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Chomping at Bits: Florida women’s basketball upsets LSU to continue winning streak

As Joakim Noah might say: The Gator Girlz are hot.

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Florida vs Kentucky Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Florida women take down LSU for fifth straight win: What happened in the O’Dome on Saturday, when Florida’s men’s basketball team put their clamps on Vanderbilt, turned out to just be the weekend’s prologue — on Sunday, the Gators women had bigger prey to chomp, and did so.

Florida’s see-sawing 73-72 win over No. 11 LSU — in a game that the Gators never led by more than nine points and never trailed in by more than five points — was their second straight over a ranked team, and third over a ranked team in a five-game winning streak that has turned what looked like a season in which the Gators might once again fight for and fail to garner NCAA Tournament consideration into one that could see them contend to be one of the SEC’s best teams.

All the heartache over alleged abuses in the program by former coach Cameron Newbauer last fall has not gone away, and there are still unanswered questions about his tenure, including ones about whether successor Kelly Rae Finley was complicit in or did not do enough to halt the abuse.

But since the balls have been rolled out for this season, and not allegedly hurled at players, the Gators have looked like a talented team learning how to be tough through on-court trials during actual games, rather than the withering verbal and physical abuse they allegedly suffered — and in so doing have eclipsed the successes achieved under Newbauer, with plenty more chances to do more special things left on their schedule.

Sunday’s win was a culmination of so many things for Florida. But it could very well be only a beginning, too.

Gators star in NFL playoffs: Okay, yeah, Evan McPherson did the most of the Gators involved in this weekend’s scintillating Divisional Round of the 2021 NFL playoffs.

But it felt to me like every time I turned on a game, I saw a Gator making plays. T.J. Slaton came up with a huge tackle for loss for the Packers late in their loss to the 49ers on Saturday night. Van Jefferson and Brandon Powell did big things for the Rams in their rout-turned-collapse-turned-upset of the Bucs on Sunday. And while Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill were, as ever, the stars of the Chiefs’ show on Sunday, Demarcus Robinson was, as ever, a part of the offense and a party to the moments.

Gators greats may not be the absolute superstars left in these playoffs, but they sure are part of them — and they had a much better weekend than, say, the two Florida State players on the Rams roster who gave up an inexplicable touchdown to Mike Evans and fumbled away the next possession to set up a game-tying score.

Florida men decimate Vandy with defense: A note from the 61-42 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday that does not appear in Chris Harry’s piece on elite defensive days under Mike White: The 0.722 points per possession allowed to the Commodores were the fewest Florida has allowed to a power-conference program in 2021-22, and their third-fewest allowed this season overall, but they also came one game after Florida scored 1.22 points per possession on Mississippi State, its second-best figure of the year.

And when you pair those numbers with Florida allowing just 0.7 points per possession to Tennessee in last year’s meeting in Gainesville, it’s clear that the Gators can step up and win in a variety of ways even without Colin Castleton. They may need to continue doing so during a three-game week that begins Monday night with Ole Miss.

Florida tennis teams win in Sunshine State: After Florida’s men opened their national championship defense with a split in a pair of bruising matches in Texas against TCU and Texas itself, the Gators men and women had easier goes of it this weekend, with the men sweeping a ranked UCF team — which features the nephew of Andy Roddick — and the women opening their season with a victory over North Florida.

Texas TE commits to Gators: Florida’s second official visit weekend this January earned another commitment for the Gators, as three-star Texas tight end Hayden Hansen made his public pledge on Sunday.

I’m planning on a larger recruiting piece for later this week — sort of a reset; I’ll take feedback on what you all want in the comments — but Hansen strikes me as a nice complimentary piece at tight end, and I think the position is one that should be addressed in every class.