Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators entered Sunday’s regular-season finale against No. 1-ranked Kentucky fully aware that they had no chance at beating the Wildcats if freshman phenom Anthony Davis made Patric Young seem invisible.
As usual, the 6-foot-10 Davis resembled a tree with legs and extra-long branches, scoring a game-high 22 points and adding 12 rebounds and six blocked shots. But Young never played in Davis’ shadow, matching him blow for blow in much of Kentucky’s 74-59 win.
“If Patric Young plays like that, they’re going to be fine in the postseason,’’ Wildcats coach John Calipari said afterward. “Patric, whatever you had for breakfast this morning, eat it. Because he dominated us.”
Young led the Gators with 21 points and nine rebounds in perhaps his finest all-around game since a career-best 25-point, 10-rebound performance in a December victory over Arizona. Young challenged Davis regularly, and while Davis did block three of his shots, Young never backed down and finished 10 of 15 from the floor.
With Kentucky’s roster loaded with talent and size, including forwards Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and over-sized guard Darius Miller, Young and fellow forward Erik Murphy faced a difficult challenge Sunday.
They not only had to defend in the low post and stay out of foul trouble, but if the Gators’ shots weren’t falling from the outside, they needed to score. Murphy chipped in with 14 points and eight rebounds, marking the first time all season that Young and Murphy were the only two Gators in double-figures.
Guards Erving Walker, Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario combined to shoot just 7 of 31 (22.5 percent).
“That was encouraging to see,’’ Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “If we didn’t get anything from Murphy and Patric across the front line, we could have been in a world of hurt.”
The production of Young and Murphy wasn’t enough to overcome a Kentucky team that many have labeled a can’t-miss to win Calipari’s first national title. And it wasn’t enough for the Gators to avoid losing their third consecutive game, finishing the regular season 22-9, 10-6 in the SEC.
More than anything, Young and Murphy showed they can play well against the best in the country, which provides Florida a jolt of confidence entering the postseason. With Young and Murphy playing well Sunday, Florida’s other most dependable frontcourt player, sophomore forward Will Yeguete, watched from the bench on crutches with a broken foot.
Young has specifically come under criticism of late for a drop-off in production since early in the season. He had averaged only 4.7 points over the last four games prior to Sunday and had scored in double-figures in just four of the last 14 games.
“I haven’t had too much fun out there,’’ Young said.
That changed Sunday.
“Pat played unbelievable with a lot of energy and a lot of emotion,’’ Murphy said. “He was doing all the things he was asked to do. He was smart on offense. When he would catch it, he would go and score right away and not let Davis change position or other guys come and help. It was smart basketball by him.’’
A physical specimen at 6-foot-9, 247 pounds, Young has represented the program well in his two seasons on campus. Donovan has challenged him of late to take more ownership of the program and his game.
He did that and more against Davis, projected as the overall No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft if he decides to leave school after the season.
“It was just two guys going out there and trying to compete against each other,’’ Young said. “It’s different against a guy like him because he has such great length. He just plays behind you because he is really good at timing to block your shot. When I get the ball in the post, it’s really important I hit him first to neutralize his jumping ability.
“It’s really encouraging. I thought I gave it everything I had. I had a few mistakes, but overall I thought I played pretty well. I think I can do a better job of communicating with our team and just leading the guys out there. We were right there.’’
In Donovan’s view, Young took a step forward on Sunday.
In what has been a roller-coaster season for the Jacksonville product, Young has battled nagging injuries and served a short stint as the team’s sixth man while recovering. Donovan wants to see more of the Young who showed up on Sunday.
“I think it’s all mental with Patric,’’ Donovan said. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with him physically. And I don’t think there has been anything physically wrong with him for a while except just for the normal bumps and bruises, tendinitis, things like that.
“He really gave us a big lift.”
Donovan also saw something deeper. He saw a player blocking out all the outside distractions and focused on one thing: playing at the highest level possible. Young had to do that Sunday to give the Gators any chance.
“This has been, as a coach, rewarding for me, frustrating for me, scratch my head sometimes,’’ Donovan said. “Trying to get Patric to understand that he can control his mindset in getting himself prepared to play. I think sometimes mentally when you convince yourself of something, you are basically dealing with it as truth. ‘My knee is really bothering me today, so we’re going to focus on that the entire day.’ I don’t know if Patric ever understood how challenged he was necessarily going to be.
“He got challenged in a lot of different ways -- by me, by himself, by the competition -- that there has been a level of inconsistency because of that. I’m hoping that the adversity that he’s gone through and had to deal with, there there is a growth and maturity for him going forward. I thought he was a really, really big bright spot for us [Sunday].”
Young will try to do more of the same when the Gators open the SEC Tournament.
“I have to bring the same thing every day,’’ Young said. “I can do that every day. I just have to come in the right mindset to practice. It’s live or die from here on out.”