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No. 4 Florida piling up wins with stingy defense

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No. 4 Florida piling up wins with stingy defense

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Billy Donovan has coached plenty of good defensive teams in his 17 seasons at Florida.

None of them quite like this.

The fourth-ranked Gators have been ridiculously stingy this season, especially in Southeastern Conference play.

Florida (17-2, 7-0 SEC) ranks second in the nation in scoring defense, giving up a paltry 50.4 points a game. The Gators have held 15 teams under 60 points, 11 under 50 and three under 40.

The latest defensive masterpiece came Wednesday night against South Carolina. In winning its ninth consecutive game, Florida allowed the program's fewest points (36) in conference play during the shot-clock era.

For an encore, the league's top scoring team, Mississippi visits Gainesville on Saturday to test Florida's defense.

The 16th-ranked Rebels (17-3, 6-1) are averaging 80 points a game and should provide a tough test for Florida's stout D.

No SEC team has really challenged the Gators so far. Florida has won seven games by an average of 28.3 points, looking like the class of the field in a watered-down league.

``We're just consistent,'' forward Will Yeguete said. ``We have a couple of breakdowns a game, but we stay consistent. We keep guarding teams every single time, possession after possession. ... It's good to say that you're a really good defensive team.''

Few Donovan-coached teams even compare.

The back-to-back national champions - the ones led by Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah - used to be considered Donovan's best defensive group. And the 1999-2000 team, which advanced to the NCAA final, had top-notch defenders in guard Justin Hamilton and forward Brent Wright.

But none of those teams had as much defensive depth as this year's unit.

Between guards Scottie Wilbekin and Kenny Boynton, swingman Casey Prather, Yeguete and center Pat Young, the Gators have five players who take as much pride in stops and steals as dunks and jumpers.

``When you're a kid growing up playing the game of basketball, or if you're a kid growing up playing the game of football, I can't imagine that many guys that want to go to the park today and play and say, `I'm not going to take my ball, but I'm going to do defensive slides for two hours. I'm going to work on running back in transition. I'm going to grab some people in the school yard to run me over and take charges,''' Donovan said. ``Those things that you're talking about doing are not things that are enjoyable.

``But I often find that the things that make teams successful are the players that have the desire to do the things that are uncomfortable.''

Making opponents uncomfortable starts with Wilbekin and Boynton, both aggressive, on-ball defenders who have the quickness and stamina to run the press, the length to affect perimeter shots and the kind of experience that makes it easy to get them on the same page.

Wilbekin kept Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (season-low 11 points), Texas A&M's Elston Turner (4 points on 1-of-10 shooting) and Missouri's Phil Pressey (2 points, 10 turnovers) in check last month. And Boynton was equally effective the last two games against Mississippi State's Jalen Steele (scoreless) and South Carolina's Bruce Ellington (7 points on 2-of-9 shooting).

Maybe the most overlooked part of what Wilbekin and Boynton have done is how they have made everyone around them want to play better defense. Young, forward Erik Murphy and guard Mike Rosario are playing the best defense of their careers.

``It's contagious,'' Rosario said. ``We're all feeding off those guys and what they're doing in the press and on the defensive end.''

The Gators are motivated to keep it going, too.

They ended NCAA tournament runs the last two years by collapsing on the defensive end.

Florida was up 11 with about 8 minutes to play against Louisville last year, but managed just three points the rest of the way and lost 72-68. The 2010-11 season ended in similar fashion. The Gators led Butler by 11 points midway through the second half before faltering down the stretch and losing in overtime.

``This team has been to two Elite Eights and we've seen how a lack of defense will let a team back in a game,'' Boynton said. ``It's definitely a mental thing with us: we've been there before and we're not to let it happen again.''

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Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

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Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

For well over six seasons, Manny Machado's value to the Baltimore Orioles has been solely his ability to hit and play the field.

All that has changed, now that the Orioles are looking to receive a huge return for their All-Star shortstop in a blockbuster trade.

Machado homered before being removed on a wet day, Adam Jones hit a three-run double and Baltimore rallied past the Texas Rangers 6-5 Sunday.

Machado was taken out of the game in the fifth inning by manager Buck Showalter after a 26-minute rain delay. The move was designed to get their star player off a sloppy field, because the last-place Orioles are entertaining offers for Machado before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

"Obviously there's a different situation going on with Manny. You all know that," Showalter said. "That had a lot to do with it."

Plain and simple, the Orioles can't afford to have Machado get hurt. Now, more than ever.

"A month ago he wouldn't have come out of the game," Showalter acknowledged. "We know that. You know it."

After being replaced by Jace Peterson, Machado sat in the dugout, wearing a sweatshirt and joking with his teammates.

"I don't know why (Showalter) did it or not," Machado said. "He just told me, `I'm going to take you out. You had a good first half and go represent us well in the All-Star Game.'"

Machado is Baltimore's lone representative for Tuesday's showcase. He has spent his entire career in Baltimore, but his contract expires after this season and the Orioles don't appear interested in locking him up with a long-term deal.

"I'm going to the All-Star Game as an Oriole and as a shortstop. It's just always a blessing," Machado said. "I thank God. I thank my family for always supporting me, my teammates, the fans, the organization. I mean it's just been very incredible."

In a matchup between two teams staggering into the break, Texas got a first-inning grand slam from rookie Ronald Guzman but quickly gave the lead away in losing for the seventh time in nine games.

Machado ignited the comeback with his 24th homer, and Jones' bases-clearing double in the third off Mike Minor (6-6) put Baltimore ahead to stay.

"I'll be fine," said Minor, who yielded five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. "I'll reflect a little bit and then get back to it."

The game ended when Texas pinch-runner Carlos Tocci was thrown out at the plate on a double by Elvis Andrus. Running from first base, Tocci was tagged out by catcher Caleb Joseph following throws by right fielder Mark Trumbo and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

"Textbook," Showalter said.

Texas manager Jeff Bannister called it a "situation where they had to throw it on line to throw Tocci out. They executed well."

Tanner Scott (1-1), the first of four Baltimore relievers, earned his first big league win.

Zach Britton, another Oriole supposedly on the trading block, worked the ninth for his fourth save, the second in two days.

Texas broke on top when Miguel Castro issued three straight walks and Guzman sent a one-out drive over the right-field wall for his first career grand slam.

It was 4-1 in the third when Joseph hit an RBI double and Jones doubled down the left-field line following a walk to Machado.

Shin-Soo Choo homered in the seventh to get the Rangers to 6-5.

STREAKY

Choo opened the game with a walk, extending to 51 his single-season club record streak of games reaching base via a hit, walk or HBP. ... Texas' Delino DeShields went 0 for 3, stretching his hitless drought to 28 at-bats. ... Jones snapped a 1-for-16 skid with his third-inning double.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Rangers: RF Nomar Mazara was given the day off after hurting his hand Saturday night in the outfield.

Orioles: RHP Chris Tillman (back) was set to make his final rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Norfolk. ... INF Steve Wilkerson (oblique) and OF Craig Gentry (rib fracture) likely won't come off the DL before August, Showalter said. ... RHP Andrew Cashner (neck strain) will be activated from the DL on Saturday or Sunday to face Toronto, Showalter said.

UP NEXT

Rangers: The rotation after the All-Star break, beginning Friday against visiting Cleveland: Martin Perez, Bartolo Colon, Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo and Minor.

Orioles: After the All-Star break, Dylan Bundy will start at Toronto on Friday night.

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.

Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.

Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.

Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.

Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.

New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.

WAITING

A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.

MAKING MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.

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