Mike White was late. Long after his players had finished doing interviews and Kentucky coach John Calipari had left, White remained absent.
He finally arrived for his postgame press conference disheveled, with a gray coat covering his gray Florida basketball T-shirt and his usually neatly spiked hair uncoifed. He had been wearing a white button-down shirt and a bright orange tie, and his hair had been rigid during the game. What happened?
“The guys got me,” he explained. “Got me good. Ice-cold water.”
White said the splashing in the locker room was to celebrate his birthday, but it very well could’ve been to celebrate the end of the regular season.
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The Gators finished 20-11, and their 11-7 Southeastern Conference record earned them the No. 3 seed in this week’s SEC tournament. They’ll open on Friday at 9:30 p.m. against either No. 14-seed Ole Miss, which beat UF earlier this year, No. 11-seed South Carolina, which UF both lost to and beat earlier this year, or No. 6-seed Arkansas, which UF beat earlier this year.
The story for the Florida basketball team all season has been consistency. The Gators started with a strong showing in the PK80 tournament, then lost to Florida State, Loyola Chicago and Clemson.
Florida then rolled like a tsunami into SEC play by winning its first four conference games. Then it lost to, as it turned out, the lowest-seeded conference team, Ole Miss.
A roller coaster of wins and losses followed, culminating in a 90-degree drop of a three-game losing streak with three more games to play. The Gators responded by winning those final three games and securing some momentum for the tournament and the postseason.
“This team is hard to forecast,” White said. “We’ve had inconsistencies. We have, sure. But I wanna give my guys credits. We’ve gotten a lot more consistent.”
Those three wins made the Gators a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Brackets will be announced on Sunday following the conclusion of conference tournaments, and both White and his team are excited for the tournament to get under way following their run to the Elite Eight a season ago.
“We hope that there’s a lot of basketball left for us,” White said. “We’ve gotta get rest, and we’ve gotta be prepared to get better this week.”
The No. 1 Gators are steamrolling opponents to start the season. The Gators are 12-1 (the one loss coming at Miami) and have outscored their opponents 99-26.
They continued their dominance this weekend by sweeping Stony Brook at home. The one standout to highlight among many is Wil Dalton, who crushed three home runs on Friday against the Seawolves. Dalton, a junior college transfer who has been starting in Florida’s outfield, leads the team in hits and RBIs while his .373 average ranks third. Captain JJ Schwarz leads the batting race at .383.
Florida’s pitching has also been dominant, starting with its weekend rotation. Sunday starter Tyler Dyson leads the group with a 1.42 ERA followed by Saturday starter Jackson Kowar at 1.86 and Friday starter Brady Singer at 2.84. The three boast a combined record of 8-1.
The freshman quintet of Jordan Butler (2.08 ERA), Hunter McMullen (1.69), Tommy Mace (0.93) and Jack Leftwich (0.87) has also been impressive, alleviating some of coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s concerns about who would bridge the gap between his elite starters and his elite closer Michael Byrne, who hasn’t allowed a run in nine innings pitched this season.
The Gators play a home-and-home series against UCF on Tuesday and Wednesday and will host Rhode Island for a three-game series this weekend.
No. 2 Florida continued its early run of dominance this week at the Judi Garman classic in Fullerton, California.
The Gators (19-1) dispatched all three of their opponents — Loyola Marymount, Cal State Fullerton and No. 8 Baylor — by a combined score of 27-0. Against Baylor, the combination of All Americans Kelly Barnhill and Aleshia Ocasio no-hit the Bears.
Florida opens SEC play on Friday against No. 24 Kentucky in Gainesville.
OTHER NOTES FROM THE PAST WEEK
▪ Florida’s gymnastics team fell on the road against Missouri for the first time ever — 23 meets — against the Tigers, 196.925-196.70. The team is still reeling from the loss of senior All American Kennedy Baker, who tore her Achilles on Feb. 23 against Arkansas. The Gators close their regular season on Friday at home against Nebraska.
▪ UF’s No. 6 lacrosse team throttled No. 3 North Carolina 17-10 this weekend in Chapel Hill. The Gators are 4-1, with their only loss coming to then-No. 1 Maryland, but their path to success remains rocky. They face No. 5 Syracuse in New York on Wednesday.
▪ The defending national champion Florida women’s tennis team continued to bounce back from its uninspiring start to the season with two wins this week. UF defeated No. 7 Ole Miss on Thursday, 4-3, and Mississippi State on Sunday, 4-0. The team, which opened the season by losing four of its first seven matches, will host LSU on Friday and Texas A&M on Sunday.
▪ The No. 18 Florida men’s tennis team cruised to a pair of victories this past week by besting No. 17 Georgia 5-2 on Friday and No. 25 Tennessee 6-1 on Sunday. UF will take on No. 27 Mississippi State in Starkville on Friday and unranked Auburn in Alabama on Sunday.