Florida got Shabazzed, but Gators have a lot to like

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The No. 15 Florida Gators showed late-game resiliency, senior leadership and an ability to make key plays in big moments as they played on the road at Gampel Pavilion and scored on their final possession — a beautiful cut and layup by Michael Frazier II off an assist from Casey Prather — against No. 12 UConn.

Then Shabazz Napier happened.

The Gators can’t really hang their head on one of college basketball’s most clutch players knocking down a shot in his home building. Florida has too much to take away from this loss and a brutal upcoming schedule can’t leave them sulking.

Struggling with offense for much of the season, senior center Patric Young had 17 points and seven rebounds and his three-point play with 1:18 left was his third go-to bucket in the post in the game’s final minutes. Young contributed to Philip Nolan and Tyler Olander fouling out and on that three-point play with 1:18 left, the senior sank the free throw to go 5-for-7 for the day on the road as a 55 percent foul shooter.

His touch is off at times and he isn’t as fluid as he used to be, but Young plays hard, is a decent passer out of the post and his two interceptions of UConn passes on defense made it appear as though an NFL career might be more feasible following this season in Gainesville.

But for now, the Gators will take that performance from Young every time they can.

Casey Prather also continued his unlikely rise as the SEC’s current best scoring threat. The senior forward is averaging 19.1 points per game and hit that number 19 on the head against UConn while contributing seven rebounds and three assists.

At times Prather appeared unguardable in the second half.

The best part about Prather’s scoring ability against UConn was his aggression getting to the basket and trying to score inside. Prather attempted no three-pointers — the Gators were 3-for-9 for the game as a team — and was 8-for-13 from the field, using hesitation moves, and some straight-line attacks to the rack to score.

Scottie Wilbekin also made some plays for the Gators, but he’ll need to be more consistent handling the ball as he makes his comeback from his early season suspension. The senior point guard made some critical turnovers in the second half, including a jump pass that resulted in a UConn fast-break bucket and a botched 3-on-2 break that resulted in an awkward shot and a bailout foul on the ensuing Florida offensive rebound.

But for Wilbekin’s inconsistencies, he’ll also be aided by the return of freshman point guard and McDonald’s All-American Kasey Hill — who has been out since November 16th and could return soon — and continued playing time in this early season. The Gators had 16 turnovers to eight assists as a team and struggled on offense at times.

But Florida has been in some big games that have gone to the wire already this season, winning 67-66 over in-state rival Florida State and now with this loss to UConn and they can’t think about this loss too much as their next two games come against Kansas and Memphis on December 10th and 17th respectively.

The Gators are playing at a high level and one of those two games could be close going late into the game as well. And Florida isn’t even into the SEC portion of the schedule yet.

As long as their seniors step up and they integrate Kasey Hill into the lineup, this Florida team can be really good.

Kentucky fans flood Facebook page of official John Higgins’ company with negative reviews

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Unhappy with how John Higgins performed at his part-time job, Kentucky fans did their best trash him at his full-time gig.

The Facebook page of the referee’s Omaha-based roofing company was flooded by Big Blue Nation with negative comments and reviews after they were displeased with the official’s work in the Wildcats’ Elite Eight loss to North Carolina.

Not only did fans leave obviously fake and vulgar comments on the page, they also deluged it with one-star reviews to drive down its average significantly.

Once again, the Internet is struck by its proportionality problem. What could be considered a silly bit of online pranking by a small minority suddenly turns into an avalanche of nastiness that could do real damage to someone’s life, business and family, given the importance of social media for companies in 2017. It becomes cruel when it reaches a level like this.

When there’s so many general complaints about the state of officiating in college basketball, it’s also not helpful to do something like this to one of the referees generally considered to be one of the country’s best. It’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for prospective future officials to follow the career path if it brings this level of negative attention to you off the court.

Report: North Carolina to miss out on NCAA events through 2022 if HB2 not addressed by Thursday

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North Carolina is in danger of losing out on hosting NCAA events through 2022 if the state does not make changes to HB2, the controversial so-called “bathroom bill” by Thursday afternoon, according to the leader of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.

“I have confirmed with a contact very close to the NCAA that its deadline for HB2 is 48 hours from now,” Scott Dupree, the head of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, said, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. “If HB2 has not been resolved by that time, the NCAA will have no choice but to move forward without the North Carolina bids.”

“The NCAA has already delayed the bid review process once and has waited as long as it possibly can, and now it must finalize all championship site selections through spring of 2022.”

The NCAA, as it reminded North Carolina last week, is making its determinations on hosts for events from 2018-2022 this week. There was movement last week at the North Carolina statehouse for a compromise on the bill, but that apparently stalled out, the News & Observer reported, though there remain efforts to make progress on a pact.

Should lawmakers not reach an agreement in time, the state’s flagship basketball programs will be without an NCAA tournament home-court advantage that they have often enjoyed. HB2 just this past year moved the first and second rounds out of the state and to South Carolina, where No. 2 seed Duke lost to the seventh-seeded Gamecocks in their home state.

Clearly, there’s much more to consider here than NCAA tournament implications, but it’s another reminder of the economic impact the bill has made in North Carolina. This week, The Associated Press estimated it will cost the state $3.76 billion over a 12-year period.

Baylor’s Freeman to graduate and transfer

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Baylor is losing one of its contributors over the past three seasons.

Al Freeman, a 6-foot-3 guard, will graduate and transfer to another school, the Bears announced Tuesday.

“Al has been a tremendous student-athlete and made great contributions to our program over the last four years, and we’re thrilled that he’s going to complete his degree at Baylor,” Bears coach Scott Drew said in a statement. “He’ll always be part of the Baylor family, and we’ll be rooting for him as he continues his career.”

Freeman, who redshirted his freshman year due to a broken wrist, started 57 games during his career in Waco and averaged 8.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He was a full-time starter as a sophomore, but made just 22 this past season and saw his minutes slashed.

As a graduate transfer, the Charlotte native will be immediately eligible at his next program for his final collegiate season.

Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner declares for NBA Draft

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Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner has declared for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent.

“First let me start by saying these three years at Xavier have been the best of my life,” Sumner said in a statement. “I have certainly been presented with some ups and downs but they have only served to make me a stronger person. This decision was very hard for me because of the love I have for X. After weighing my options with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I want to thank Coach Mack and the rest of the staff for believing in me and giving me a chance when no one did! I’ll always be grateful for that. Xavier Nation I will always love you!”

Sumner, a 6-foot-6 point guard with dynamic athleticism and first round potential that averaged 15.0 points, but he is coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered in January. He’s likely to be a second round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

This is a big loss for the Musketeers, but it’s one that they planned for. After his eruption last season, most expected him to put his name in the draft this season.

Duke freshman Harry Giles III declares for NBA Draft

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Harry Giles III has declared for the NBA Draft after playing just one season at Duke.

“Playing in the NBA has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and I’m so excited to take the next step in that journey,” Giles said. “My time at Duke has been a dream come true. I’ve built so many strong relationships here and I have so many people to thank, from my teammates and coaches to our medical staff and strength coach. I can’t understate how proud I am to be part of the Duke Basketball program forever.”

Giles played in 26 games for the Blue Devils. He started six games and averaged 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Giles. At one point considered to be the best player in the loaded Class of 2016, Giles has dealt with a pair of devastating knee injuries already. He underwent a third surgery right before the start of the season and never seemed like he was fully able to get back to being the player he was when he was in high school.

This is the right decision for Giles to make, as there is still some uncertainty regarding the health of his knees. Were his struggles due to the fact that he was tossed right into the middle of a college basketball season after having sat out for 14 straight months, or was this simply a result of knees that no longer allow him to be the player that he used to be?

He might still end up being a first round pick this year. At the very least, he’s make some guaranteed money if he can get into a camp. Maybe returning to school could have helped vault him into the lottery in 2018, but another year like this year would’ve firebombed his draft stock.

“With his uplifting personality and love for the game, Harry Giles has been a joy to coach,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He is only beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be on the basketball court. Harry has an exciting NBA future ahead of him and we are here to fully support him as a member of our brotherhood.”

I know I’m not alone when I say I hope that Giles gets healthy and succeeds in the NBA.