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Gillislee is a reluctant star for No. 4 Florida

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Gillislee is a reluctant star for No. 4 Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida's Mike Gillislee avoids interviews as well as he does defenders, says little in the locker room and talks even less in the huddle.

His play, though, speaks volumes for the fourth-ranked Gators.

Gillislee has rushed for 548 yards and seven touchdowns this season, emerging as the key cog in Florida's grind-it-out offense. The senior from DeLand leads the Southeastern Conference with nearly 110 yards a game on the ground and has been at his best against ranked teams.

He had a career-high 146 yards rushing and two touchdowns in Saturday's 14-6 win against LSU, earning him the SEC's offensive player of the week award Monday.

``He just moves the chains over and over again,'' said coach Will Muschamp, whose team plays at Vanderbilt on Saturday. ``You get kind of tired of tackling him. The fourth quarter, that's where he starts wearing on people.''

Gillislee's second-half success is fairly fitting since he was such a late bloomer in college.

Gillislee showed glimpses of talent during his first three years in Gainesville, getting on the field mostly in mop-up duty while playing behind speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. He ran for 930 yards and 10 touchdowns his first three seasons, averaging an eye-popping 6.3 yards a carry.

But because of his position on the depth chart, his inability to pick up blocking schemes and a nagging ankle injury, Gillislee spent most of his career watching and waiting from the sideline.

He got his chance in spring practice and was impressive enough that Muschamp penciled him as the starter. But by moving tight end Omarius Hines to running back, hyping up highly touted freshman Matt Jones and giving fullbacks Trey Burton and Hunter Joyer plenty of carries, the Gators never seemed settled at the position.

Now, though, Gillislee has been the main reason Florida (5-0, 4-0 SEC) has been able to successfully transition from a perimeter running team to a power attack in Muschamp's second season.

``He's just a one-cut guy,'' Muschamp said. ``He's going to stick his foot in the ground and he's going to get north and south. ... He hits a crease. He may not hit the big one every time, but in our league it's hard to hit big ones. You're going to get run down. A 5-yard run is a great run, and that's what sometimes younger players don't understand. They want to hit the big run, and in our league that's difficult.''

Maybe the most telling stat for Gillislee is negative yardage. He has lost just nine yards in 103 carries. He didn't lose any ground in his 34 attempts against the Tigers.

``I don't know how they get all those guys, but they are super fast,'' Vanderbilt defensive tackle Rob Lohr said.

Gillislee joined former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and former Arkansas star Darren McFadden as the only recent players to run for 140 yards and two scores against LSU's vaunted defense. Newton and McFadden both ended up in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, with Newton winning in 2010 and McFadden finishing second in 2006 and 2007.

What about Gillislee possibly being in the Heisman hunt?

``We're in the fifth game of the year,'' Muschamp said. ``Next question.''

Gillislee probably would be even more reluctant to entertain thoughts about college football's premier award. After all, he rarely does interviews - he has spoken to the media twice since fall practice began - and barely talks to teammates and coaches.

``He's definitely a quiet guy,'' quarterback Jeff Driskel said. ``He keeps to himself. When he has something to say, it's important, so you're going to listen when he starts to talk. He doesn't like talking to the media, but he's a guy we kind of rally around him. He can be funny at times, but he kind of keeps to himself.''

Florida is fine with that, especially if Gillislee keep talking like has been on the field.

``Mike Gillislee is a great running back,'' center Jon Harrison said. ``He has a lot of heart, a lot of drive. ... He's going to give it his all, even if it's sacrificing his body. The best thing about him is he that he just kept working.

``He just kept working and giving it his all every day, day in, day out, practice, weight room, whatever it takes, and that's what we respect so much about him.''

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Jeff Green lifts Wizards as fellow Hoya Otto Porter watches late again

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USA Today Sports

Jeff Green lifts Wizards as fellow Hoya Otto Porter watches late again

The Wizards’ 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic Monday night was the tale of two Hoyas.

Washington brought Jeff Green back home this summer to help anchor the second unit with his defensive versatility and scoring spurts. Both aspects were on display in the fourth quarter, as the Wizards finally broke free from the Magic.

Another former Georgetown star, Otto Porter, was nowhere to be found in the fourth. Zero minutes for a third consecutive game for the Wizards’ highest-paid player, thus adding another layer of weird to his season.

The why is a topic. For a team that registered its first winning streak of the season after a 2-9 start, all that matters is finding success. That was the postgame message from Scott Brooks.

There’s no detective work required as to why Green turned into a late-game staple.

After his 19-point outing in Saturday’s win at Miami, the streaky scorer had 10 of his 18 in the final period against Orlando with four 3-pointers. Defensively the 6-foot-9 forward offers Brooks an option the roster lacked last season: a versatile player capable of guarding on the perimeter and, as was the case against Orlando center Nik Vucevic, inside against bigger players.

“We need his all-around play,” Brooks said. “He can guard just about everybody on the floor. … I thought [Jeff] did a pretty good job on the big fellow.”

Green and Markieff Morris handled the interior spots the entire fourth quarter. When the forwards can match up with opposing four’s and five’s on defense, it typically means their scoring presence opens the court for penetrating guards John Wall and Bradley Beal on the other end.

Green sinking bombs throughout the game helped as well. He finished four of five from deep with two coming in the fourth. The career 33 percent 3-point shooter is 9 of 13 from beyond the arc overall during the last four games, and 21 of 28 overall.

“He's starting to get a little bit of rhythm from the three-point line, and we need that from him,” Brooks said.

Maybe Green isn’t the ideal athletic-4 Wall called for in recent years, but the on-court connection between the power forward and point guard is evident. During the decisive 14-4 run, the two hooked up for an alley-oop lob that's turned into a go-to play for Washington.

With shooters surrounding the duo, Wall dribbles toward the left elbow, taking all eyes with him. Green immediately turns down an open lane and rolls to the rim before rising high to meet the toss.

“We have shooters, we have guys that have to [be] respected,” Green said of the play. “It keeps [defenders] at bay, and with John’s speed, to get downhill at the rim, you have to help (on him).”

Wall passed on offering any keys to the play’s success (“We just tweaked a little bit of the play. I can’t tell you about, but it’s kind of working for us.”), but he praised Green’s performance with ease.

“That’s what we got Jeff for,” Wall said.

The Wizards matched that massive four-year, $106.5 million restricted offer sheet Porter signed with Brooklyn in 2017 for all kinds of reasons. Among them, he’s an instinct-rich player who makes winning plays and ranks among the most accurate 3-point shooters in the league. Those traits haven’t kept Porter on the court late in games recently in part because they haven’t shown in full-throated ways.

The term “benching” is harsh, though the situation is odd. Morris sat out the final periods at Orlando and Miami. Dwight Howard didn’t enter the fourth Monday despite finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds. Only Porter’s sit streak reached three games.

The small forward played a strong defensive game in Saturday’s win at Miami, but Brooks rode with a group that gained momentum as Washington surged past the Heat.

Porter is 9 of 16 on 3-pointers over the last four games. That’s only one aspect of the game. Brooks is looking for more. Porter took only one shot attempt in the first half Monday, lacked vigor defensively, and scored six points in 21 minutes. Kelly Oubre Jr., Porter's primary backup, played the entire fourth quarter instead despite finishing 0 for 5 from the floor.

"I mean, it's trying to find a blend of guys that are going to compete and going to play hard,” Brooks said of his lineup choices.

Asked specifically about Porter, Brooks said, “It’s just the way it is. Some games Otto is not going to have good games. Tonight isn’t one of them. He’ll bounce back. The guy is a winner. He knows how to play.”

Green and Porter honed their games at Georgetown under coach John Thompson III and turned into top-5 NBA Draft selections. The program is mostly closed off to the outside world, but a strong bond between the players exists regardless of when they played. The two forwards never joined forces until this season. Green knows Porter, enough to tell whether a helpful chat is required. This isn’t one of those times. 

“Otto is a pro, man,” Green told NBC Sports Washington. “I don’t have to say anything to Otto. He’s a team-first guy. He’s a guy who’s going to make sure whenever his name is called he’s going to be ready. He’s not worried about if he’s playing. I’m sure he’d like to be playing. He’s doing whatever it takes it to make sure the team is in a place to win.”

So is Scott Brooks. For now, that includes one former Georgetown star in the fourth quarter. It’s just not the obvious one.

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' 117-109 win over Magic, including Bradley Beal's big dunk

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USA Today Sports

5 must-see moments from Wizards' 117-109 win over Magic, including Bradley Beal's big dunk

The Washington Wizards topped the Orlando Magic 117-109 on Monday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. Like most games the Wizards have played this season, on Monday they started out scorching on offense while defense appeared optional. 

This play was an exception. Bradley Beal, whom you will see plenty more from in this post, got a steal that led to a three for Otto Porter Jr. on the other end:

Though the Wizards won, Porter was held to just six points in 22 minutes of action.

2. Back to Beal. Though that first-half play was nice, he was quiet for much of this game. It wasn't until less than five minutes were remaining in the third quarter that he flipped a switch.

But when he did, there was nothing the Magic could do to stop him. This was one of the plays he made during his third quarter takeover. He used a nifty behind-the-back crossover to set up Dwight Howard for an and-1 bucket:

3. Beal accounted for 10 points in a three-minute stretch, capped off with this steal and dunk:

Beal started the game 3-for-13 from the field, but ended it with 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

4. John Wall (25 points, 10 assists) and Jeff Green (18 points, six rebounds) also had big nights. They connected on this alley-oop in the fourth quarter:

Green had 10 points in the fourth quarter and Wall had nine.

5. Wall kept it going late with this fadeaway jumper to force a Magic timeout. The way he toyed with the defense off the dribble was quite impressive:

Speaking of Wall, if you ask Beal, it was the media (and more specifically ESPN's Stephen A. Smith) that set the five-time All-Star off. Wall, Beal says, was playing with some extra motivation with Smith sitting courtside:

Don't question him. Just go with it.

The Wizards have now won two straight games. In a sign that it's still super early and probably not time to freak out about the big picture, the Wizards are now just 1 1/2 games out of the eighth seed in the East.

 

 

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