The emotional distance between the high of the miracle overtime win over Wisconsin and the disappointment of the Elite Eight loss to South Carolina Sunday afternoon is light years for a Florida team that nobody expected to make it this far in the first place.
Maybe that’s why Sunday’s 77-70 loss to South Carolina is so painful because
even three weeks ago nobody in his right mind would have bet the Gators would make it this far. Back when the season began in November, most Gator fans were hoping just to make it into the NCAA Tournament and here they were Sunday just a couple of second half 3-pointers and a couple of defensive stops away from a close NCAA semifinal encounter with Gonzaga in Phoenix next Saturday.
So this one will hurt and it will hurt bad but there are times when hurt can be a good thing because the Gators will look back on what might have been and determine that the next time they get in a situation like the one they were in Sunday, they won’t make the same silly mistakes and they won’t miss the same open shots or blow defensive assignments. Some folks say there is no such thing as a good loss. That might be true for the short haul, but if you look at it on a long term basis and this loss serves as the motivation to take the Florida program to another level, then it will be looked back on as a turning point, thus a good loss.
It doesn’t take a dreamer to imagine the Gators might still be playing if not for the torn ACL that ended the season of John Egbunu. Put a healthy Egbunu in the game along with Kevarrius Hayes, who has a real warrior mentality, and let’s see South Carolina score 42 points in the paint. That White got the Gators to an Elite Eight game minus a 6-11, 260-pound defensive enforcer in the middle should tell you something about his ability to adapt to whatever talent he has available.
And since the word talent has been mentioned, consider the fact that Florida won plenty of games this year against teams with more talent. If talent were the only thing that mattered, Kentucky would win the national championship every year.
Coaching matters and Mike White can flat out coach but what he does extends far beyond the hardwood court. One reason Florida consistently beat teams with superior talent had everything to do with the culture he’s created at Florida.
In his post game remarks Sunday, White said, “There’s been no drama this year and I’ve never been a part of that. In 17 years not to get one call at midnight that your guys did something crazy or not to have to break up a fight in the locker room or deal with man, I’m going to transfer if I don’t play more. You know, our culture is back to where it needs to be to just give us a chance.”
Florida may never have the talent that Kentucky can lure to Lexington, but White will get players he deems coachable who can fit into his system and who can be a part of a healthy locker room. You don’t have to worry about the future of Florida basketball. It’s going to be very good for a long time with Mike White running the show.
HEY, WE’RE A SOFTBALL SCHOOL
Kelly Barnhill pitched a 2-hit shutout and struck out 16 as the #1 Gators (29-1, 7-0 SEC) won their 22nd straight game and second straight over #6 Auburn (27-5, 2-3 SEC), 7-0, Sunday evening. The Gators will try to make it a sweep tonight when they face Auburn at 7 at Katie Seashole Presley Stadium.
The shutout was the 20th of the season for the Gators. Barnhill improved to 11-0 on the season and dropped her ERA to 0.20. Chelsea Herndon delivered 2 hits and a career-best 4 RBI.
The Gators are up 2 games in the SEC loss column over Texas A&M and Alabama (both 7-2 in SEC play).
MEN’S SWIMMING TEAM FINISHES THIRD IN NCAA MEET
Hats off to Gregg Troy, whose Florida men’s swimming team finished third at the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis. Caeleb Dressel brought home three individual championships and Mark Szaranek brought home won as UF finised in the top ten at the NCAA meet for the 41st time in school history.
GATORS FALL TO LSU BUT WIN THE WEEKEND SERIES
Florida’s 11th-ranked baseball team (16-9, 2-4 SEC) was cruising toward a weekend sweep of 4th-ranked LSU (18-7, 4-2 SEC) when the bullpen collapsed in the top of the eighth. The Gators led, 6-2, but the Tigers took the lead with three 2-run homers in the eighth inning and went on to take a 10-6 win.
The Gators face Florida State in Jacksonville Tuesday night and travel to Missouri (21-3, 4-2 SEC) next weekend in SEC play.
In other UF sports: The #1-ranked Florida women’s tennis team (16-1, 6-1 SEC) won two on the road over the weekend, knocking off #18 Arkansas, 4-3, on Friday and Missouri, 4-0, on Sunday … In lacrosse, the 3rd-ranked Gators (8-1, 2-0 Big East) won their eighth straight game by knocking off #13 Denver, 15-8, Saturday. The Gators travel to College Park to face #1 Maryland on Wednesday … Florida’s 12th-ranked men’s tennis team (12-6, 5-1 SEC) ran their winning streak to four straight with a 7-0 win over Vanderbilt Sunday afternoon in Gainesville.
FINAL FOUR THOUGHTS
There is an SEC team in the Final Four and it isn’t Kentucky. Now who would have thought that when the season began? As shocking as that might be, it’s an even bigger shock that the team the SEC is sending to the Final Four is South Carolina. That sets up a Final Four with Gonzaga, Oregon and South Carolina along with traditional blueblood North Carolina. This is the first Final Four for Gonzaga and South Carolina and the first in 78 years for Oregon. North Carolina was in the NCAA title game last year so it’s been there, done that for the Tar Heels. The oddity of having so many non-blueblood teams ranks right up there with the 2006 Final Four that saw upstarts Florida, LSU and George Mason crash the party with UCLA.
South Carolina’s next matchup is Gonzaga, which struggled to beat the Gators in Orlando back in November. Can the Gamecocks’ intense defense on the perimeter keep the Zags from getting the ball inside where they rotate two 7-footers and two 6-10s? Gonzaga had its problems with West Virginia’s press in the Sweet 16 game and while South Carolina won’t run the full court pressure, the Gamecocks swarm the perimeter and make it very difficult to (a) get off good shots and (b) find someone open in the paint.
The way Oregon blew the doors off Kansas has me re-thinking the Ducks as a legitimate national championship contender. I didn’t think they had the interior defense to win after Chris Boucher went down with a knee injury and was lost for the season but Jordan Bell blocked 8 shots against Kansas in the most dominating defensive game in the paint that we’ve seen in the tournament so far. I don’t know if Carolina has anyone capable of guarding Tyler Dorsey either.
Luke Maye, who hit the game winning shot for North Carolina Sunday, is the brother of Florida pitcher Cole May.
When the brackets were announced a couple of weeks ago, I had Villanova coming out of the East, Kentucky coming out of the South, Kansas coming out of the Midwest and Gonzaga winning the West.
Here are my predictions for next weekend although it’s Sunday and I do reserve the right to change my mind during the week: I like Gonzaga because the Zags have way too much size and a great point guard in Nigel Goss-Williams. North Carolina is a shaky pick over Oregon. That one might cause me to change my mind.
Three of the eight teams that made it to the Elite Eight were from the SEC. The ACC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and Big East contributed only one each. What makes this even more impressive is the fact the SEC ranked #32 out of 32 conferences in experience and six SEC teams were among the 25 youngest in the entire country (350 teams).
Former Michigan tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in the Orange Bowl game back in December, certainly ending any chance he would have of being taken in the first round of the May NFL Draft. Butt believes his injury is further reason why college football players should be paid or at the very least, use their notoriety to get a better deal. Butt used the example of buying tires for his car. NCAA rules say he can’t negotiate a better deal for himself because of his name recognition. “But Joe Schmo can down the street and he can negotiate his price,” Butt says. “It’s kind of ridiculous to me”
Former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris is transferring to North Carolina. Harris is eligible immediately. I have to wonder just how badly Cam Cameron screwed him up at LSU because Harris is an immensely talented kid.
Now that Kentucky has seen its season end in the Elite Eight loss to North Carolina, flags are certain to fly at half mast throughout the Commonwealth for at least a month. The expectations are always the same at UK – anything less than a national title is a major disappointment – and that makes me wonder how much longer John Calipari will hang around. Cal says he’s perfectly content to stay at UK where they pay him $8 million a year, but he’s not oblivious to the fact that he’s just another coach until he wins a second NCAA title. Adolph Rupp won four and since then Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and Calipari have won one each. At some point, I think Calipari will grow weary of the expectations and turn his attention back to the NBA. I doubt it will be this year but if he gets that second national title, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go.
Suffice to say, Lonzo Ball didn’t live up to his dad’s hype. LaVar ran his mouth all last week about how Lonzo was the greatest thing since the invention of the two-topping pizza. Against Kentucky, Lonzo scored 10 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and handed out 8 assists. Kentucky’s De’Andre Fox ate him for lunch. Fox sored 39 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and passed for 4 assists. I’ve watched both of those kids all season. Lonzo is good, but if I’m an NBA scout and my choice for a point guard is Lonzo or De’Andre Fox, Fox is my guy.
Watching Joel Berry III (Lake Highland Prep) and Tony Bradley (Bartow) play for North Carolina, I had to wonder what Florida basketball would have looked like if those two had signed with the Gators.
Within hours after UCLA coach Steve Alford made it perfectly clear he’s content where he is, Indiana hired Archie Miller from Dayton. Miller is a terrific bench coach and a seriously good recruiter. He’ll get players at Indiana that he never dreamed of landing at Dayton. Ask Chandler Parsons how good a recruiter Miller is. If Chandler hadn’t signed with the Gators he would have gone to Arizona State, where Miller was Herb Sendek’s lead assistant.
The Washington Post says Georgetown’s list of candidates to replace the fired John Thompson III includes Tommy Amaker (Harvard), Mike Brey (Notre Dame) and Shaka Smart (Texas). I’d bet on Amaker, who played his high school ball in suburban DC before playing collegiately at Duke.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
This isn’t the first time the question has been asked but since college football players can have their careers and lifetime health endangered due to catastrophic injuries, shouldn’t they be paid to play?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I keep discovering new music out of Asheville, North Carolina, which is the home of Freeway Revival, which will be coming out with its second album in a few weeks. Today’s music is a concert at the Pisgah Brewing Company in Asheville recorded just three days ago on March 24.