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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Here’s what happened in Gator sports over winter break

Dark December for Gator football, basketball

While UF students enjoyed nearly a month away from their coursework in Gainesville, its student-athletes continued their schedules through the holiday season.

As Florida’s winter-sports teams near the start of conference play, these are the biggest storylines from over the winter break.

3-INT performance marks fitting end to Jones’ UF career

The Gators escaped rivals Florida State thanks to a whiffed onside kick by FSU kicker Parker Grothaus. The ball innocently fell to the turf and Grothaus bent down in shame as over 88,000 fans in Orange and Blue erupted to celebrate the 24-21 victory.

But Grothaus’ failed onside attempt is just a mask for the pitiful performance put forth by quarterback Emory Jones, who entered the transfer portal before the 29-17 Bowl loss to UCF on Dec. 23. Jones tossed three interceptions and only one touchdown against a weak Seminole secondary.

After a near-fourth interception, the boos chimed from the Florida Faithful and the pleas for freshman Anthony Richardson came to fruition. 

Jones was handed the keys to the offense by former head coach Dan Mullen after waiting behind Gator phenom Kyle Trask. The anticipation for the junior echoed through the stands of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium all preseason but Jones failed to live up to expectations.

When Richardson took his first snap against FSU, he immediately took control of the Florida offense. Interim head coach Greg Knox kept the ball on the ground with senior Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis to let Richardson manage the offense to a three-point victory.

Florida football will return in Fall 2022 with new head coach Billy Napier plus his plethora of assistant coaches. Richardson is also expected to return under center.

Men’s basketball suffers December setback after strong start

With suffocating defense and devastating ball movement, Florida’s team of misfit transfers channeled the Mike White philosophy into top-15 success. 

The Gators dominated lesser competition with 35-point victories against Milwaukee and Troy, snapped a seven-game losing streak against Florida St. and bested Ohio St. on a game-winning three from Tyree Appleby. 

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UF entered its road matchup against Oklahoma ranked 14th in the country, but as the calendar turned to December, Florida’s hot start chilled into characteristic mediocrity. 

Coach White’s team suffered its first loss of the season against the Sooners, shooting a putrid 17% from beyond the arc. Previously winless Texas Southern pulled off a shocking upset against the Gators in a 69-54 victory five days later, and interim coach Danny Manning led Maryland to a surprising victory over UF at the Barclays Center. 

The Gators begin SEC play Wednesday against Alabama unranked and squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble with a NET ranking of 44. 

Women’s basketball continues surprising start after off-season turmoil

For a school that often holds its student athletes to the lofty Gator standard, expectations for the long-suffering UF women’s basketball team were nearly non-existent at the start of the year. 

The Gators have spent the last three seasons chained to the cellar of the SEC and have spent the offseason dealing with allegations of abuse levied against former head coach Cam Newbauer. 

But UF has gotten off to its best start in years, entering conference play last Monday with a 10-3 record. The Gators dominated Florida St. in a 14-point rivalry win, bested NCAA Tournament regulars Dayton and pulled away from TCU for a quality road win. 

Even in defeat the Gators look markedly improved from last season, holding a fourth-quarter lead against No. 13 Georgia before falling by four on Sunday.

Florida will return to action Thursday against Ole Miss from the O’Connell Center.

Contact Declan Walsh at dwalsh@alligator.org or Jesse Richardson at jrichardson@alligator.org.

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