GATORS HAVE A REAL SHOT AT SECOND PLACE IN THE SEC
After a wild and wacky Wednesday night that began with Florida rallying from 13 down in the first half to take out Georgia, 68-54, the Gators (19-11, 11-6 SEC) find themselves tied with LSU and Auburn for second place in the Southeastern Conference. Should the Gators beat Kentucky Saturday – entirely possible since it’s at the O-Dome – they could actually finish the regular season in sole possession of second place. Now that would take a little help from some of the Gators’ SEC brethren, but the Gators got more than they could have hoped for Wednesday night when Auburn went down in flames at home against Texas A&M and LSU lost a shootout to Arkansas in Fayette Nam.
So here’s your Saturday scenario: Florida has to beat Kentucky while Auburn loses to surging Tennessee in Knoxville and LSU tanks against Georgia in Baton Rouge. Maybe not the most probable of scenarios but certainly well within the realm of possibility. Florida should have beaten Kentucky at Rupp 11 days ago. Tennessee just beat Kentucky at Rupp so beating Auburn in Knoxville is far less daunting even if Bruce Pearl wants more than anything to whack the school that once fired him back in the town he used to own. Since defense is considered optional at LSU, Georgia could actually win that game if Anthony Edwards goes into a shooter’s coma.
And that brings us to how Florida got into this position in the first place. For the first 13 minutes, the Gators were offensively challenged but after Georgia hit its first seven shots, the UF defense kicked in, particularly on Anthony Edwards. When Edwards couldn’t get it going, Georgia’s offense died a slow death. After a 7-7 start from the field, Georgia made only 5-19 the rest of the way. As for the Gators, they couldn’t hit a three if life depended on it in the first half (0-10) but they dominated in the paint and got 16 first half points off turnovers. From a 19-6 deficit, Florida trailed just 30-28 at the break.
Once the second half began, Florida started finding the range from the three-point line (7-13) and the defense continued to convert Georgia turnovers into points. Florida took the lead for good at 47-46 on a pair of Andrew Nembhard free throws and never looked back.
Keyontae Johnson led the Gators with 18 points, 11 rebounds and three steals, while Noah Locke hit 3-6 on his three-pointers to finish with 17. In addition to scoring 11, Scottie Lewis smothered Edwards, helping to hold the hotshot freshman to 14 points, seven below his scoring average.
SEC BASKETBALL Wednesday’s scores FLORIDA (19-11, 11-6 SEC) 68, Georgia (15-15, 5-12 SEC) 54 Texas A&M (15-14, 9-8 SEC) 78, #17 Auburn (24-6, 11-6 SEC) 75 Arkansas (19-11, 7-10 SEC) 99, LSU (20-10, 11-6 SEC) 90
Ole Miss (15-15, 6-11 SEC) 75, Missouri (14-16, 6-11 SEC) 67
Saturday’s games #6 Kentucky (24-6, 14-3 SEC) at FLORIDA (19-11, 11-6 SEC), CBS
#17 Auburn (24-6, 11-6 SEC) at Tennessee (17-13, 9-8 SEC), ESPN2 South Carolina (18-12, 10-7 SEC) at Vanderbilt (10-20, 2-15 SEC), SEC Network Georgia (15-15, 5-12 SEC) at LSU (20-10, 11-6 SEC), ESPN2 Alabama (16-14, 8-9 SEC) at Missouri (14-16, 6-11 SEC), SEC Network Arkansas (19-11, 7-10 SEC) at Texas A&M (15-14, 9-8 SEC), SEC Network Ole Miss (15-15, 6-11 SEC) at Mississippi State (19-11, 10-7 SEC), SEC Network
GATORS IMPROVE TO 13-0 WITH SHUTOUT OF FAMU
The Gators extended their school record start to 13-0 Wednesday night with a 5-0 win over Florida A&M at McKethan Stadium. The Gators got a brilliant start from freshman Tyler Nesbitt, who gave up one hit and struck out eight in four innings to get his first collegiate win. Justin Alintoff (one hit two strikeouts in two innings), Brandon Sproat (no hits, three strikeouts in two innings) and Ryan Carbarcas (one inning, two strikeouts) preserved Florida’s second shutout of the season.
Jordan Butler was the offensive star with a run-scoring double in the second and two-run homer (first of the season) to right field in the fifth. Freshman Nathan Hickey had a solo homer in the fifth and freshman Josh Rivera had a run-scoring single.
Right fielder Jacob Young extended his hitting streak to 14 games (two last year, 12 this year) with a second inning double. That raised his batting average to .447.
Next up for the Gators is a three-game series at McKethan Stadium with South Florida starting Friday night.
Other UF Sports: After giving up a first inning solo home run, Natalie Lugo settled in and allowed only three more hits the rest of the way as Florida’s 7th-ranked softball team improved to 18-4 with a 3-1 win over Florida Gulf Coast at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Lugo (7-2, 1.80 ERA) walked one and struck out seven. A two-run homer by freshman Baylee Goddard in the bottom of the fifth broke a 1-1 tie to give the Gators the win. Florida opens the SEC portion of its schedule Saturday at home against Auburn (14-8) … The Gators will be represented at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships by 16 athletes, nine men and seven women. The Florida men have finished third or higher in 20 of the last 21 track and field championships including 10 of the last 11 indoors. Under Mike Holloway, the Gators have won nine national championships. The Gator men are ranked 6th nationally, the women 13th … Florida’s women’s basketball team (15-14) will face LSU (19-9) in second round play at the SEC Women’s Tournament in Greenville, South Carolina this evening … Freshman golfer Ricky Castillo has been chosen to the Arnold Palmer Cup team that will face the Europeans in a Ryder Cup-like format in Ireland in July.
THINKING OUT LOUD ON THURSDAY
(1) In Dane Brugar’s three-round mock NFL Draft for The Athletic, C.J. Henderson goes #17 in the first round to the Dallas Cowboys. Based on what C.J. did at the Combine and with Pro Day coming up on the UF campus, he could definitely end up being a top ten selection. Brugar has three Gators going in the third round: Jonathan Greenard going at #72 overall to the Arizona Cardinals, Jabari Zuniga going at #85 to the Philadelphia Eagles and Van Jefferson going at #96 to the Kansas City Chiefs. Brugar has 15 SEC players going in the first round including Joe Burrow of LSU at #1 to the Cincinnati Bengals and Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama at #6 to the Los Angeles Chargers. There are six from Alabama and four from LSU in the first round. With nine second rounders and 10 third rounders, Brugar has 34 from the SEC among the first 96 picks.
(2) Memphis basketball is already in deepest and darkest but now things took an even worse turn. The basketball program will be the first to be investigated by the NCAA under its new Independent Accountability Resolution Process. The IARP gives the independent agency broad powers of investigation. They will be investigating James Wiseman, the 7-1 center who departed Memphis rather than serve a 12-game suspension. At the heart of the matter is the $11,500 that Memphis coach Penny Hardaway spent when he was a high school coach to move Wiseman into his school district. By the way, Wiseman’s high school team lost in the Tennessee state championship game last spring to Knoxville Bearden. MVP of the championship game was Florida’s Ques Glover.
(3) ESPN rated the top 100 prospects in Major League Baseball. Listed at #20 is former Gator lefty A.J. Puk, who is listed at 6-4, 230, which means he’s shrunk three inches and added about 30 pounds since he was a Gator. Puk got called up late season last year by the Oakland A’s. Listed at #94 is former Gator third baseman Jonathan India, who made it up to AA last year in the Cincinnati Reds organization.
(4) There isn’t a day that goes by without some new rumor about Tom Brady and where he will play football next year. One day he’s turned off by the Patriots and likely to sign somewhere other than New England. The next day he’s probably staying. For the life of me, I just can’t see him playing for anyone other than Bill Belichick and the Patriots. I believe the Patriots will do their best to load up the roster with the kind of players that could give Brady a championship swan song.
(5) Andy Staples of The Athletic suggests that if the Big 12 is thinking to expand, it could raid the Pac-12 for Southern California, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon. He makes a good case for more money luring those schools, which collect a $31.3 million from the Pac-12 while Big 12 schools are getting around $36 million plus they can sell their third tier rights individually (Texas $15 million from the Longhorn Network; Oklahoma $7 million). What has always made the most sense to me is making Notre Dame join a conference and then have eight 12-team conferences for football. Not only would it set up the perfect playoff scenario but would probably make a lot more money.
GOOD QUOTES FOR THURSDAY
From Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated on Florida’s Scottie Lewis, who he ranks the #55 prospect for the NBA:
“It’s certainly possible Lewis returns to school after a so-so freshman season, and it will likely depend on how much interest in him remains as a late first/early second round type. He’s a terrific defensive prospect and solid athlete, but needs to get strong and become a more consistent threat on offense. But the bright spots have been few and far between, and Lewis’s college-readiness was overstated by the rankings and overly lofty preseason projections (including on this board). If he comes out, he’ll need minutes in the G-League to start working himself into a more complete player, but the athleticism and tools are still an intriguing bet. But it’s hard to make an extremely compelling case, other than the general lack of wings in this draft.”
From Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated on Keyontae Johnson, who he ranks as the #63 prospect: Johnson’s game is a bit unorthodox as an undersized four-man, but he’s highly effective in this role each of the last two seasons, and has some potential to help blend lineups at the NBA level eventually. He’s not squarely on the radar for this year’s draft, but will be of interest if he tests the waters as a well-rounded, versatile, and low maintenance frontcourt piece. Defensively, he’s rock solid, with good strength and length to compensate for the height factor and a good nose for the ball as a rebounder. He takes good shots and has been highly efficient with his opportunities around the basket. As long as Johnson shoots the three well enough long-term, he should have a pathway to contributing off someone’s bench.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Stephen Curry will return to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday. He’s missed 58 games after breaking his hand in the preseason … Former Gator Matt Elam, once a first round draft pick in the NFL, was cut by the winless DC Defenders of the XFL Tuesday. Elam had 12 tackles in the Defenders loss to the Tampa Bay Vipers on Sunday … Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers is expected to sign a seven-year extension to his contract which will guarantee him $215 million over the next nine years ... The Arnold Palmer Invitational tees off at Bay Hill today minus Tiger Woods, who has won the tournament eight times ... The Senior Bowl is moving from decrepit Ladd Stadium in Mobile to the brand new Hancock Whitney Stadium on the campus of the University of South Alabama starting next January.