It was about 35 minutes following the conclusion of Florida’s 70-68 victory against visiting Kentucky on Saturday night and Billy Donovan was at the press room podium answering questions from the media when a reporter accidentally misspoke.
“Billy, your team has now beaten everyone in the SEC East…” the writer had started to say when he was interrupted.
“Not everyone,” Donovan said. “Not South Carolina.”
In no way was Donovan trying to take away from the excitement of the thrilling defeat of the Wildcats. He may have enjoyed that win almost as much as his players.
No, when you have led your program to a pair of national championships, you tend to have more of a big picture outlook. And in the case of No. 17/19 UF (18-5, 7-2 in the SEC), this year’s big picture includes a 72-69 loss to the Gamecocks on Jan. 15.
And with a firm one-and-a-half game lead on second-place Tennessee (15-8, 5-3) – a team Florida already has beaten on the road – now is the time the Gators can take a chokehold on the East.
If Florida wins at South Carolina (13-8, 4-4) on Wednesday night and Kentucky (16-6, 4-4), as expected, defeats visiting UT on Tuesday night, UF will hold at least a two-game lead in the loss column over every other team in the division with six games to play.
“I like where we are right now, but there is still more work to do,” said SEC player of the week Chandler Parsons. “We need to keep it up.”
MIDWEEK PICKS: Here are my picks for the midweek SEC games.
Georgia 71, Xavier 65; Kentucky 74, Tennessee 71; Mississippi State 67, Arkansas 66; Florida 76, South Carolina 62; Mississippi 81, LSU 67; Alabama 70, Vanderbilt 66. Auburn is off until Saturday.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR/ANSWERS FROM
1. Perhaps Kentucky’s biggest weakness is one of Florida’s biggest strengths – center play. Wildcats’ senior Josh Harrellson has been a little better than expected, scoring six points- and grabbing nine rebounds-a-game. Backup Eloy Vargas (2.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg) has been as ineffective at UK as he was at UF early in his career. By all means Vernon Macklin and Patric Young should dominate the position, even though UK does block 6.7 shots-a-game as a team. Will UF’s bigs control the paint?
Answer: Macklin and Young combined to score 13 points, grab five rebounds and block a shot. They were better than UK’s pair of Josh Harrellson and former Gator Eloy Vargas (a combined six points, six rebounds and one block), but not by as much as one might have expected.
2. Kentucky’s freshman power forward Terrence Jones (17.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg) is on the short list of candidates for the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the year (for that matter, so is teammate Brandon Knight: (17.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.8 apg).Also among 30 on the midseason list for the John R. Wooden Award (given to the nation’s outstanding player), Jones can score inside and out, driving to the hole or on a stop and pop. How will UF’s staff decide to defend Jones?
Answer: The Gators used multiple defenders on Jones, though Alex Tyus seemed to get most of the work. In all, the standout freshman finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, two blocked shots, two assists and only one turnover. That is a good line, no doubt. However, UF did force him into a 7-for-18 (.389) shooting performance, and UK fans have begun to clamor for him to be more unselfish with the ball.
3. Kenny Boynton has made 29-of-31 free throws since SEC play began. Boynton admitted after Tuesday night’s victory against Vanderbilt that he needed to work to get to the line more. Will he? And will his run of success continue?
Answer: Boynton finished 3-for-3 from the foul line against Kentucky. The sophomore shooting guard has made 19 straight free throws, and in the final three minutes of games this year, he is 9-of-10.
4. Harrellson and Jones are tied for the SEC lead with an average of nine rebounds-a-game, respectively, and UK is 13-1 this season when outrebounding its opponent. Florida, meanwhile, leads the league in rebounding margin at plus-7.0 (UK is fourth at 5.4). Who will be the better rebounding team?
Answer: Both teams grabbed 32 boards on Saturday night. Harrellson ended up with five rebounds and Jones had seven. Florida’s Chandler Parsons led all players with 12.
5. Kentucky has three players making at least 40-percent of their three-point attempts, as Doron Lamb (.477) leads the SEC, Darius Miller (.456) is second and Brandon Knight (.402) is seventh. Not far off that ridiculous pace is No. 19 DeAndre Liggins (.358) and 34th-ranked Terrence Jones (.314). As a team, Kentucky shoots easily a league-best .399 from three-point range (Vanderbilt is next at .369) and makes 7.7-a-game, while UF’s defense allows just opponents to make 5.73 threes-a-game at a .317 clip, seventh-best in the conference. The Gators may need to play their best perimeter defensive game of the year. Can they do it?
Answer: Aside from Knight (game-high 24 points), none of UK’s perimeter standouts did much. Knight was 4-of-5 from three-point range, but the one miss was a biggie, as it would have won the game at the buzzer. The rest of UK’s three-point shooters against UF: Lamb (1-for-2), Miller (1-for-1) and Jones (1-for-4). Liggins didn’t attempt a three-pointer. As a team, UK made 7-of-12 (58.3 percent) from deep, but the Gators did a good job limiting the Wildcats’ opportunities from behind the arc.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR
1. Gamecocks’ freshman guard Bruce Ellington was tremendous in South Carolina’s 72-69 victory in Gainesville on Jan. 15. He scored a game-high 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting (including 3-of-7 from three-point range), made all four of his foul shots, grabbed four rebounds, dished out three assists, had a steal and turned the ball over just once in 30 minutes. How will he do in the rematch?
2. South Carolina jumped out quickly and had a 10-point lead at the half in the first encounter. Florida outscored its visitors 44-37 in a high-scoring second half, but it wasn’t enough. Will the Gators start quicker this time around?
3. Despite facing one of the league’s best shot-blockers (second in the SEC) and rebounders (12th) in South Carolina’s Sam Muldrow, UF center Vernon Macklin recorded a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds)in addition to two blocks in the first meeting between the two teams. Likewise, backup center Patric Young may have had his best game as a Gator, scoring 12 points, grabbing five rebounds and blocking one shot in 19 minutes. Will UF’s centers come close to repeating their first-game performances?
4. South Carolina ranks 27th in the nation with 39 rebounds-a-game. Florida is 29th with 38.9 rpg. Oddly, though, the Gators average a plus-6.7 rebounding margin, while the Gamecocks are just plus-1.5. The Gamecocks outrebounded UF, 39-36, in the first meeting. Who pulls down the most boards this time?
5. Chandler Parsons is in the middle of perhaps the best playing run of his career and was just named the SEC’s player of the week. Will his great work continue?
GAME 24 PREVIEW
No. 17/19 FLORIDA GATORS (18-5, 7-2)
Position: Players, Height/Weight, Year, 2010-11 statistics
G: Erving Walker, 5-8/171, JR, 14.2 points per game, 3.4 assists per game
G: Kenny Boynton, 6-2/183, SO, 13.0 points per game, 2.4 assists per game
F: Chandler Parsons, 6-10/218, SR, 11.0 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game
F: Alex Tyus, 6-8/220, SR, 8.8 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game
C: Vernon Macklin, 6-10/240, SR, 11.1 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game
Head coach: Billy Donovan (349-144 in 15th season at Florida; 384-164 in 17th season as a head coach)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (13-8, 4-4)
Position: Players, Height/Weight, Year, 2010-11 statistics
G: Ramon Galloway, 6-2/176, SO, 10.8 points per game, 2.3 rebounds per game
G: Bruce Ellington, 5-9/197, FR, 14.4 points per game, 3.4 assists per game
G: Damontre Harris, 6-9/218, FR, 3.4 points per game, 3.3 rebounds per game
F: Lakeem Jackson, 6-5/230, SO, 8.7 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game
F: Sam Muldrow, 6-9/229, SR, 10.8 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game
Head coach: Darrin Horn (49-33 in third season at South Carolina; 160-81 in eighth season as a head coach)
When: Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m.
Where: Colonial Center (Columbia, SC)
TV/Radio: SEC Network/Gator Radio Network
Tickets: Available. Visit http://www.ticketmaster.com
Notable: Florida leads the all-time series between the two teams, 36-22, and have won 20-of-the-last-26 in the series. However, South Carolina has won the last two games between the two teams, including beating the Gators, 72-69, in Gainesville on Jan. 15. … Under Billy Donovan, Florida is 20-13 against the Gamecocks, including 5-3 at the Colonial Center (where UF hasn’t won since 2008). … South Carolina beat UF on a buzzer-beater in 2009, and Florida did the same to the Gamecocks last year. Eleven of the last 13 games between the two SEC East rivals have been decided by six points or fewer. … Just 3-7 against the East last season, the Gators already are 4-1 in the division this year. … Florida enters this contest having won back-to-back games against ranked opponents (No. 23/24 Vanderbilt and No. 10/11 Kentucky) for the first time since 2007. The Gators went 0-4 combined against the Commodores and Wildcats in 2009-10. … Erving Walker dished out five assists in the victory against Kentucky. Florida is 25-2 all-time when Walker records at least five assists. … A win would give Donovan 350 in his career at UF. If South Carolina wins, coach Darrin Horn would earn his 50th victory with the Gamecocks. It also would give South Carolina its first season sweep of Florida since 1998. … Gamecocks’ senior forward Sam Muldrow ranks second in the SEC and fifth nationally with 3.5 blocks-a-game. … The Gators are 5-1 in SEC games decided by six points or less. They were just 3-5 in similar games last year. … With a field goal in overtime last Tuesday against Vanderbilt, UF senior power forward Alex Tyus became the fifth player in the Donovan Era to reach 500 career field goals. The others are Udonis Haslem (633), Matt Bonner (580), David Lee (543) and Anthony Roberson (514). Currently at 466, senior forward Chandler Parsons could reach the milestone before his career concludes. … Tyus enters the South Carolina game with exactly 1,200 career points. … In 17 of UF’s 23 games this year either Vernon Macklin (nine) or Tyus (eight) has scored the Gators’ first basket of the contest. Tyus and Macklin also are tied for the team’s dunk lead with 20 apiece. Parsons is close behind with 17. … Florida and South Carolina are holding opponents to the exact same shooting percentage this season (.413). … Parsons has pulled down an average of 12.0 rebounds in his last five games (grabbing double figures in boards in each of those outings) to move into a tie for third place in the SEC at 7.7 rpg. The senior swingman also ranks seventh in assists (3.6), ninth in three-point shooting (.391) and 14th in overall field goal percentage (.485). The most recently named SEC player of the week, Parsons has recorded double-doubles in three-of-his-last-five games, including UF’s two most recent outings – home victories against ranked Vanderbilt and Kentucky. … Freshman forward Will Yeguete has pulled down 70 rebounds in 175 minutes this year. That’s an average of 0.4-per-minute-played. That is an average of 16 rebounds-per-40-minutes. That is easily tops in the SEC. Tennessee’s Brian Williams is second at 13.8. … Boynton is 4-for-4 on three-point play conversions and 4-for-4 on four-point play conversions this season. … Boynton (60-of-72 for .833) and Erik Murphy (20-of-24 for .833) lead UF in free-throw shooting this season. … Macklin recently blocked the 50th shot of his Gator career. He needs one assist for 40. … Parsons needs just three points to reach 1,300 for his career. Surprisingly, Parsons is the only one of the Gators’ regular starters (Parsons, Tyus, Macklin, Walker, Boynton) to not have a 20-point game this year. The senior swingman will be playing in his team-high 130th consecutive game (and starting for the team-high 41st straight time) for UF on Wednesday. … Tyus (128), Walker (82) and Parsons (71) have not fouled out in a combined 281 games. … Florida was 8-9 away from Gainesville last season. The Gators are 7-2 outside the O’Connell Center this year, including 5-1 in true road games. … Spanning the last 11 seasons, UF is the only team in the SEC with a better than .500 record against ranked opponents. During that stretch, Florida is 45-36 (.556) against ranked teams. Next on the list are Tennessee (34-35, .493) and Kentucky (50-52, .490). … The Gators have yet to be whistled for a 10-second violation or have a player foul out in 2010-11. At 2.3 fouls-per-game, Macklin is the only Gator to average at least two this season. … UF has 95 blocked shots as a team this year. The Gators blocked 94 shots all of last year. … Florida is 7-1 this year when it blocks at least five shots. … The Gators have drawn 18 charges this year with Walker (six) and Young (five) leading the way. … This will be UF’s final midweek game until hosting Georgia on Feb. 24. The Gators have from this coming Saturday (hosting Tennessee) until the next Sunday (at Louisiana State) off. … It’s close, but Florida’s bench has outscored opposing benches this year, 311-305. … The Gators have made at least one three-pointer in 635 consecutive games entering Wednesday night’s contest at South Carolina. … UF freshman guard Scottie Wilbekin ranks 21st in the league with 1.09 steals-a-game. However, that comes in just 17.1 minutes-per-game. If you figure his total per 40 minutes, Wilbekin ranks third in the SEC with 2.54 spg. Auburn’s Josh Wallace (1.96 spg) leads the conference in steals-per-game and would be second (2.86) per-40-minutes to Alabama’s Senario Hillman (3.11). Wilbekin has turned the ball over only 17 times in 23 games this year. He has the league’s best steal-turnover ratio (1.47).
PAST EXAMS AND GATOR(GR)ADES
Game 1: Florida 77, UNC Wilmington 60. Gator Player of the Game: Scottie Wilbekin (3 points, 5 assists, 4 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Chad Tomko (15 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: B– . Record: 1-0.
Game 2: Ohio State 93, Florida 75. Gator Player of the Game: Vernon Macklin (12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block); Opposing Players of the Game: David Lighty (26 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal) and Jared Sullinger (26 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C. Record: 1-1.
Game 3: Florida 105, North Carolina A&T 55. Gator Player of the Game: Will Yeguete (7 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Thomas Coleman (8 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A– . Record: 2-1.
Game 4: Florida 61, Morehead State 55. Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (13 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Kenneth Faried (20 points, 18 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots. Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C– . Record: 3-1.
Game 5: Florida 79, Florida Atlantic 63. Gator Players of the Game: Alex Tyus (19 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist) and Kenny Boynton (21 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound); Opposing Player of the Game: Greg Gantt (17 points, 2 assists, 1 steal). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: B-. Record: 4-1.
Game 6: Florida 55, Florida State 51. Gator Player of the Game: Erik Murphy (10 points, 6 rebounds, 1 blocked shot); Opposing Player of the Game: Michael Snaer (15 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 5-1.
Game 7: Central Florida 57, Florida 54. Gator Player of the Game: Vernon Macklin (20 points on 10-of-11 shooting, 8 rebounds); Opposing Player of the Game: Marcus Jordan (18 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C-. Record: 5-2.
Game 8: Florida 67, American 48. Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (13 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Troy Brewer (17 points, 2 rebounds). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 6-2.
Game 9: Florida 65, Kent State 52. Gator Players of the Game: Alex Tyus (20 points on 10-of-15 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist) and Vernon Macklin (19 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, 1 steal, 1 assist); Opposing Player of the Game: Carlton Guyton (14 points, 4-of-6 on three-pointers, 3 rebounds, 3 assists). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 7-2.
Game 10: Florida 57, Kansas State 44. Gator Players of the Game: Kenny Boynton (15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, 1 assist, helped limit Pullen to 6-of-17 shooting); Opposing Player of the Game: Jacob Pullen (19 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 8-2.
Game 11: Jacksonville 71, Florida 68 (OT). Gator Player of the Game: Erving Walker (game-high 21 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound); Opposing Player of the Game: Keith McDougald (team-high 18 points – 15 in the second half/overtime, 2 steals, 1 rebound). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: D+. Record: 8-3.
Game 12: Florida 66, Radford 55. Gator Player of the Game: Erving Walker (game-high 20 points, including 5-of-7 on 3s, 3 assists, 2 steals); Opposing Player of the Game: Johnathan Edwards (team-high 15 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 assist). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C-. Record: 9-3.
Game 13: Florida 71, Xavier 67. Gator Player of the Game: Kenny Boynton (16 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal); Opposing Player of the Game: Tu Holloway (game-high 26 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A. Record: 10-3.
Game 14: Florida 84, Rhode Island 59. Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (18 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 blocked shot); Opposing Player of the Game: Delroy James (game-high 23 points, 6 rebounds). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A. Record: 11-3.
Game 15: Florida 77, Mississippi 71. Gator Player of the Game: Erving Walker (20 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, becomes 47th Gator to record 1,000 career points); Opposing Player of the Game: Chris Warren (20 points, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 rebounds, 1 blocked shot). Buddy’s Gator(Gr)ade: B+. Record: 12-3 (1-0 in the SEC).
Game 16: Florida 81, Tennessee 75 (OT). Gator Player of the Game: Alex Tyus (18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, 1 steal); Opposing Players of the Game: Cameron Tatum (game-high 21 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 blocked shot, 1 steal) and Tobias Harris (18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocked shots). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 13-3 (2-0).
Game 17: South Carolina 72, Florida 69 Gator Player of the Game: Patric Young (career-high 12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 blocked shot, 1 steal, 2-for-2 FTs in 19 minutes); Opposing Player of the Game: Bruce Ellington (game-high 23 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 4-for-4 on FTs, 1 turnover in 30 minutes). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: D+. Record: 13-4 (2-1).
Game 18: Florida 45, Auburn 40 Gator Player of the Game: No award given; Opposing Player of the Game: Earnest Ross (11 points, 3-of-4 three-pointers, 3 rebounds, game-high 3 steals). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: D. Record: 14-4 (3-1).
Game 19: Florida 75, Arkansas 43 Gator Players of the Game: Kenny Boynton (20 points, 4-of-7 three-pointers, 4 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers, held Razorbacks’ leading scorer, Rotnei Clark, shotless) and Chandler Parsons (career-high 15 rebounds, 5 points, game-high 5 assists); Opposing Player of the Game: Delvon Johnson (12 points, team-high 7 rebounds, 1 blocked shot). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A. Record: 15-4 (4-1).
Game 20: Florida 104, Georgia 91 (2 OT) Gator Players of the Game: Vernon Macklin (career-high 23 points, 10-of-15 from floor, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal), Kenny Boynton (game-high 24 points, 12-of-12 FTs, 2 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals) and Erving Walker (game-high 24 points, game-tying 3 at end of first OT, 5 assists, 4 rebounds); Opposing Player of the Game: Trey Thompkins (20 points, game-high 13 rebounds, game-high 3 blocked shots). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A-. Record: 16-4 (5-1).
Game 21: Mississippi State 71, Florida 64 Gator Players of the Game: Erving Walker (team-high 18 points, 5 rebounds, team-high 4 assists, 2 turnovers); Opposing Player of the Game: Dee Bost (game-high 24 points, game-high 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 turnover). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: C. Record: 16-5 (5-2).
Game 22: Florida 65, Vanderbilt 61 (OT) Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (team-high 18 points, game-high 11 rebounds with 4 offensive, 3 steals, 2 assists, 1 turnover in 39 minutes); Opposing Player of the Game: John Jenkins (game-high 22 points, 6 rebounds 1 steal, 1 turnover in 42 minutes). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: B. Record: 17-5 (6-2).
Game 23: Florida 70, Kentucky 68 Gator Player of the Game: Chandler Parsons (team-high 17 points, game-high 12 rebounds with 3 offensive, 5 assists, 1 blocked shot, no turnovers in 37 minutes); Opposing Player of the Game: Brandon Knight (game-high 24 points, 4-of-5 three-pointers, 6-for-6 FTs, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 blocked shot, 4 turnovers in 36 minutes). Patton’s Gator(Gr)ade: A. Record: 18-5 (7-2).