Florida Football shoots self in foot

I’ve been meaning to write about Gator football for several weeks, but I’ve been distracted with changing careers and moving back to Gainesville. Anyway, here’s my assessment of the season so far:

We’re good. Really, really good. Our earlier games showed that we’re a strong team with talent on all sides of the ball (I’m lumping special teams in there, too). We’re tough and able to finish games, we have a very potent offense and our defense is stifling. The Chris Leak, Tim Tebow duo is easily one of the best quarterback rotations in the country right now (and is probably one of the better ones in Florida football history). It’s been really fun to watch this team improve and I think we’re the favorite to win the SEC right now.

All that being said, we stunk in the second half at Auburn. Auburn didn’t outplay us, they didn’t out hustle us, we beat ourselves by making several stupid mistakes. I think the first half showed how good we are and the second half showed how dumb we can be. We were clearly the better team and we just melted down in the second half. They brought more intensity, but we were our biggest enemy. Their offense scored only three points in the second half, but our special teams gave up the winning touchdown.

I could rant about that for a while, but the bottom line is we made several stupid mistakes and it cost us. I think there’s a good chance we’ll play Auburn again in the SEC Championship and we’ll beat them by at least two touchdowns if we do (I feel like the magic number is 17 points, but I’m only predicting two touchdowns).

We coulda’ been a contender. We can still be somebody if we can win in ATL in December.

Basketball team improves to a mediocre 2-4

We’ve had two more games since my last post. The first one, we led until just a few minutes left in the game, when our team basically just ran out of gas and couldn’t convert on offense. It was a very frustrating game because we outplayed the other team, but they had a big size advantage and the refs allowed them to beat up on us throughout the game. In the end, they simply wore us down and ended up winning by three (we’d led by as many as 12 in the second half).

This week, we got our second win and it felt pretty good. As with most of our games this year, we jumped out to an early lead by playing efficient offense and very good man defense. We didn’t score many points–30 on the game–but we only gave up 20 points total, eight in the first half. Personally, I had a good game on the “intangible” level, but I only scored two points. I was very tired before the game and I never really had my legs under me. I took a few three-pointers, but it didn’t take me long to realize it was going to be tough to hit them since I was so flat. I started head-faking a lot and that allowed me to dribble-penetrate into the paint and get easy looks from close-range or dish out to an open teammate. I typically chose to pass because I wasn’t having much luck with the inside shots. My only points came on a head-fake where I drove all the way to the hoop and laid it in. It took me too long to realize that I should’ve been dribbling one more time and going for a lay-up rather than pulling up to shoot. Their 2-3 zone was soft in the middle and I wasn’t taking as much as I could from it.

Anyway, we got a win and we’re up to 2-4. We can still finish the season ranked third and get a decent seed in the playoffs if we win out.

Basketball team has fallen to 1-3

Basketball team has fallen to 1-3

The week after we eked through our first game, we got pounded by the defending champs. After a bye, we got beat by a mediocre team even though we were within five points with about three minutes remaining. This week, we lost to another mediocre team by one point even though we led most of the game.

In general our problem can be summed up in one word: Inconsistency. We can’t get the same guys to show up from one week to the next (our roster is nine deep, but we probably have only four guys who are there every week) and that inconsistency leads us to be inconsistent on offense. Last night, I’m pretty sure we led all statistical categories except FG %, FT % and Points. We took a lot more shots than they did, we had a lot more rebounds (especially offensive) than they did and we took probably twice as many freethrows as they did. We played great defense, took good shots on offense, drew a lot of fouls, but simply couldn’t put the ball in the bucket.

Personally, I felt I played one of my best all-around games in a while. I ran Point Guard most of the night and I was very comfortable in that position. My passes were on target and usually to a wide-open man, I don’t think I had any turnovers and I had six points on something like five shots. My six points came on consecutive three-pointers in the first half. Both shots felt and looked perfect and were set up because my team got me the ball when I got open on the weak side of the floor. I’m pretty sure I only had three points scored on me, and my defense was pretty solid off the ball.

It’s frustrating to keep losing (especially to inferior teams), but I guess we can’t really expect to win if we don’t have the same team from week to week. We need our guys to start showing up so we can start getting into a groove.

New basketball season begins 1-0

New basketball season begins 1-0

Well, the summer basketball league has begun again and most of the usual team is intact.  The previous season’s PPG leader isn’t playing, but we picked up another guy who has some Juco experience.  We started out playing pretty poorly and found ourselves down by 13 early in the second half.  Things started to turn when we finally began clamping down on defense and getting some stops.  We got some turnovers, began executing on offense and starting slowly closing the gap.  Down the stretch, we ran some good set plays, hit some big shots and tied it up to send the game to overtime.  In the two-minute overtime, we outscored them 2-1, all on freethrows.  I felt like we were definitely the superior team for about the last 15 minutes of the game.  It felt good to get the win.

The highlights for me were few.  I only had six points, all on 3-pointers.  The first was in the first half, and it was a nice, high shot over a very tall defender.  The second was pretty critical as it was late in the second half, when we were still down by six.  A player in the left corner passed me the ball and I began to dribble to the top of the key when they double-teamed me.  One defender was a little behind me (on my left) and the other was coming up on my right from the freethrow line.  I dribbled the ball to my right hand, crossed it over behind my back (away from the approaching defender on my right, as he was coming in very low for the steal) to my left hand, pulled up and drained the 3-pointer to bring us within 3.

Anyway, we’re off to a good start, but next week we play the team that beat us by one in the championship game.  It’s gonna’ be a tough game.


My 2006 Final Four experience: Making a run

For the first time since 2000, we coasted through the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. We had home court advantage in Jacksonville and neither South Alabama nor UW-Milwaukee gave us much of a game. Regardless of how we did from the Sweet 16 on out, I think Gator Nation collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief. We finally made it out of the first weekend and we would get to see at least one decent basketball game during the tournament.

Through that next week, I was pretty nervous about the upcoming Georgetown game. Everyone knew they were a good team and they would match up well against the Gators. Their guards were solid, their front-court was big and agile, and their offense was exactly the kind of offense that could take us out of our game plan. The Princeton style offense that Georgetown runs uses the same ideas that Izzo had used to defeat us in years past–slow the game down, take your time on every possession and don’t let the Gators get out and run.

The day of our Sweet 16 game, I recruited a friend of mine, gave him a Gators hat and aggravated him for four straight hours by continuously babbling about great the Gators are. “Man, we’re really fun to watch. I’m telling you, we can really move the ball!” Gator basketball just isn’t the same without other Gators cheering around me. My buddy isn’t a Gator, but I made him an honorary Gator for the evening and he was a good sport about it all. The game went right down to the wire and we finally sealed it when Corey Brewer made a crazy circus shot while falling to the floor as he was fouled. I immediately knew that, should we go on to the Final Four, this would be the requisite game-saving shot that each team needs to go the distance.

That night, we also watched the Villanova game. Seeing them play made me very nervous. This was the team who’d bounced us in 2005 and they were very physical, athletic and their guards could flat shoot. I wondered whether our team could hang with them. They basically just bullied Boston College for 40 minutes and I knew they’d try the same thing against us. The referees were letting them play, and I knew that, historically, we didn’t do well against very physical teams. The reason that Kentucky beat us so many times from 2000 to 2004 was that they just played harder than we did, pushed us around and got into our heads. Villanova would try to do the same thing.

That Sunday, I watched the game from my couch. This time, I couldn’t recruit any other Gators–honorary or otherwise–to join in. This was the most important Gator basketball game in almost six years and I was watching it in an empty living room; it was depressing and exhilarating at the same time. I tried not to get my hopes up, but I’d already started looking at plane tickets to Florida in case we won. It didn’t take me long to realize that we were going to run over Villanova. I almost couldn’t even believe what I was seeing: our team was right in their faces, contesting every shot, and matching their physicality stride for stride. Our guards totally shut them down from behind the arc. This game was a coaching masterpiece for Billy Donovan–all he had were mismatches all night, and yet he found a way to stop them from scoring and ran a coherent, effective offense against their swarming guards. All of a sudden, we were going to the Final Four!

The game hadn’t even ended and I was already calling my friends in Gainesville and leaving voicemails everywhere: “Hey, let me know what y’all are doing for the Final Four. If you’re going to Indy, let me know and I’ll go ahead and book a ticket. If you’re staying in Gainesville, I’ll just fly out there. Just let me know so I can book something.” There was no way I�d be watching a Florida Final Four game by myself, I just wouldn�t let it happen. The next morning, they called back and we decided to rendezvous in Gainesville. I immediately booked a ticket and planned to stay in Gainesville through Monday night. At first, I was a little disappointed that we weren’t going to watch the game in Indy, but then I realized we were going back to the Final Four and I was going to watch it all right in the heart of Gator Nation. I didn’t know what it would be like watching the game in Indiana, but I knew what it was like watching the games in Gainesville back in 2000 and that was definitely where I wanted to be.


My 2006 Final Four experience: Team Building

Next year came and went, along with our hopes of returning to the Final Four. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were seeing the beginning of a string of early exits from the NCAA Tournament. In 2001, we got whooped by Temple in the second round. In 2002, we lost a heartbreaker to Creighton, 83-82 in double overtime. In 2003, we replayed the 2000 Finals with Michigan State, only this time they bested us in the second round. In 2004, we fell to Manhattan in the first round. In 2005, we ran into Villanova in the second round.

All the while, Gator Nation was buzzing with speculation that Billy’s run to the Finals in 2000 was a fluke, that he wasn’t that great a coach. Personally, I went back and forth. From our success during the regular season (we averaged over 20 wins for all five of those years), it was obvious that he could coach. What wasn’t obvious was why our team kept fading in March. I think a lot of it had to do with our tournament draws. Creighton is always a tricky team, although we definitely should’ve beaten them. Tom Izzo is just a good coach and his team matched up well with us in 2003. In 2005, Villanova was arguably the toughest 5-seed in the tournament and their grit and athleticism neutralized our finesse. I think there were also issues with team chemistry. We always had one or two superstars, but the rest of our team often wasn’t as involved as it should’ve been. Superstars can win regular season games, but team play and defense wins championships. Defense was another big issue: we rarely had much of it. Our teams could score a lot of points, but they weren’t all that tough. Villanova was simply more physical than we were, and we couldn’t match their intensity.

Going into the 2005 season, I think we were all expecting the worst. We lost a significant portion of our offense and experience, and our team was very young. We weren’t even close to the pre-season Top 25 and I don’t think many Gators were too upset about that. We were bracing for a “rebuilding” year, and that’s what made everything else so sweet.

We started off winning the Coaches vs. Cancer tourney in New York. I watched both of our games against Wake and Syracuse, and then I e-mailed my buddies at work the next day: “We’re good.” The team chemistry was undeniable and it was obvious that these guys weren’t intimidated by anyone. Right out of the gate, we had beaten two ranked teams and we had very few tough games on our pre-conference schedule. Next thing we knew, we were 17-0 and poised to take the No. 1 spot in the polls. Almost as if it was scripted, all three remaining undefeated teams lost within hours of each other. To Gator fans, this was no surprise because we were accustomed to tanking when we topped the polls. This time, we only had to be the de facto leader before we dropped a game. All Gators everywhere simultaneously thought, “Here we go again.”

I admit I was one of the first doubters. I just didn’t want to get my hopes up. This team was young and there was no real, logical reason to expect anything great from them. Our schedule so far had been pretty easy, we hadn’t really played any big games (the Wake and Syracuse games lost their luster as the season went on), and we still had a long way to go. Many of the starters had barely played in 2004 and I began to wonder if they were going to hit “the wall” that everyone talks about. They certainly looked to be fatiguing and we weren’t winning close games as we had at the beginning of the season. The good news was, we weren’t losing by much either. We were losing, but never being blown out.

Going into the 2006 SEC Tournament, I think there was a great sense of urgency for all of us. We hadn’t been winning close games lately, we had even lost three straight, and we were in danger of getting a crummy seed in the NCAA tournament. I think Gator Nation felt a great need to defend our SEC Title from 2005. In retrospect, I think that this tournament was what ultimately led us to the Final Four. We got a great draw, so our path to the Championship game was relatively easy. We were fortunate to get a bye the first game, so our guys could rest up for the remaining games in March, however many they may be. We got another shot at two of the four teams who’d beaten us earlier in the season, and that gave us a chance to work on specific aspects of our game. We had let Arkansas’ guards have too much freedom when we first played them, and our game against them in the SEC Tournament allowed us to work on locking them down. The South Carolina game was key, in my opinion. They had beaten us twice by pounding the ball inside, and forcing us to play a grind-it-out type of game that drained the shot clock and drastically slowed the tempo. The difference was that we won this one and we learned how to beat them at their own game. I think this game gave us the blueprint that we used to beat Georgetown in the Sweet 16.

After the SEC Tournament, we only had to wait a few hours to find out that we’d been given a 3-seed in our bracket. We would also be playing the first two games in Jacksonville, assuming we made it through the first round this year. I don’t think Gator Nation really knew what to expect. On one hand, we’d had our best season ever. On the other hand, we still had a very young team with little experience and no obvious super star. What was worse, we had to wait almost a week to see our first NCAA Tournament game.


My 2006 Final Four experience: Remembering 2000

After the Gators won the National Title a few weeks ago, I talked a lot about the team, but not much about my actual experience this time around. I’ve said many times that some of my fondest college memories were collected during March 2000, when Florida made an improbable run to the National Title game. I was nearing the end of my sophomore year and had tons of friends who, like me, were rabid Gator football fans. Billy Donovan hadn’t been at UF but a few seasons and his first couple seasons weren’t very memorable. Nobody remembered very much from the 1998-1999 season, but we all remembered losing to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. During the 1999-2000 basketball season, I think we started to appreciate winning and we began coining terms like “Billy Ball”, which was a reference to Donovan’s up-tempo style of basketball. Admittedly, I didn’t watch many basketball games in 1999, and when March rolled around in 2000, I don’t even think I filled out a bracket. I thought it was silly and didn’t see any reason to drop money to “compete” against sports gurus and girls who chose the winner based on school colors or mascots.

I didn’t see the Butler game because it was on a Friday afternoon and I was probably too busy skipping class to even care. But I heard about the end of the game and, like many other Gators, suddenly had an interest in Gator basketball. That Sunday afternoon, I was one of several students who gathered at some friends’ apartment to watch us play Illinois in the second round. I don’t think any of us had high expectations, but we all had high hopes. When your team hangs on because of a miraculous buzzer-beater, you have no choice but to start believing, and that’s what we all did. We soundly beat Illinois and we were back in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. We didn’t expect much because we had to play Duke next, but we knew it was no fluke that Billy D. had taken us to the Sweet 16 twice in a row. He had taken a losing basketball program and turned us into a contender. Still, our expectations were low as we geared up to face the perennial powerhouse Blue Devils.

That was a long week, but the game itself went by quickly. “We just beat DUKE!” We all said that at some point that weekend. We couldn’t believe it and we really didn’t know what to do about it. By this time, the crowd of students watching the game in my friends’ apartment was growing pretty quickly. There were several of us for the Illinois game, but we all watched comfortably on a couch, or a chair. For the Duke game, there were more bodies and less room; people were sitting on the arms of the couches, piled on the chairs, seated on the floor. By the time we played Oklahoma State, we were packed in as tight as we could be, the windows were all open and we were still sweating like pigs. We were used to that from football season, but we typically didn’t bunch like this in the Spring.

Changes had to be made for our Final Four game against North Carolina–another TV was brought in along with some couches, a makeshift bench was made on a rail between the dining and living rooms, every window and door was opened and the fans were all on full-blast to keep the air moving through the place. This was by far my biggest sporting event as a Gator and I think most of my friends felt the same. None of us were around in 1996 when we won the National Title in football, and most of our football seasons thus far had been anticlimactic because we had come to expect nothing but perfection from The Ol’ Ball Coach. SEC titles were nice, but we didn’t really get up for them like we would’ve if we hadn’t won the National Title a few years earlier. Basketball was different, though, because we didn’t expect to win. We didn’t even really think we had much of a chance, but we wanted to make sure we saw it if we pulled off an upset. After the game, we all ran out onto 34th Street and screamed, jumped, waived at cars and generally acted like idiots. It was awesome. “We beat North Carolina!” We all said it, but we could hardly believe it: we were playing for the National Title… in basketball!

The Michigan State game is kind of a blur to me. I think that’s partially because we lost, but partially because the game was pretty boring in general. Tom Izzo basically put together the perfect game plan to beat us: don’t allow the Gators to play Billy Ball. Michigan State took 30 seconds to shoot on every possession, slowed us way down in transition, played good defense and hit most of their shots. From the highest of highs comes the lowest of lows, and we felt it. This was the first time most of us had experienced a National Title game, and it was also the first time most of us had experienced losing a National Title game. There were about 70 of us there to watch, and no one said a word after the final buzzer. We just sat there, quietly wondering if we could make another run next year.


Florida Flattens the Final Four

Ironically, there isn’t much I can say about the Gators’ performance this weekend. George Mason was billed as this year’s Cinderella, but Florida didn’t seem to share the same respect for Mason’s mystique as the rest of the country. They simply outmatched George Mason at every position and coasted to a convincing win. Next up: UCLA. It was entertaining to see all of the sports analyists flip-flopping on their predictions after Saturday’s games. UCLA handled LSU, but it was pretty obvious that LSU just had a terrible game while UCLA played very well and capitalized on LSU’s many mistakes. Before Saturday, Florida was the consensus favorite to cut down the nets on Monday, but after UCLA’s game against LSU, the consensus became a coin-flip. UCLA’s vaunted defense became the big story and everyone forgot that Florida handled Villanova, a No. 1 seed, less than a week earlier.

Fortunately, the Gators have refused to acknowledge the hype–positive or negative–all year, and the media’s sudden distrust in their ability to hang with a tough defensive team didn’t affect them in the least. It only took a couple minutes on Monday for the Gators to announce their superiority, and then they continued to remind everyone just how good they are by frequently adding exclamation points to the story they’ve written all season long. Noah with a block, Horford with a dunk, Moss takes a charge, Humphrey buries a transition three, Brewer with a steal, Green with an assist, Green with an assist, Green with an assist, Richard changes a shot. And every time UCLA tried to answer, the Gators took it up a notch to keep them at bay.

This has been such a fantastic season for the Gators. It’s too bad Coach of the Year honors have already been given because I think it’s obvious to everyone that Billy Donovan deserves that title. Out of nowehere came a team with more chemistry than I’ve seen on any team in years, and suddenly they’re breaking records and setting new ones: Best start in school history, first triple-double in school history, most made freethrows in a game, most consecutive freethrows, and the list goes on and on, culminating with our first National Championship.

I’m tempted to speculate about next season, but it just doesn’t seem appropriate right now. October is so far away and there’s no telling what will happen between now and then. For now, I’m just looking forward to reading the deluge of articles that will be written over the next several weeks. In a way, the best part of winning the Natinal Championship is that we’re going to be the topic of conversation for the next several months. It’s great to be a Florida Gator!


Basketball team up to 10-0, in the Finals

This could get confusing because there are two basketball teams in the Finals right now–the Gators and my league team. Right now, I’m talking about the league, but I’ll get to the Gators later. We won last week, but it wasn’t pretty. We played a team that we beat pretty badly the first time around, and we were down 14-2 at one point. In the second half, we got our act together, ran a little hot and slowly closed the gap before permanently taking the lead. Most of us were shooting poorly (though we took good shots), and our defense was confused quite a bit. We were fortunate to pull out the win. This week, we’ll be playing a very good, deep basketball team and we’ll need to bring our best game to win. Unfortunately, we’re playing with only six guys because our best perimeter defender is away on business. That will hurt because the other team will have at least 8 guys and maybe 9, so we’re going to be playing fatigued throughout the game. I think we can win. but we’ll have to play good basketball.

Gators in the finals for first time since 2000

We’re there and we look great. All the detractors are back-tracking and we’re looking better by the game. Earlier this season, a common criticism of this team was that we didn’t have a “go to” guy. My initial reaction was that having a go to guy can often be detrimental if a team isn’t able to play through that guy’s bad nights. Our team is fully capable of compensating for a guy having an off night, and we have a different star every time we take the floor. I think our Final Four game was one of our best, and yet our leading scorer was the least publicized player on our team, Lee Humphrey. Our next game is against UCLA tomorrow, and I think we have a great chance of winning it all. UCLA is solid, but I think we have an advantage in most of the match-ups, and we play similar styles of basketball.

Celebrity sighting

Well, it wasn’t so much a celebrity sighting as a “me” sighting. I was looking for some dental floss at Target last weekend when a lady came up and asked if I was an actor. I figured this was a funny coincidence and that she must have me confused with someone else. I told her I had acted in a short film last year, but nothing more than that. She said, “The Might Stride?” So she did actually recognize me. Somehow, she’d seen the short and we talked about it for a couple minutes. She said she really enjoyed it and that she thought I did good work. It was really encouraging.


9-0 in the league

Well, we finished the regular season undefeated and we’ve entered the post season as the favorite to win it all. We won our first playoff game easily and we expect to win our second game this week. There’s really only one team that we think can beat us, and we beat them earlier this season. I’ve been playing very well and I’m pleased with my progress this season. I’ve been alternating between point guard and shooting guard and I’m comfortable at both positions. I’ve always been more of a shooting guard because I’m good at moving without the ball and getting myself open looks, but I’m getting more confident at point. The biggest improvement has been in my 3-point shot, and I think my team has really started trusting me to knock down shots. I sense that my teammates are trying to get me open behind the line and I generally don’t let them down. I’ve been hitting open shots and, more importantly, making big shots at critical times. I’ve also been working on playing around the rim and I’ve seen improvement there. Most of my success near the basket has been thanks to my teammates seeing me when I get open.

Florida basketball in the Final Four!

After five straight years of early exits, we’re heading to the Final Four in the NCAA tourney. All year, I’ve been consistently impressed with our team, but they’ve really surprised me in the tournament. There’s just no quit in this team and they’re not intimidated by anyone. I really think we have a very legitimate chance at winning it all this year. The best part is that it’s a complete surprise. We weren’t even ranked pre-season, and I don’t think anyone really expected much of Billy D. and the Gators. Next thing we know, they’ve got 17 straight wins to open the season. There were a few bumps in the road near the end of the regular season, but I think those were just growing pains. We’ve adjusted and we’re looking our best right now, at the best possible time.

Also, this was supposed to be a “down year” for the SEC. For a down year, we’re doing pretty well considering we have a decent shot at having SEC teams battling it out in the Championship game.

Playing a little cards

Not much to report with the poker. I’ve been running a little bad lately, but that’s gonna’ happen from time to time. I feel like I’ve been playing well and making good reads, so I just have to stick it out. I’ve become very good at controlling the table when I play live. I make good moves and use my table image to my advantage. I’ve become particularly good at getting my opponents to show me their cards when I want to see them (usually when I want to know if I made a good laydown). I wish the cash flow was following the information flow, but I guess I just have to give it time.