Consider what Tim Walton and the Florida softball team (56-5) accomplished this past weekend in winning the NCAA Gainesville Regional. In going 3-0 to advance to a Super Regional next week against Georgia (43-18), the Gators outscored their opponents 24-0, outhit them 26-5 and played errorless in the field. This was a statement weekend and what the Gators did is a loud and clear message to the rest of the softball world that Florida is very capable of making it three straight national championships.
In shutting out Alabama State once and UCF twice, the Gators lowered their NCAA-leading ERA to 0.86 and three error-free games raised Florida’s fielding percentage to .984. If the Gators continue on this pace, they’ll set the all-time NCAA record for fielding percentage in a season. When you have pitchers like Aleshia Ocasio (22-1, 0.65 ERA), Delanie Gourley (19-3, 0.70 ERA) and Kelly Barnhill (15-1, 1.36 ERA) and a defense that just doesn’t make silly mistakes, it doesn’t take much hitting to win. It’s as if Walton put this team together with the idea that you never lose if the score is 0-0 and figured as long as the Gators can score 1-2 runs per game, they probably win. From what we saw this weekend, the bats are starting to come to life, too, and not a moment too soon. There are hits up and down the lineup even if there isn’t as much power as in the past couple of years.
The odds of winning three straight NCAA titles are astronomical, but if there is a team groomed to pull it off, it’s these Gators.
Six of the 11 SEC teams that started the weekend in an NCAA Regional advanced to a Super Regional. Florida, which is the #1 seed, will host #16 Georgia. Also advancing were #4 Auburn (52-9), #6 Alabama (49-12), #10 LSU (48-15) and #15 Missouri (42-14). Overall, SEC teams went 29-11 in regional play while the Pac-12, which advanced five teams to a Super Regional, went 15-7.
Florida’s five seniors – Kelsey Stewart, Aubree Munroe, Kirsti Merrit, Taylore Fuller and Taylor Schwarz – are now 229-33 for their four years in Gainesville.
Tim Walton is now 608-126 in his Florida career (731-190 overall). In the nine years prior to Walton’s arrival at UF in 2006, the Gators were a combined 361-237.
Ocasio is 40-4 in her pitching career at Florida while Gourley is 44-6.
For my money, there isn’t a better freshman in the country that Amanda Lorenz, who is hitting .406 with 8 homers and 47 RBI. She’s 10-12 on the basepaths and hasn’t committed an error all season.
GATORS WIN 9TH STRAIGHT ALL-SPORTS TROPHY
For the ninth straight year and for the 26th time overall, the University of Florida has won the Southeastern Conference All-Sports Trophy (now sponsored by Gatehouse Media). The Gators won five SEC championships: Swimming on the men’s side and gymnastics, soccer, softball and tennis on the women’s side. The Gators won tournament championships in soccer and men’s and women’s tennis plus they won the Big East regular season and tournament championship in women’s tennis.
Jeremy Foley and the Florida administration should be commended for their commitment to make Florida the best athletic program top to bottom in the SEC.
The order of finish:
2. Texas A&M
9. South Carolina
10. Ole Miss
14. Mississippi State
Baseball: The Gators (44-11, 19-10 SEC) went into the weekend ranked #1 nationally and needed two wins to win the SEC regular season title, but after winning only one of their three games with LSU (39-17, 19-11 SEC) in Baton Rouge, UF is now relegated to #4 seed in the SEC Tournament. Florida doesn’t have to play in the SEC Tournament until Wednesday when the Gators will get the winner of Tuesday’s first round matchup between 5th-seeded LSU and 12th-seeded Tennessee (29-27, 9-21 SEC). With its 3-game sweep of Arkansas (26-29, 7-23 SEC) over the weekend, Mississippi State (40-14-1, 21-9 SEC) took the SEC regular season championship.
Florida committed 3 uncharacteristic errors and played a sloppy game overall in the field Friday night when they dropped a 5-4 decision to LSU. In the finish of Thursday night’s suspended game (played Saturday), the Gators gave up 5 runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and dropped a 7-3 decision. In the series finale, the Gators got a commanding performance by righty Alex Faedo (11-1) to take a 6-2 win.
Women’s golf: After their stunning rally at the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional landed the Gators as the #4 seed, Florida’s 18th place finish at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon is a bit of a disappointment. The Gators didn’t qualify to play in Monday’s final round after going +8 in the third round.
Men’s Tennis: Florida’s run in the NCAA Championships ended in the quarter-finals Sunday afternoon when #1-seed Virginia knocked off the 9th-seeded Gators, 4-0.
2015-2016 WARRIORS VS. 1995-1996 BULLS? DA BULLS
Even before that ridiculous blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday night (OKC won, 133-105), I wasn’t ready to anoint the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors as the greatest team of all time in the NBA. The Warriors did win more regular season games (73) than any team in NBA history and they still could win a second straight league title but I will still take the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls as the best I’ve ever seen followed by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
I think the Warriors are really, really good and when all their shooters find the range on the same night – and it happens – they are one of the more difficult teams to defend that I’ve ever seen. I would hate to have to guard Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on the perimeter, but I believe the Bulls could have really altered their games. We tend to forget the Bulls had the two best defenders in the game in Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, plus they had Dennis Rodman, the game’s best rebounder and another defensive ace who would have disrupted everything in the middle.
I think Steve Kerr is a terrific coach – it’s obvious he learned his lessons well when he was the designated 3-point shooter for those 1995-96 Bulls – and I believe he’s going to have a great run with the Warriors, but it’s going to take more than what I’ve seen to convince me the Warriors are better than the Bulls of the Jordan era and those 1971-72 Lakers that featured Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain.
LEBRON VS. BIRD: AT AGE 30
I think LeBron James is a magnificent talent. He’s 30 years old and this year averaged 25.3 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game and 7.4 assists per game while hitting 73.1% from the foul line, 48.8% of his shot attempts and 30.9% of his 3-pointers. Sunday, I saw a comparison of LeBron at age 30 (2015-16) with Larry Bird at the same age (1986-87): 28.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 91% from the foul line, 52.5% of his shot attempts and 40% of his 3 pointers. Sometimes we need reminders that those guys who played 30 years ago were pretty good players in their own right.
BEST I’VE EVER SEEN: NBA
The Bird vs. LeBron comparison made me think about all the players I’ve seen in all sports throughout the years. For the next few days I’m going to do a top 10 list of the best I’ve ever seen – whether in person or on television – in different sports. I’m starting today with the NBA.
1. Michael Jordan
2. Bill Russell
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
4. Wilt Chamberlain
5. Larry Bird
6. Earvin Johnson
7. Oscar Robertson
8. LeBron James
9. Jerry West
10. Julius Erving
Special mention: It pains me to leave guys like Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Rick Barry and John Havlicek off the list but this is only a top 10 list.
Pete Maravich is the best ball handler and passer I ever saw. What we didn’t know was he played his entire career with only half a heart (one side of his heart never worked) and that might explain some things … Bill Walton had tiny feet for a man his size (7-1, 260 … do not pay attention to what you might read, Walton wouldn’t allow publicity people to list him at 7-0 because he didn’t want to be regarded as a freak. Had he been able to avoid those debilitating foot injuries, I think he would have gone down as the greatest player in NBA history … Wes Unseld played center in the NBA at 6-6 and few have ever rebounded or defended the position as well … I sometimes wonder just how good Marvin “Bad News” Barnes could have been if his brain hadn’t been jammed in neutral for a good portion of his life. He still had the greatest quote ever: “I ain’t me. I’m somebody else.”
So much for the next super horse. Nyquist looked very, very average in finishing second at The Preakness.
A close play at home. The umpire makes the right call in seeing the hand touched the plate before the tag. The announcers rave about the base runner. They don’t praise the umpire for making the right call on a close play. We – and I include myself – rip and shred the zebras when they get it wrong but it seems the only time we offer them the courtesy of praise when they get it right is when the call goes our way.
Former Missouri QB Maty Mauk has transferred to D1AA Eastern Kentucky where he will be eligible to play immediately.
Former Texas Tech QB Davis Webb, who flirted with Florida and Auburn while being committed to Colorado, has elected to transfer to California where he is eligible immediately to be NFL #1 pick Jared Goff’s replacement.
Connor Mitch will graduate from South Carolina this summer and then transfer where he will have two years of eligibility remaining. Mitch started the first two games for South Carolina last season, then separated a shoulder and injured a hip.
Tilman Fertitta, the billionaire chairman of the University of Houston Board of Regents, is pushing for the Big 12 Conference to add Houston when it expands. Fertitta says the Big 12 needs Houston. He says, “What I don’t like – and I’m concerned about – as a Houstonian is that the SEC is starting to own Houston. There’s more talk about the SEC than the Big 12.”
Vernon Adams, who transferred to Oregon to be the replacement quarterback for Heisman QB Marcus Mariota last season at Oregon, has signed with the CFL Montreal Alouettes after going undrafted.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Who makes your top ten list of the best NBA players you have seen either in person or on television?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I was at the Citrus Bowl in 1994 for the Billy Joel-Elton John concert that was almost rained out. Fortunately, the folks at the stadium and concert promoters were patient enough to let the rain and lightning pass. It was my birthday so I remember that show very, very well. I was reminded of that night Sunday afternoon and while I couldn’t find the video of the concert at the Citrus Bowl, I did find Elton and Billy from the Tokyo Dome in 1998.