TOUGH ROAD LOSS AT RUPP SHOWS GATORS HAVE COME A LONG WAY Moral victories don’t get you into the NCAA Tournament but the way the Gators performed at Rupp Arena Saturday shows they’ve come a long, long way from the team that seemed to be looking for a compass to guide it a month ago. A month ago Florida (17-10, 9-5 SEC) was on such a roller coaster ride that the NIT seemed the only likely destination. Saturday, the Gators looked like a team that can win games in the NCAA Tournament the way they battled Kentucky (22-5, 12-2 SEC) to the bitter end.
The Gators needed a couple of shots to fall and a couple of breaks to go their way Saturday but to win at Rupp you’ve got to make some shots and you have to manufacture enough of your own breaks to overcome Kentucky’s decided home court advantage. If Noah Locke (0-7 on three-pointers) and Andrew Nembhard (four points) had gotten even a fraction of their recent contributions, Florida wins this game. You can credit Kentucky’s perimeter defense for that. Maybe only Baylor and Kansas have better backcourt defenders than Kentucky’s Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey.
On the positive side, Keyontae Johnson (19 points, nine rebounds, two steals) and Kerry Blackshear Jr. (18 points, six rebounds, two assist, one block, one steal) were outstanding at both ends of the court. Johnson took on E.J. Montgomery (6-11) and Nate Sestina (6-9), holding them to a combined eight points and four rebounds. Blackshear smothered 7-0 Nick Richards, who was being touted as SEC Player of the Year, holding him to nine points and six rebounds. Another positive was the play of freshman Tre Mann, who logged 29 minutes while scoring 13 points, including 3-4 from the three-point line. If he can give the Gators points off the bench and continue his solid improvement on the defensive end, it bodes well for the Gators the rest of the way.
The Gators still have some work to do starting Wednesday night when LSU comes to the O-Dome, but if they can win two games of their last four they’ll go into the SEC Tournament comfortably off the NCAA bubble. Right now, Joe Lunardi has the Gators as a nine seed in the South Region, facing Illinois in the first round with a return match with Baylor if the Gators get past the opening game.
SEC BASKETBALL Saturday’s scores #10 Kentucky (22-5, 12-2 SEC) 65, Florida (17-10, 9-5 SEC) 59 #13 Auburn (23-4, 10-4 SEC) 73, Tennessee (15-12, 7-7 SEC) 66 Texas A&M (14-12, 8-6 SEC) 87, Mississippi State (17-10, 8-6 SEC) 75 Arkansas (17-10, 5-9 SEC) 78, Missouri (13-14, 7-7 SEC) 68 LSU (19-8, 10-4 SEC) 86, South Carolina (16-11, 8-6 SEC) 80 Georgia (14-13, 4-10 SEC) 80, Vanderbilt (9-17, 1-13 SEC) 78 Alabama (15-12, 7-7 SEC) 103, Ole Miss (13-14, 4-10 SEC) 78
Tuesday’s games #10 Kentucky (22-5, 12-2 SEC) at Texas A&M (14-12, 8-6 SEC), ESPN Ole Miss (13-14, 4-10 SEC) at #13 Auburn (23-4, 10-4 SEC), SEC Network Alabama (15-12, 7-7 SEC) at Mississippi State (17-10, 8-6 SEC), SEC Network Wednesday’s games LSU (19-8, 10-4 SEC) at FLORIDA (17-10, 9-5 SEC), ESPN2 Georgia (14-13, 4-10 SEC) at South Carolina (16-11, 8-6 SEC), SEC Network Tennessee (15-12, 7-7 SEC) at Arkansas (17-10, 5-9 SEC), SEC Network Missouri (13-14, 5-9 SEC) at Vanderbilt (9-17, 1-12 SEC), ESPNU
BROOM TIME IN MIAMI; GATORS SWEEP TOP-RANKED MIAMI
With their 5-3 Sunday win over to-ranked Miami, the 2nd-ranked Gators (8-0) have set the stage to take over the top spot in the D1baseball.com and Baseball America polls. In getting the three-game sweep over the Hurricanes, the Gators earned their sixth straight season series win over UM and their first sweep in Coral Gables since 2012.
The Gators needed extra innings to win the Friday (2-1 in 11 innings) and Saturday (7-4 in 10) games. Sunday, they got some ninth inning insurance on a double by Jacob Young and a run-scoring single by freshman Josh Rivera to seal a 5-3 win. Rivera went 5-11 with a double, a homer and three RBI in the series.
The Gators got solid starts from Tommy Mace (Friday) and Jack Leftwich (Saturday) and they probably found their Sunday starter in freshman Hunter Barco, who went 5-1/3 innings while giving up only one run and two hits Sunday to pick up his first collegiate win. Nick Pogue picked up the win in relief Friday while Ben Specht got the Saturday win. Freshman Ryan Carbarcus got the save Sunday with two hitless innings.
Next up for the Gators is FAMU Tuesday night followed by a Wednesday date in DeLand against Stetson.
SEC CHAMPS! GYMNASTICS AND MEN’S SWIMMING
Led by all-around champ Trinity Thomas (9.9 on vault, bars and floor, 9.95 on beam), the 2nd-ranked Gators demolished 8th-ranked Alabama, 198.050-197.450 Friday night before a sellout crowd at the O-Dome to win the Southeastern Conference championship. The Gators go on the road Friday to face 10th-ranked Georgia.
The men’s swimming team won its eighth straight SEC title and 41st in school history over the weekend behind Kieran Smith and Ryan Finke, who both set American records. Smith, the swimmer of the meet, broke the American 500 freestyle record by a full second and Finke took six seconds off the 1,650 (one mile) freestyle record.
GATORS GO 4-1 IN WEST COAST SOFTBALL SWING Three of 7th-ranked Florida’s four wins at the Mary Nutter Classic in Palm Springs, California were against ranked teams. The Gators beat #5 Arizona, #16 Arizona State and #25 Northwestern to go with a Sunday win over unranked Nebraska. The only loss was in extra innings to top-ranked UCLA.
The Gators (16-2) are getting tremendous production out of the top three hitters in the order. Hannah Adams (.380, 2 HR, 10 RBI), Kendyl Lindamin (.392, 3 HR, 13 RBI) and Charla Echols (.463, 6 HR, 22 RBI) have been rock solid at the top of the order. If Jordan Roberts (.235, 4 HR, 20 RBI) ever starts making constant contact Florida’s offense could really take off. Natalie Lugo gave the Gators 17-1/3 innings over the weekend, picking up two wins and a save while striking out 22 to improve to 6-1 (1.40 ERA). Freshman Rylee Trlicek is 7-1 with a 1.58 ERA.
The Gators return home to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium next weekend to face 11th-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette.
Other UF sports: The 22nd-ranked men’s golf team won the Gator Invitational by 18 strokes over Vanderbilt … The 10th-ranked women’s golf team won the Allstate Sugar Bowl Invitational by 16 shots …The 4th-ranked men’s tennis team went 2-1 at the ITA National Indoors, taking down 9th-ranked Columbia, losing to 5th-ranked North Carolina and coming back for a win over 6th-ranked Wake Forest … The 41st-ranked women’s tennis team improved to 3-2 with a win over Georgia State ... With their 83-80 win over 22nd-ranked Arkansas, the Florida women’s basketball team improved to 15-12, 8-6 in SEC play ... Florida’s 4th-ranked lacrosse team lost to 12th-ranked Loyola (MD), 17-6.
A MEANDERING MONDAY MIND (1) Kansas athletic director Jeff Long has come up with an idea that really does need to be studied by the football playing schools in Division I. Instead of the current hard cap of 25 scholarships per year, which results in all sorts of manipulating as schools count back scholarships the year before with kids who early enroll, Long suggests some flexibility in the form of a 50 scholarships every two years limit. So, because of attrition (graduation, NFL draft, transfers, dismissals, etc.) a school that has only 50 players on scholarship, could sign as many as 35. That would leave a maximum of 15 available scholarships the next year. This makes a lot of sense for roster management.
(2) All expectations are that the NCAA will pass some form of legislation to allow a one-time transfer without penalty of sitting out for athletes in all sports. While there is speculation that the new rule could go in effect for the 2020-21 calendar year it seems more likely the NCAA will not announce the rule change until January 2021. When the rule is put in place, I hope it will include a provision that the athlete has to have one full year of real academic progress without taking a single remedial course. For example, if an athlete took remedial courses as a freshman, he/she could not transfer until after a sophomore year that was all courses that make progress toward graduation.
(3) After watching the war between Kansas and Baylor Saturday, I’m convinced those are the two best teams in all of college basketball. The difference-maker for Kansas is Udoka Azubuike who had 23 points and 19 rebounds against Baylor. There isn’t a big man in the country capable of defending him, especially when the Kansas guards are getting him the ball up around the rim. Based on what happened Saturday, here is how I would seed the top 16 teams for the NCAA Tournament: (ONES) Kansas, Baylor, Gonzaga, Dayton; (TWOS) Maryland, Florida State, San Diego State, Kentucky; (THREES) Villanova, Auburn, Louisville, Duke; (FOURS) Creighton, Penn State, Seton Hall, Oregon.
(4) It has been 14,298 days since Georgia’s last national championship in football. It has been 7,721 days since Tennessee’s last national championship in football.
GOOD QUOTES FOR MONDAY Andy Staples of The Athletic answering a question on why the Pac-12 Conference seems to be on a level below the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 and ACC: “As for the root cause, the answer is as simple as it is unsatisfying. The fan bases in the Pac-12 don’t care as much about football as the fan bases in the other four leagues do. Sure, the fan bases at USC, Oregon and Washington care deeply about football, but they don’t care as much as the fan bases at Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn, Michigan, LSU, Penn State, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee or Texas A&M. Meanwhile, the rest of the fan bases in Pac-12 care far less, and that creates a gap the league can’t bridge.”
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated on what’s in store for Kansas basketball beyond the end of this season when the Jayhawks could win the national championship: “After this season, things could get dicey for the Jayhawks. The FBI investigation of corruption in college basketball that the heckler [at Baylor, yelling “FBI Bill!” to Bill Self] alluded to made it very clear that Adidas bag man T.J. Gassnola paid to help at least two players – Bill Preston and Silvio De Sousa – become Jayhaws. That in turn led to an NCAA Notice of Allegations, which officially put Kansas on the trail toward a Committee on Infractions hearing sometime in 2020, with potential major sanctions looming against the program and Self. Kansas is vigorously contesting the NCAA Enforcement findings.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The highest paid offensive line coach in the country is Georgia’s Matt Luke, who is making $900,000. Second highest is Will Friend at Tennessee, $805,000 ... Former Arkansas HBC Chad Morris, now the offensive coordinator at Auburn, will pick up $1,715,000 in buyout money from Arkansas to go with the $735,000 he’ll get from Auburn. His Arkansas buyout money will continue for the next four years … Karl Dorrell, who was once the head coach at UCLA (35-27 from 2003-07), has been hired as the head coach at Colorado. What this tells us is Colorado has done a Tennessee, interviewing and offering a whole bunch of people who said no before making a panic hire ... The NFL Players Association has delayed a vote on an owner-proposed collective bargaining agreement that would expand the regular season to 17 games and expand the playoffs to 14 teams … Watching Florida-Kentucky Saturday, I got the impression that Dick Vitale would like to bear John Calipari’s love child.