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Weekend Review: Gators sweep hardwood, floor mats as gymnastics bows for 2016

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Florida's basketball teams each got big wins, while the back-to-back-to-back national champions opened their third straight title defense by rolling.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Hey! The Weekend Review is back! It'll totally be a weekly feature this year! I hope! I think! I ... okay, I make no promises.

Florida men take down Ben Simmons and LSU

As we wrote about Saturday, the Gators faced a tall test in future NBA All-Star Ben Simmons and LSU on Saturday, and despite the Tigers' superstar going for 28 points and 17 rebounds, Florida persevered for a 68-62 win. This wasn't a thoroughly convincing win — the Gators still can't shoot, really — but Justin Leon had 14 points and eight rebounds to provide an unexpected boost on the offensive end, Florida made nine of its last 10 free throws, and the Gators never trailed.

It's still unclear whether Florida will eventually be an NCAA Tournament team. Right now, the Gators are probably just to the good side of the bubble. But losing to LSU, another borderline team, would have made things much harder for Mike White's bunch.

Gymnastics cruises in debut, loses two athletes

Florida's easy win over Texas Woman's University in its 2016 season debut on Friday night worked out just about as expected. The Gators thumped TWU, 196.825-191.450, an even larger margin of victory than the one they enjoyed over the Pioneers in 2015, when Florida posted a 197.900 on Senior Night to top them by 4.500 points.

But margin of victory doesn't matter much in gymnastics — and neither does the victory itself, really. What does matter, in list form:

  • Florida posted the fourth-highest season-opening score in its history.
  • Senior Bridget Sloan posted a 39.500, the third-best season-opening all-around score in Florida history, to win the all-around title.
  • Sophomore Kennedy Baker posted a 39.400 to finish second to Sloan in the all-around.
  • Florida combined to score a 49.425 on the balance beam, its second-best season-opening score on that apparatus ... and one that was 0.125 better than the score the Gators posted in the 2015 Super Six on that apparatus.
  • Despite a dearth of 9.9+ scores — just five — on the night, every Florida performer managed to score at least a 9.825 on one apparatus.

This was a fine start for a squad that could use the overmatched Pioneers as a walkover opponent and focus on execution and improvement rather than competition. And with junior Claire Boyce (hip surgery) and freshman Lacy Dagen (torn ACL) each set to miss the 2016 season with injuries, it was good to see Florida flash some of its depth in Texas, with seniors (Sloan, Bridgette Caquatto, and Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto) and juniors (none) contributing just six of Florida's 24 routines.

Florida's next month is a gauntlet: The Gators face perennial power UCLA in their home opener on Friday, then see 2015 Super Six participants Auburn and Alabama in consecutive weeks, then travel to Georgia to begin February. Florida could lose any of those four meets — though it still wouldn't matter much — and so the Gators will be measuring themselves against title contenders on a weekly basis for the near future.

Gators women's hoops spoils Mississippi's new home opener

The Mississippi Rebels opened their new basketball facility this week, with their men's team christening The Pavilion with wins over Alabama and Georgia.

The Rebels women didn't fare so well — because they met Florida on Sunday. And after an 8-1 run gave Mississippi the lead, Florida answered with a pulverizing 27-4 run in the first quarter that set the tone for it its 85-65 win.

Ronni Williams had her sixth double-double of the year (11 points, 11 rebounds), Tyshara Fleming led the Gators in scoring with 12 points, and freshman sensation Eleanna Christinaki had 10 assists, eight in the first half, to set a new career high.

For Christinaki, the day was especially cool because of the audience: She balled out in front of one of her idols, former Tennessee and current WNBA star Candace Parker, who is doing color commentary for ESPN this season.

The win moved Florida to 14-2 on the year and eclipsed the Gators' win total from 2014-15. And after a perfect week on the road in the SEC that also included an impressive come-from-behind win at Tennessee, Florida might be in line for its first appearance in the national rankings since 2009 when polls are released later on Monday.

The best of the rest

Florida women's golfer Kelly Grassel finished tied for second at the Harder Hall Women's Invitational over the weekend, placing ahead of several top-100 players in doing so. ... Florida's NFL alumni had a relatively rough go of it on the weekend: Frankie Hammond and Jaye Howard (Kansas City) and Marcus Gilbert, David Nelson, and Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh) all advanced, but the Steelers' trio did so at the expense of Cincinnati's Carlos Dunlap and Reggie Nelson, and Minnesota (Sharrif Floyd and Justin Trattou) and Washington (Mack Brown, Quinton Dunbar, Matt Jones, and Jordan Reed) each lost to teams without Gators on Sunday. ... Reed, though, was a bright spot, hauling in nine catches for 120 yards and a touchdown — none better than a one-hander that probably saved a pick-six — and drawing high praise from Fox analyst Troy Aikman.