Saturday afternoon the Gators return to the warm weather, and even warmer hospitality of South Florida and its annual Orange Bowl Basketball Classic. This year’s game is against Air Force and tips off at 4:30 p.m/
Much to the enjoyment of typically pro-Gators crowds, it is an event Florida has dominated – winning 12 of its 13 appearances. Those audiences have been treated not only to victories, but also some compelling performances.
As two-time event MVP, Kenny Boynton prepares to make his curtain call today. We look back not only on his special Orange Bowl moments, but also the best individual efforts the series has witnessed. Without further adieu, here are the top 5 Gators performances in the ‘Classic’s brief history:
5) Udonis Haslem, 1998: Statistically, this performance may not be on par with other entries on the list, but it could aptly be pointed to as Udonis Haslem’s coming out party. The 6-foot-77 freshman was perhaps the least touted of a much heralded class that included Mike Miller and Teddy Dupay, but would of course prove to be an all-time Gator great. The burly freshman served notice on Dec. 27, 1998 with a dominantly efficient performance against the Michigan Wolverines. In a surprisingly easy victory, Haslem led his squad in scoring and rebounding, tallying 13 points on 6 of 7 shooting and snaring 7 boards. It was an effort that gave Coach Donovan his first-ever victory over a Big Ten school, and provided Haslem with his first MVP award for the event. Those “firsts” would not be “lasts”… not by a long shot.
4) Matt Walsh, 2004: This was the third of Walsh’s three MVP performances for the event, a feat matched only by the fore mentioned, Haslem. On November 27, the junior guard torched his coach’s alma-mater, Providence, for 21 points with a blistering 7 of 11 shooting performance that included 5 from beyond the arc. It would prove to be Walsh’s last appearance at the OBC, as he unexpectedly declared for the NBA draft following the season. Walsh averaged over 23 points and nearly 7 rebounds in those games at the American Airlines Arena, and hit all 24 of his free throws. Unfortunately, the once friendly confines proved far harsher at the next level, as Walsh was cut from the Miami Heat after only a couple games in that very same arena. He is currently enjoying a successful career overseas, most recently playing in Belgium.
3) Kenny Boynton, 2011: “It is always great to come back home and have a great performance,” Boynton said after Florida dismantled soon-to-be rival Texas A&M. And a great performance it was. The South Florida native led the Gators to an 84-64 win over the Aggies, pouring in 22 points, including six from long distance. Though pleased with his outing and happy to capture his second straight MVP of the event, the team-driven Boynton was “more happy with the win”. Gator fans are hoping he is happy again Saturday night and perhaps in elite company as a 3-time ‘Classic’ award winner.
2) Udonis Haslem, 2000: Revenge is a dish best served — by Udonis Haslem. Two seasons removed from a heart-breaking NCAA tourney loss to Gonzaga, Haslem and co. met the Bulldogs again on December 16, 2000. Though the stakes were not nearly as high, the Gators motivation was — especially for its junior center. Haslem surely relished all 27 points and 10 rebounds in an 85-71 victory. It was a performance that not only avenged a freshman defeat, but captured for Haslem his second of three event MVP awards. The final would come his senior season in a 22 point, 13 rebound win over UNCC.
1) Matt Walsh, 2002: On Dec. 21, 2002, Freshman Matt Walsh set a precedent — he would dominate the Orange Bowl Classic each time he played in the event. And though he did, Walsh did not ‘save the best for last’. In his first appearance, a double overtime thriller against state-rival Miami, Walsh exploded for 33 points on 7 of 10 shooting. It was a scoring tally unseen by a Florida freshman since 1981. He also drilled 5 of his 6 three-point attempts and hit all 14 free throws. Every one of them was critical, as the Gators escaped with a one-point victory and Walsh garnered his first of three MVP awards.