Florida relies on senior leadership to get past Arkansas in OT

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Saturday’s SEC road contest at Arkansas could have easily been a letdown for No. 10 Florida. The Gators were missing leading scorer Casey Prather and multiple other Gators were banged up, including Scottie Wilbekin (ankle), Patric Young (knees) and Michael Frazier II (calf).

But that didn’t slow the Gators down as they held off Arkansas (11-4, 0-2) for an 84-82 overtime road win at Bud Walton Arena, as the Gators (13-2, 2-0) persevered despite trailing for much of the second half. The win for Florida ended Arkansas’ 23-game home winning streak.

While Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith did his best to duplicate Prather’s missing production with a phenomenal overall effort of 22 points and 15 rebounds, it was the play of seniors Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin — Florida’s “bench” in this contest as both starters came off the bench due to injury — that came up big down the stretch.

The Gators had three chances to tie the game at the end of regulation and after its first two miserable possessions, it looked like Arkansas would escape with the upset. Young — clearly still bothered by the sore knees that forced him to miss Florida’s Thursday practice — airballed a hook shot from a few feet away and freshman guard Kasey Hill traveled on the second possession.

But after Alandise Harris missed a free throw for Arkansas, Florida had a third chance to tie (or win) in the final minute of regulation with the Razorbacks leading 66-64. With Florida out of timeouts, Scottie Wilbekin calmly went iso — working the strong side of the floor — and knocked in a tough contested mid-range turnaround off-glass to tie the game with two seconds left.

Young and Wilbekin then scored five quick points for Florida to open overtime and the Gators never looked back as they held on for the win.

For Young and Wilbekin to play through injuries, come off of the bench and come through down the stretch was huge for Florida. Finney-Smith carried the Gators for large stretches of time, but Young and Wilbekin really stepped up big to help put the Gators over the hump against Arkansas.

Playing on sore knees that made Young run awkwardly with his legs jutting outward without bending his knees — think of childhood Forrest Gump in his leg braces as Jenny screams “Run, Forrest, Run!” and you’ll get an idea of how Young looked running at times — the senior center managed 10 points and eight rebounds while also being enough of a paint presence on defense to make Arkansas’ interior looks that much more difficult as Florida made its run in the second half.

Wilbekin also struggled at times and couldn’t find his shot, but he wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line and refused to lose this game for Florida. The senior had 18 points off the bench and was 8-for-10 from the free throw line in helping close the door on Arkansas.

Florida has been banged up and dealt with suspensions all season. The Gators have faced adversity in tight games and lost on a buzzer-beater on the road to UConn. It wasn’t pretty, but Florida got all that it needed from its injury-prone roster to win a tough SEC road game against the SEC’s highest-scoring offense in a tough building.

The Gators keep finding ways to win and Billy Donovan trusts this group of guys. It’s scary to think how good this Gators team could be if they were fully healthy, but they’re getting it done for now and that’s all that matters.

LaVar Ball having ‘zero’ interaction with UCLA team bodes well for next season

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With the NBA Draft looming in less than a month, the biggest talking point has been just how much of an impact LaVar Ball is going to have on his son, Lonzo’s, NBA career.

It’s a question worth asking given the, ahem, outspoken nature of the eldest Ball.

But in the collegiate ranks, that’s a question that’s been asked about UCLA regarding next season. While Lonzo and LaMelo, who is finishing up his sophomore season in high school, are the stars that get the majority of the attention, there is another Ball brother that will be enrolling at UCLA next season: LiAngelo.

LaVar has already said that he expect Gelo to be a one-and-done player, which may not jibe with how good Gelo actually is. He’s not Lonzo and he’s not LaMelo. He’s not a dynamic athlete or a lead guard. He’s a 6-foot-5, 200 pound shooter with limitless range but limited upside. There’s a reason Rivals ranks him as a three-star prospect.

What’s going to happen when UCLA, a top 15 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25, doesn’t give Gelo Lonzo-esque minutes or shots next season? How will LaVar handle it if his second son is coming off the bench for the Bruins?

Steve Alford doesn’t seem concerned about it, telling a reporter from the LA Times that LaVar was “never at practice, never called me” and was around the team “zero.”

“I think all parents probably should know that moving on to the collegiate level anyway,” Alford said. “It’s not high school, it’s not AAU. Your son’s on scholarship; your son’s at UCLA getting an incredible opportunity academically and athletically.

“Playing time, shots, that kind of stuff — we don’t entertain some of those phone calls anyway. I never had any issues at all with LaVar.”

It will be interesting to see if that continues next season.

The Bruins have a chance to be pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as last season, maybe not a Pac-12 title favorite or even the best team in LA — USC is loaded — but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them end up as a top four seed in the NCAA tournament with Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh returning and Jaylen Hands headlining the recruiting class.

Will LaVar be able to handle UCLA’s success if it comes at the expense of his son’s?

NCAA: Former USF assistant provided extra benefits, lied to NCAA investigators

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The NCAA has alleged that former South Florida assistant coach Oliver Antigua provided roughly $500 in impermissible benefits and initially lied to NCAA investigators about it, according to the Tampa Bay Times, who obtained the NCAA’s summary disposition report.

Oliver Antigua is the younger brother of Orlando Antigua, who was the head coach at USF until he was fired in January. Now an assistant on Brad Underwood’s staff at Oklahoma State, Orlando was not alleged to have committed an NCAA violation in the report.

Oliver is alleged to have provided the extra benefits to two student-athletes while they were being tutored by the sister-in-law of Gerald Gillion, a special assistant to Orlando who resigned last fall, four months after Oliver did. USF has already self-imposed a $5,000 and reduced their scholarships from 13 to 12, according to the report.

“The University of South Florida and the NCAA continue to work together to resolve the inquiry into violations of NCAA bylaws and university standards by a USF intercollegiate athletic program,” according to a statement released by the school. “USF anticipates having a final resolution with the NCAA sometime this fall. Until the process concludes and the matter is fully resolved, USF cannot provide further comment.”

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.

Comic-Con forces Providence to play at Alumni Hall for home opener

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Providence will play its first game at Alumni Hall, the on-campus facility, for the first time in 35 years this fall.

The Friars unveiled their 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Thursday afternoon. The team’s home opener will play either Houston Baptist or Belmont in Mullaney Gym inside Alumni Hall.

According to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, the reason for that is a schedule conflict at Providence’s home arena, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, in downtown Providence. A Comic-Con convention is scheduled Nov. 10-12. As McNamara notes, it’s a busy part of the season for The Dunk. The arena also is home to the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and by mid-November, their season is in full swing.

The Friars haven’t played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the same year the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was opened. In the three decades since Providence last played a regular season game there, the facility has gone under necessary renovations, as you could imagine. Even with added seats, Mullaney Gym can host a maximum of 1,549. That’s a fraction of what The Dunk’s capacity of 12,400.

Providence will return to its downtown home on Nov. 13, hosting Minnesota as part of the Gavitt Games. The Golden Gophers will likely be a top-20 team to open the season. The Friars, who bring back every notable player from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, is a fringe top-25 team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.