THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: FEBRUARY 21, 2019
PATIENCE, EVOLUTION AND A SIGNATURE WIN
Will Wade called what happened to his 13th-ranked Tigers Wednesday night “embarrassing” and when asked if he could see LSU (21-5, 11-2 SEC) losing to unranked Florida (15-11, 7-6 SEC), he responded, “Hell yeah.” Wade went on to call the Tigers’ 82-77 overtime loss to unranked Florida, “absolutely sickening.”
Well, let him be sick but don’t think for a second that LSU lost this game because the Tigers were unprepared or checked their brains at the players only entrance before they stepped onto the court at the Maravich Center in Baton Rouge. LSU lost because (a) Florida is good enough to beat just about anyone in the country when it gets some shots to fall and (b) the Gators have finally learned how to finish off an opponent.
It has been the kind of season for Florida basketball that stretches the limits of patience. If you’re frustrated as a fan after seeing the Gators lose five games by a combined 19 points and have both Tennessee (twice) and Kentucky in position to go down, then imagine how Mike White feels. He started the season without enough healthy bodies and he has fewer now, plus injuries and attrition have made the Gators the Southeastern Conference’s most vertically challenged team. And a lack of height is just the tip of White’s proverbial iceberg. He’s had to hope somehow the slump demons plaguing Jalen Hudson would be exorcised. There is no inside game to speak of. If Kevarrius Hayes gets in foul trouble there is no defense in the paint. If Noah Locke and KeVaughn Allen aren’t hitting shots, then the offense goes south. He’s playing with three freshmen in the starting lineup and one of them (Locke) is playing through injuries and another (Keyontae Johnson) is trying to play power forward at 6-5.
Through it all, White has been ever so patient. He gets a lot of criticism for being a real defensive guru of a coach, but with all of Florida’s issues can you imagine what kind of record the Gators would have right now if they didn’t play defense at a near elite level? Defense has allowed the Gators to evolve into a team that nobody wants to play.
Despite Will Wade’s obvious disgust, it wasn’t motivation that prevented LSU from winning the game and staying dead even with Tennessee at the top of the SEC standings. It was Florida, which has become a matchup nightmare in reverse all because the Gators have figured out how to play cohesively without the ideal set pieces it typically takes to play basketball at a very high level. As tough as it is for Florida to defend teams with superior size and physical strength, it’s equally tough for the other team when the Gators run one guy in the post and surround the 3-point line with four guys. LSU had its hands full trying to defend Florida, particularly in the second half when Allen and Locke began to heat up.
Florida was able to get a signature win Wednesday night because White’s patience has paid off and the Gators are evolving into a very good basketball team. In the first half, he got 12 (of his 15 for the game) unexpected points from Hudson, who is starting to show signs that he’s ready to score like he did last year when he averaged 16 points a game. Keyontae Johnson only scored 7 points but he did a number on 6-11, 250-pound Kavell Bigby-Williams, who is still trying to figure out why he couldn’t get a decent shot off. Bigby-Williams scored 10 points but most of them came on stickbacks. White got 8 points, 8 assists and 3 steals from freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard, who also had a big hand in turning LSU point guard Tremont Waters very average on a night when he needed to come up big. Kevarrius Hayes battled LSU’s big guys and scored 10 unexpected points to go with 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
And then there were Allen and Locke, who had combined for 2-21 fro the 3-point line in wins over Vandy and Alabama. When the Gators needed second half scoring to hold off LSU, they started making shots. Allen hit five 3-pointers and went 4-5 from the foul line. Locke played through pain to score 15, hit three 3-pointers and grabbed 5 rebounds.
It all added up to the signature win the Gators will need to get off the NCAA Tournament bubble. Sure, the Gators could already have 20 wins with a shot here and a stop there in those five close calls, but you can’t squeeze toothpaste back into the tube. The Gators have 15 wins and they need at least three more in the regular season to make the NCAA Tournament but after seeing what they’ve done in the last three games, you have to like their odds.
Wednesday’s SEC games
FLORIDA (15-11, 7-6 SEC) 82, #13 LSU (21-5, 11-2 SEC) 77
Mississippi State (19-7, 7-6 SEC) 68, Georgia (10-16, 1-12 SEC) 68
Auburn (18-8, 7-6 SEC) 79, Arkansas (14-12, 5-8 SEC) 53
Saturday’s SEC games
Missouri (12-13, 3-10 SEC) at FLORIDA (15-11, 7-6 SEC)
#5 Tennessee (24-2, 12-1 SEC) at #13 LSU (21-5, 11-2 SEC)
Auburn (18-8, 7-6 SEC) at #4 Kentucky (22-4, 11-2 SEC)
Georgia (10-16, 1-12 SEC) at Ole Miss (18-8, 8-5 SEC)
Vanderbilt (9-17, 0-13 SEC) at Alabama (15-11, 5-7 SEC)
South Carolina (14-12, 9-4 SEC) at Mississippi State (19-7, 7-6 SEC)
Texas A&M (11-14, 4-9 SEC) at Arkansas (14-12, 5-8 SEC)
ANOTHER GAME, ANOTHER STRUGGLE AT THE PLATE
For the second straight game, Florida’s offense couldn’t get the job done as the 3rd-ranked Gators (3-2) dropped a 7-1 decision to North Florida at McKethan Stadium. Florida actually hit the ball better (8 hits) than it did Tuesday night in Tampa against South Florida (2 hits) but as they did against USF, the Gators only pushed across one run.
Florida paraded four freshmen to the mound against UNF with Christian Scott absorbing the loss after giving up four hits and two runs in two innings. Ben Specht (two innings), David Leuthje (three innings) and Nick Pogue (two innings) finished things out for UF.
Freshman Cory Acton drove in Florida’s only run in the sixth with a sacrifice fly. Catcher Santino Miozzi was the only Gator to get more than one hit.
Florida will be at home this weekend for a three-game set with Miami.
UF SOFTBALL IMPROVES TO 12-0
Sophomore Natalie Lugo pitched the best game of her Florida career, allowing 4 hits while striking out 13 to lead the 3rd-ranked Gators (12-0) to a 5-0 win over Jacksonville. In improving her record to 4-0, Lugo didn’t walk a batter and used only 92 pitches.
Amanda Lorenz gave the Gators all the offense they needed when she led off the game with her third home run on the game’s second pitch. Jordan Matthews drove in two runs with a single as part of a 4-run UF second.
The Gators will play six games this weekend in the Bubly Invitational at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium, two against Illinois State, two against Syracuse and two against FAMU.
UF SPRING SPORTS
At the SEC Swimming and Diving Championships in Athens, the Florida women are in third place and the men in second after the second day of competition. Texas A&M has the lead in the women’s event with 441.5 points, followed by Tennessee (393.5) and Florida (388.5). Over on the men’s side, Missouri holds down the #1 spot (378) followed by Florida (353.5). Kieran Smith won the 200 IM with a time of 1:43.13.
The Florida men’s tennis team remains in the ITA top 10 but the Gators dropped from #4 to #7 in the latest ITA rankings. The Florida women dropped from #24 to #48, maybe the lowest they’ve been ranked in more than 30 years.
In the latest Golfweek.com rankings, the Florida men are perched at #33 while the UF women remained at #8.
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF: Major Applewhite, the former Houston head coach who was actually Nick Saban’s first offensive coordinator at Alabama, has rejoined the staff, this time as an offensive analyst. Due to his Houston buyout, he’ll have to squeeze by on $1.9 million in addition to the $50,000 he’ll make working for Nick next year … Kentucky outside linebackers coach Brad White has been promoted to defensive coordinator. Kentucky also announced that former Ole Miss assistant Jon Sumrall has been hired to coach the inside linebackers … Vanderbilt added graduate transfer corner Cameron Watkins from Illinois. Watkins picked the Commodores over Iowa State … Alabama offensive analyst Jake Peetz is departing for a job with the Carolina Panthers … Another Alabama analyst, Brendan Ferrell, is leaving for the Miami Dolphins … LSU redshirt freshman D-lineman Donnie Livingston (6-3, 350) announced that he is going to transfer to a school in his home state of Texas … Starting in 2020, Auburn and Georgia will meet earlier in the season. Since 1936, the rivalry game has been played in November … Georgia AD Greg Magarity has his contract extended one year through 2020 … Auburn hired former Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff to coach its defensive backs … Offensive lineman Will Putnam is transferring out from South Carolina. Walkon long snapper Matthew Smith has also left the program … South Carolina added transfer punter Christian Kinsley from Kennesaw State … Missouri offensive line analyst Adam Kleffner has been hired by the Dallas Cowboys as an assistant O-line coach … Mississippi State will have four new assistants on its coaching staff in 2019 – Tony Hughes (TE), Terry Richardson (RB), Deke Adams (OL) and Michael Johnson (WR).
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Steve Stricker has been named captain for the 2020 United States Ryder Cup team. The 2020 Ryder Cup will be played at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin … It’s being rumored that the Philadelphia Phillies will offer Bryce Harper a bigger contract than the $300 million deal the San Diego Padres gave to Manny Machado … Two years ago, Jim Harbaugh took his Michigan football team to Rome where the Wolverines actually held a few practices. Last year, it was off to France but there were no practices. In May, Harbaugh is taking Michigan to South Africa and again there will be no practices. Michigan’s spring game is April 13 so this trip will be after the spring semester ends.