beat if they put it all together. There also isn’t a team they can’t lose to if they can’t play better down the stretch.
NCAA NET RANKINGS FOR SEC TEAMS (through Saturday night): 8. Alabama; 17. Tennessee; 25. Arkansas; 27. LSU; 30. FLORIDA; 37. Missouri; 60. Ole Miss; 64. Kentucky; 71. Auburn; 83. Mississippi State; 93. Georgia; 120. South Carolina; 123. Vanderbilt; 135. Texas A&M
Tuesday SEC games FLORIDA (11-6, 7-5 SEC) at Auburn (11-12, 5-9 SEC) LSU (14-6, 9-4 SEC) at Georgia (13-9, 6-9 SEC) Ole Miss (12-9, 7-7 SEC) at #20 Missouri (14-6, 7-6 SEC) Texas A&M (8-7, 2-6 SEC) at Kentucky (8-13, 7-7 SEC), POSTPONED
Wednesday SEC Games South Carolina (5-11, 3-9 SEC) at Mississippi State (12-11, 6-8 SEC) #8 Alabama (18-5, 13-1 SEC) at #24 Arkansas (17-5, 9-4 SEC) #19 Tennessee (15-6, 8-5 SEC) at Vanderbilt (6-12, 2-10 SEC)
GATOR SPORTS WEEKEND
Gymnastics: No head coach? No problem. No Trinity Thomas, Nya Reed, Sydney Johnson-Scharpf and Savannah Schoenherr? No problem. Due to Covid-19 protocols, head coach Jenny Rowland missed Friday night’s Link to Pink meet with 15th-ranked Kentucky as did Thomas, Reed, Johnson-Scharpf and Schoenherr. It was next woman up for the No. 1 Gators who got a winning all-around performance from Alyssa Bauman and a perfect 10 on the balance beam from Leah Clapper as UF scored a dominating 197.50-196.875 win over the Wildcats. That’s the equivalent of a 20-point win in football or basketball.
Baseball: Florida’s hold on the No. 1 position in the country didn’t last very long. The Gators (1-2) opened their season and the new Florida Ballpark with a 7-5 win over Miami on Friday night but the Gators lost in 10-9 in 13 innings to the Hurricanes on Saturday and then couldn’t rally out of an 8-0 hole on Sunday when they fell, 8-6.
Nathan Hickey wore out Miami pitching, going 7-13 with a double, two homers and five RBI. There were way too many strikeouts (Gators whiffed 28 times during the three games) and too many men left on base (30). Jacob Young had hits in the Friday and Saturday games, then went 2-4 on Sunday, extending a hitting streak that dates back to the final game of 2019 to 21 games.
Tommy Mace gave the Gators an excellent start on Friday night when he held the Canes to three hits and one run over five innings, and Christian Scott pitched three scoreless, hitless shutout innings in relief, but the bullpen surrendered four runs in the ninth. Saturday, the Gators blew an 8-3 lead after six innings when the bullpen couldn’t throw strikes (10 walks after the fifth inning plus two hit batters) combined with three errors.
Sunday, the Gators fell behind 8-0 through the first four innings with walks (8), hit batters (2) and errors (3) contributing to the demise. The Gators had two on and one out in the bottom of the eighth but an inning-ending line out double play killed the rally.
The Gators are at North Florida Tuesday night before returning home to face the Ospreys Wednesday at the Florida Ballpark.
Softball: The 5th-ranked Gators ran their record to 8-0 with five wins at the Bubly Invitational. In beating Charlotte 4-0 and Georgia Southern 11-0 on Sunday, the Gators got complete game pitching performances from Katie Chronister (4-0) and Elizabeth Hightower (3-0).
The Gators beat Georgia Southern 8-3 Friday night on a complete game performance by Natalie Lugo (1-0) and a 3-4 night at the plate by Charla Echols, who hit a home run and drove in three.
Chronister got the win in relief Saturday when the Gators beat Georgia Southern 2-1 on a two-run seventh inning single by Echols. Hightower got the win with relief help from Lugo Saturday when the Gators knocked off Charlotte, 5-2. A two-run homer by Kendyl Lindaman and a three-run homer by Emily Wilkie accounted for all the scoring.
Chronister pitched a three-hitter Sunday against Charlotte when two Jordan Mathews run-scoring doubles gave her all the cushion she needed. In the win over Georgia Southern, Cheyenne Lindsey had three hits and three RBI, while Lindaman and Julia Cottrill each had two hits and two RBI. Echols had a two run-single as well.
The Gators face North Florida Thursday at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.
Soccer: In their first match of the spring season, the Gators knocked off Charleston Saturday, 5-1. The Gators are 3-7-1 overall. Their next match is vs. USF next Saturday.
Men’s Swimming: The 5th-ranked Gators will be going for their ninth-straight SEC championship when the SEC meet begins Tuesday in Columbia, Missouri.
Women’s Swimming: The 4th-ranked Gators finished second to Kentucky at the SEC Championships in Columbia, Missouri.
Men’s Golf: The 27th-ranked Gators will be at the LSU Invitational this week.
Women’s Golf: The 16th-ranked Gators sit third, four shots behind leader UCF and one behind second place Tennessee after one round of the VyStar Invitational at the UF golf course.
Men’s Tennis: The 11th-ranked Gators opened SEC play with a pair of wins over the weekend. The Gators beat Alabama 6-1 on Friday then came back to beat Auburn 6-1 on Sunday, improving their record to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC. The Gators will be at LSU next Friday and at Texas A&M on Sunday.
Women’s Tennis: The 22nd-ranked Gators won their Friday match with Alabama, 4-1, but lost Sunday to Auburn, 4-2. The Gators are now 3-4 on the season, 1-1 in SEC play. Next weekend the Gators play host to LSU on Friday and Texas A&M on Sunday.
Lacrosse: The 8th-ranked Gators lost Friday to No. 1. North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 11-5. Their Sunday match with Kennesaw State was rescheduled for March 3. Next up for UF (1-1) is a road trip to Loyola (Maryland) next Sunday.
Women’s Basketball: The Gators fell to 10-11 overall, 3-10 in the SEC when they dropped a 96-80 decision to Missouri (8-9, 4-8 SEC). The Gators play host to Georgia on Senior Day next Sunday.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC Alabama: With two wins or with one win combined by one loss each by Arkansas and LSU, Alabama will clinch the SEC basketball championship ... Senior linebacker Ale Kaho has departed the football team. He’s the second Bama linebacker in a week to place his name in the transfer portal.
Auburn: Defensive end Dylan Brooks, who was released from his letter of intent by Tennessee last week, has committed to Auburn.
Georgia: Baseball trainer Jacob Castleman has been arrested and charged with felonies for providing obscene materials and having illegal contact with a minor child. Castleman was immediately fired.
Kentucky: The Wildcats have won three games in a row after their 70-55 thrashing of 19th-ranked Kentucky. Their Tuesday night game with Texas A&M has been postponed due to Covid-19 problems with the Aggies.
LSU: Forward Shareef O’Neal, the son of Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, will be sidelined for the foreseeable future with a foot injury.
Missouri: Jeremiah Tilmon, who had been out since February 10, returned to the lineup Saturday when he scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead Mizzou past South Carolina.
Ole Miss: Marquise Watson has been promoted from graduate assistant to player personnel analyst.
South Carolina: South Carolina’s football assistant coaches will make $4.88 million in 2021. That’s a dropoff of $400,000 from 2020.
Tennessee: Former 3-star offensive line recruit J’Marion Gooch (6-7, 358) becomes the third UT recruit in the last week to be released from his letter of intent.
Texas A&M: The Aggies have not played a basketball game since January 31. They have had six consecutive SEC games postponed.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Watching the Gators strike out in so many key situations in their losses to Miami on Saturday and Sunday I was reminded of Pedro Cerrano in the movie “Major League” who said, “Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.”