Beal key contributor in Gators' run to the Elite Eight


Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 23, 2012 at 3:13 a.m.

PHOENIX -- Buzz Williams was talking about Bradley Beal when he glanced down at the box score in front of him.

His voice raspy from yelling throughout the game, you could see Williams digesting the numbers that Beal had produced in Florida's 68-58 win in the Sweet 16.

“That's a heckuva line,” he said. “Really good.”

It was impressive, but not as impressive as it was in real life. Beal took over Thursday's game despite being a freshman on the big stage.

The line -- 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting with six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots.

His line for the tournament so far -- 49 points on 17-for-26 shooting, 26 rebounds and eight assists.

This may be a one-and-done situation for Beal, but man is he going out with a bang.

I asked Billy Donovan if it was Beal's best game.

“Pretty good, huh?” he said. “Pretty good.”

I asked Beal if it was his best game of this season.

“I guess it was,” he said. “I think I had a lot of confidence in myself tonight as well as my teammates. I found ways to get open and just stayed aggressive and tried to make some plays.”

That's a simplified way of talking about a complex performance. Because Beal didn't just score and rebound. He drew the second foul on Marquette's Jae Crowder which limited the minutes for Marquette's best player. He sometimes played the power forward and defended Crowder. And he handled the ball against an intense pressure defense, losing only two turnovers.

Not a bad game, eh?

“I think he's really good,” said Williams, the Marquette coach. “In a lot of ways, I think Bradley Beal is their swing vote because he's so multi-versatile, talented, can guard multiple guys.

“He's really good. And he was really good tonight. I mean, he missed two shots.”

You'd think a freshman would struggle with the bright lights of this tournament, but it seems to have brought out the best in Beal.

“Before the games, I'm aware of the stage,” he said. “I get caught up in the moment. But once they throw the ball in the air, I block everything out.”

It's not that Beal was the only reason Florida advanced to the Elite Eight, but he was the biggest reason on Thursday night.

Still, there were so many other reasons. Casey Prather came through again with four points, three rebounds and a block. Erik Murphy manned up on the boards even though his shot wasn't falling. Kenny Boynton didn't let a bad shooting night bug him, scoring 11 points with four rebounds and five assists.

Mostly, the Gators won by being just a little tougher and just a little better defensively. I'm guessing Mr. Crowder won't talk about Florida's defensive deficiencies anymore, not after he was 5 of 15 and Florida blocked nine shots.

“I didn't shoot the ball well,” Crowder said. “It wasn't falling.”

Not so fast.

“I think it's a bail-out when you say you didn't make shots,” Williams said. “They were really good. They were outstanding and that's a credit to their defensive gameplan.”

Give credit to this coaching staff for pulling this team from the abyss of four losses in five games to here, one game shy of the Final Four.

“I asked Brad one time, what's the most difficult part of college,” Billy Donovan said. “And he said dealing with bad games. I think going through some of those adversities that they had to go through, it's kind of forced them to grow and mature.

“I think that they're such good kids, they want to do well. I think sometimes they need some help to get through those difficult times.”

They're through those times now and staring at a return to Bourbon Street. Who would have thought it back when things looked so bleak?

But that's why we call it March Madness.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top