A few thoughts to jump start your Sunday morning.
#1 AND PLAYING LIKE IT
If you were one of those fretting about the Gators, thinking they had tired legs or perhaps the pressure of being #1 was getting to them, put your fears to bed. Reports of their impending demise are greatly exaggerated. Saturday the Gators took a very good LSU team to the woodshed on both ends of the court, playing their most complete game since the win over Kentucky in Lexington back on February 15. The difference in Florida vs. LSU and Florida vs. Vanderbilt earlier in the week was all between the ears. Billy Donovan says this is not a tired team, but instead is one that simply had to refocus and tune out all the things that have nothing to do with what happens on the court. It was back to playing every possession like it’s the only one that matters. Defensively, the Gators made LSU very ordinary and that is not easy to do. The Tigers are one of the better offensive teams in the country and nothing came easy because Florida brought double teams from all angles so quickly that it was impossible for adjustments. Offensively, we saw players with good shots pass them up to someone with a better one. The result was 13-23 from the 3-point line. When the Gators play defense like that and share the ball so unselfishly, they are next to impossible to beat.
SO WHY WERE THEY GRINDING GAMES OUT?
I believe the Gators were bored. We saw that in 2007. Remember that 3-game losing streak in February? That had everything to do with boredom and nothing to do with being tired. When they got motivated again, they slashed and burned their way to their second straight NCAA championship. I think this year’s Florida team got bored after those big road wins at Tennessee and Kentucky, and spent the next three games just doing whatever they needed to do to win. I think they took one look at LSU, realized the Tigers had the talent to beat them and the incentive of what a signature win over the nation’s #1 team could do to enhance their chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament, and I think that snapped the boredom and got them focused once again.
IT’S SPRING BREAK AT UF
That means mat drills are over and when the football team returns to Gainesville a week from today they will be shifting gears to get ready for spring practice. The importance of Florida’s spring practice can’t be emphasized enough and it goes far beyond getting a fresh start offensively with new coordinator Kurt Roper and finally getting some development on the offensive line after the three-year nightmare of Frank Verducci and Tim Davis. Whether the Gators are running Roper’s spread or lining up in the single wing is inconsequential. It really doesn’t matter what scheme is the flavor of the day on either side of the ball. The only thing that matters this spring is that Will Muschamp gets the Gators locked in and focused on winning once again. Losing is contagious. If you don’t believe it, take a look at Tennessee. Remember when the Vols challenged the Gators every year for the SEC championship? They haven’t had a winning season since the 7-6 Lane Kiffin pulled off in 2009. So much of the Tennessee downfall has everything to do with attitude. Losing in Knoxville isn’t nearly as painful as it used to be and once you get numbed to losing, losing becomes acceptable. Spring practice can only provide a foundation for the future, but every single day, Muschamp needs to make certain the Gators relive the pain of last season. It sounds harsh but the alternative is to become like Tennessee, a once great program that is a mere shell of itself.
STORMING THE FLOOR IN COLUMBIA
South Carolina fans stormed the floor in Columbia Saturday evening when the Gamecocks held on to knock off Kentucky. That is the second loss of the week for the Wildcats, who could very well tank in the last week of the season. South Carolina won the game because Frank Martin has a team that plays and has no shortage of chemistry. Talent? That’s a different story, but Saturday talent didn’t matter because South Carolina’s chemistry trumped Kentucky’s lack of chemistry. This is the second straight Kentucky team that has (a) no heart and (b) no chemistry. John Calipari can blame Kentucky’s woes on youth all he wants but he’s won with freshmen before. These guys are a really bad fit. Cal got tossed from the South Carolina game, prompting the Lexington Herald-Leader’s fine columnist John Clay to write, “In the end, the coach who preaches accountability was nowhere to be found.” This was a meltdown and it makes you wonder if Calipari is starting to tire of life in the Kentucky fishbowl where his every move is charted and analyzed. You can bet all that is sacred that it is not lost on Calipari that at Kentucky he’s just another coach until he’s won four national championships. At some point, you have to wonder when he elects to bail.
Championships never grow old! At the Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships in College Station, Texas, Florida’s women came home with the SEC title by bringing home first place finishes in the distance medley relay and the 4X400 relay. The Gators finished with 102 points while host Texas A&M finished second with 96.5. It was the eighth SEC indoor championship in school history. Florida’s men finished second to Arkansas, which won its third straight SEC title. It was the sixth straight year that the Gators have finished either first or second in the SEC indoors.
A GREAT DAY TO BE A GATOR
Florida’s #1-ranked softball team beat Fordham, 9-2, and Ohio State, 9-1, behind outstanding pitching and three home runs from Lauren Haeger, who pitched a 3-hitter and hit two homers in the win over Ohio State to improve her record to 6-0. Freshman Delanie Gourley improved to 6-0 in the win over Fordham, backed up by two homers by Kristi Merritt and one each by Haeger and Stephanie Toft … Florida’s #23 baseball team got five innings of 1-hit baseball from Karsten Whitson and four innings of 2-hit relief from Aaron Rhodes while shutting out Florida Gulf Coast, 6-0 … Florida’s #7 women’s lacrosse team took out #15 Stony Brook, 14-1, as Shannon Gilroy, Mollie Stevens and Devon Schneider each racked up three goals.
TELL US HOW YOU REALLY FEEL, MARK CUBAN
No fan of the one-and-done rule and other NCAA hypocrisy, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes that eventually the better players will opt for a season in the NBA Developmental League where they can get paid to play rather than spend a year in college. In an interview with ESPN, Cuban said, “The NCAA rules are so hypocritical, there’s absolutely no reason for a kid to go [to college], because he’s not going to class [and] he’s actually not even able to take advantage of all the fun because the first semester he starts playing basketball. So if the goal is just to graduate to the NBA or be an NBA player, go to the D-League.” Cuban believes that eventually, the NBA will come up with a plan that will allow kids to pursue their college educations while playing in the D-league. As for the NCAA, Cuban says, “There’s no reason for the NCAA to exist. None.”
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I got my introduction to Ted Nugent in 1968 when the Amboy Dukes came out with the album “Journey to the Center of the Mind,” which featured Nugent on the guitar. We called the music “psychedelic” in those days. When our parents heard this music they suddenly decided that The Beatles really weren’t so bad after all. The single “Journey to the Center of the Mind” became a hit on the pop charts. On the flip side (we bought 45s in those days) was “Mississippi Murderer” which was blues straight out of the Mississippi Delta.