Speights follows Donovan's advice
Published: Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 21, 2008 at 6:56 p.m.
Florida coach Billy Donovan sat down one-on-one with Marreese Speights prior to Saturday night's game against Kentucky. The coach had a strong message for his sophomore center.
"I said, ‘Marreese, keep it simple tonight. If you play with great energy and don't worry about scoring, if you do that, your offensive talent and ability will take over,’ ” Donovan said.
That's exactly what happened. Speights delivered the best effort of his Florida career during the Gators' 81-70 overtime win against Kentucky in the O'Connell Center. The stats tell half the story: 20 points, eight rebounds and a career-high-tying four blocked shots.
But there was more than what showed up in the box score, like his defense on Kentucky's Patrick Patterson and his performance after teammate Dan Werner fouled out.
"I feel like this was my best game ever," Speights said. "I played a lot of minutes (31) and I played pretty good."
Donovan said he felt it was necessary to talk to Speights because he was coming off a disappointing game Wednesday in Florida's loss at Ole Miss. Speights sat for the final 16 minutes and scored only four points.
That performance was a distant memory by Saturday.
"It was great to see him energized in a way that maybe he wasn't on Wednesday," Donovan said.
Speights looked sharp Saturday. His biggest basket came during overtime when he
hit a shot in the lane with 1:23 left to put the Gators ahead 70-68, a lead they never relinquished.
"We made some big shots in overtime," Speights said. "That shot there was a key shot."
Speights also kept his energy going on defense. He held Kentucky's Patterson to 15 points on just 5-of-14 shooting.
"We went at it and the best man won," Speights said.
The performance was reminiscent of another Gator big man, Al Horford, who coincidently watched Saturday's game from behind Florida's bench. That, however, was nothing special to Speights.
"He always talks to me and texts me everyday," Speights said. "I played with him last year so this was nothing special. But it was funny to see him over there shaking his head every time I made a play."
Speights' teammates believe Saturday's performance could be something the Gators see more of in the future.
"For him to go out and play so well has got to give him a lot of confidence," Werner said.
Donovan is hoping Speights can learn to bring his best effort to the floor every night. That, however, may still take some time.
"When you've got young guys, the hard thing to do is to get them playing at a high level every game," Donovan said. "There are ups and downs."
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