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Friday March 23, 2012Gators Notebook: Beal Continues to Shine on Game's Biggest Stage; Walker Comes through in Clutch

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

PHOENIX – As Florida’s players hugged and high-fived in their victorious locker room Thursday night, center Patric Young got an idea.

“Hey!” Young said. “When Brad comes in, everybody ignore him.”

Moments later, guard Bradley Beal strolled in after doing his post-game interview with TNT, one of the perks that comes with scoring a game-high 21 points, making eight of 10 shots, three of five 3-point attempts, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing four assists, blocking two shots and coming away with two steals in a game that puts your team in the Elite Eight.

The room suddenly went quiet ... then suddenly erupted, with every player mobbing their freshman teammate with the ready-for-NBA game.

“He was spectacular,” senior guard Erving Walker said after seventh-seeded UF stunned third-seeded Marquette 68-58 in the semifinals of the NCAA West Region at USAirways Arena. “He’s been leading us as a freshman. He’s a great player and I hope he keeps on doing it.”

Beal, the 6-foot-4, 207-pound former McDonald’s All-American from St. Louis, played the role of closer, and not just with his run-out dunk with 32 seconds left in the game that set off UF’s Elite Eight here-we-come party.

And he’s making the biggest games of his life look so easy.

“Before the games, I’m aware of the stage,” Beal said. “I get caught up in the moment. But once the ball is thrown up in the air, I block everything out and just focus in on the game and what the team needs to do to win.”

He had 10 points by halftime. He drained a 3-pointer during UF’s pivotal second-half run of eight straight points. Beal’s attack-the-glass reverse layup came after the Golden Eagles cut a 14-point UF lead to eight. And he made a pair of free throws with 4:54 left to give the Gators a 12-point edge.

“Bradley Beal is their swing vote because he’s so multi-versatile, talented and can guard multiple guys,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said afterward. “He can beat you off the bounce using their ball screens, he can catch and shoot. ... I think he’s really good. And he was really good tonight.”

In five postseason games (three in the NCAA, two in Southeastern Conference Tournament), Beal is averaging 17 points, 8.2 rebounds, shooting 53.8 percent overall, 43.3 from 3-point range and has a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Yeah, he’s really good.

“We’re playing really well right now, but I we’re not done yet,” Beal said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet.”

If that statement applies to himself, that’s a scary thought.

Little Erv’s Big 3

It was getting a little hairy for the Gators. A 14-point lead had dwindled to six after Marquette’s Todd Mayo’s 3-pointer with 3:18 remaining.

On Florida’s next possession, Kenny Boynton missed a 3-pointer that teammate Patric Young outmuscled a pair of Marquette players for.

Young got the ball to 5-foot-8 point guard Erving Walker. As the shot clock ticked toward zero, Walker shook off a defender and launched a long 3-pointer.

Good. Walker’s only 3 of the game gave Florida a 61-52 lead with 2:07 remaining

“They had a big man on me. I think it was [Jamil] Wilson,’’ Walker said. “They were indecisive trying to switch. As they were switching, I got a little crease and I just went for it.”

The shot prompted this tweet from national basketball columnist Gary Parrish: “Erving Walker is the best player in the history of college basketball at making shots that should've never been taken,’’ Parrish wrote.

“Luckily it went,’’ Walker said.

Catching Up With Junior

Former Gators assistant coach Richard Pitino spent the first part of his Thursday evening on Louisville’s bench helping his father, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, improve to 10-0 all-time in Sweet 16 games.

When Florida’s game started 30 minutes later, Pitino was in the stands scouting the Gators, a team he is very familiar with. Pitino spent the last two seasons on Billy Donovan’s staff at Florida before taking a job on his father’s staff after the Gators’ run to the Elite 8 last year.

Gators forward Erik Murphy considers Pitino a good friend, but that will be put on hold when the teams square off on Saturday for a berth in the Final Four.

“That’s my guy,” Murphy said. “He’s a great guy and I’m really close to him. But when you are in between the lines you don’t really have any friends, so I’ll let him know that.”

Bonus Points

--The Gators are now 6-1 all-time in Sweet 16 games and have won five in a row under Donovan.

--When Donovan played for Louisville coach Rick Pitino at Providence in 1987, he led the Friars to the Final Four in New Orleans. Twenty-five years later the two will square off as opposing coaches for a berth in the Final Four – in New Orleans.

--Marquette started the game shooting 60 percent (6-for-10) but shot only 14 of 55 (24.5 percent) the rest of the game.

--The Gators blocked a season-high nine shots, led by Murphy’s three.

--The Gators wore their all-orange uniforms for fifth time this season, improving to 4-1. senior writer Scott Carter contributed to this report.


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