A few thoughts to jump start your Sunday morning.
TOUGH WAY TO END IT
Had the Gators played their very best game and gone down in flames on a buzzer beater it would probably be easier to take than their 63-53 loss to UConn Saturday night in the NCAA semifinals. This was a Final Four that just set up so well for the Gators – two teams that had squeezed out wins during the regular season when the Gators weren’t at full strength and a Kentucky team they had beaten three times already. But, it just wasn’t to be and so there will be no national championship this year.
Give plenty of credit to UConn, which elected to take Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II out of the game while taking their chances that the other guys couldn’t beat them. Given the results – Frazier and Wilbekin combined for only 7 points when they came into the game averaging a combined 26 – it was a gamble well worth taking. In the 30 straight wins leading up to Saturday’s loss, the Gators had always found ways to compensate when other teams tried to take one or two players out, but Casey Prather couldn’t do it alone the first 30 minutes and Patric Young needed help in the last 10 when he scored 16 of his 19 points.
This was a great season by a great team, but the ending is disappointing and there’s no getting around that. Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete gave us their best for four straight years and their hard work and contributions resulted in the best four year run of Florida basketball in school history. These seniors AVERAGED 30 wins a year and they go out on a 36-3 note. Maybe it isn’t the finish we all wanted or envisioned, but these guys can go out with their heads held high knowing they did the best they could but came up just a tad short of the goal.
It’s doubtful the Gators will be picked in anyone’s top 10 when the season begins next year, but there will be no shortage of talent. The Gators will actually be taller and could have more weapons on the perimeter than they had this year. The one thing you have to question is chemistry. The impact the four seniors had on leadership and team chemistry is immeasurable and it’s hard to imagine there are four players who can step into their shoes in those categories but there might be one or two. If the Gators can find a leader who the others will follow, there is a real chance this team could bond and build the chemistry it will take to be a challenger for the SEC championship. Team chemistry will be a big if but not the talent.
YOU CALL THESE GUYS GREAT GATORS
When football practice began at 5:50 a.m. Friday, the Gators were joined by former players Matt Elam (Baltimore Ravens), Jelani Jenkins (Miami Dolphins) and Josh Evans (Jacksonville Jaguars), who ran with the team. That is just the kind of thing that builds confidence in the coaches and the football program when the guys who are now playing for pay are willing to come back and be a part of workouts. It says plenty about the character of those three and it tells you plenty about their loyalty to the Muschamp and the University of Florida.
WILL ANYONE PICK UCONN TO UPSET KENTUCKY?
All Wisconsin had to do was make three free throws at one end and at the other end take away the 3-ball and it would be playing UConn Monday for the national championship. But, Traveon Jackson bricked the first of three free throws and on the defensive end Josh Gasser had to be smart enough to know that two points couldn’t beat the Badgers, but three could. When Gasser didn’t come out on him, Aaron Harrison drilled a game-winning 3-pointer from almost the exact same spot that he drilled the game-winner against Michigan to set up a Kentucky-UConn national championship game Monday night. While it will be easy to cheer for UConn, which will be a decided underdog, it’s hard to imagine that the Huskies can handle Kentucky’s size and length in and around the basket or that Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright will be able to get their shots off. Stranger things have happened than a UConn national championship, but there has already been enough strange in this season. I can’t imagine Kentucky losing this game. If the Wildcats win the game, at least the Gators will be able to say they went 3-0 against the national champions.
WILL NORTHWESTERN PLAYERS VOTE NO TO UNIONIZE?
Media reports have made it seem as if Northwestern University’s football players were very much in favor of forming a union but apparently that is not the case. The Northwestern players will vote on April 25 and several players have already spoken out against a union although they do say there are some changes that need to be made to benefit athletes. “Things do need to change, and I hope the NCAA sees that,” Northwestern’s Venric Mark told ESPN. “But at the end of the day, Northwestern treats us very well, and we do not need a third party to come in between us and the coaches.” The idea of unionizing won’t go away if the Northwestern players vote against a union, but it will be a serious blow to the cause.”
GYMNASTS WIN UNIVERSITY PARK REGIONAL
The Gators had to count a fall when two gymnasts uncharacteristically fell off the balance beam and there were point deductions on the floor due to a stumbled landing. That didn’t stop the #1-ranked Florida gymnastics team from winning the University Park Regional over Penn State, Oregon State, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Maryland. Alaina Johnson won the all-around title and tied for the beam title while Bridget Sloan won the vault and shared the bars title with Mackenzie Caquatto. Kytra Hunter won the floor competition. Next up for the Gators is the NCAA Championships in Birmingham April 18-20.
FLORIDA SPORTS ROUNDUP
Florida’s 20th-ranked baseball team (20-11, 7-4 SEC) withstood a furious Kentucky rally that saw the 19th-ranked Wildcats score eight in the bottom of the eighth inning and two more in the bottom of the ninth to take an 11-10 win that evened their series in Lexington at a game apiece. Taylor Gushue homered and drove in four runs and freshman third baseman John Sternagel went 4-5 with two RBI. A.J. Puk got the final two outs in the bottom of the ninth to earn his first save of the season … Shannon Gilroy scored seven second half goals to rally the #4 women’s lacrosse team (13-2, 4-0 American Lacrosse Conference) past #13 Johns Hopkins in Baltimore … The 6th-ranked softball team (33-8, 7-7 SEC) got two homers from Kirsti Merritt and one from Stephanie Toft as the Gators scored a 7-6 win over Auburn at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. The Gators go for the sweep at 1 p.m. today.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
While I have a deep love and appreciation for the music of Eric Clapton dating back to the 1960s when Cream cranked out those incredible four albums in four years, the acoustic work he did in the 1990s was just phenomenal. I still listen to “Unplugged” about once every week or two. In 1996, Clapton performed “Change the World” for the movie “Phenomenon” which starred John Travolta. It remains one of my top ten favorite songs of all time.