Improved guard play lifts Gators, but more will be required at Rupp

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Memories are difficult to erase. That's been the case with the Florida Gators backcourt of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton over the past few years. Sure, there have been plenty of timely shots, multiple game-winners. But poor decision-making has seemingly been the norm, not the exception.

Case in point: Last year's Elite Eight loss to Butler in which Walker and Boynton basically shot the Gators out of a trip to the Final Four.

Just can't seem to get that picture out of my head, though it's starting to fade each time Boynton and Walker take the court this season.

Boynton entered Saturday's victory against Vanderbilt leading the team in scoring (17.5 ppg), which is no surprise. However, the shock is that he's shooting 48 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Walker leads the SEC with an impressive 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, a scenario that seemed unfathomable not all that long ago.

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The duo combined to shoot 8 of 25 from the field in the 73-65 win against the Commodores, but it wasn't an ugly 8 of 25. For the most part, they played under control.

Sure, they took a few crazy shots. They'll never turn themselves into (Wisconsin's) Jordan Taylor and (North Carolina's) Kendall Marshall. Walker had a couple in the first half while Boynton made a terrible decision late in the game when he drove to the hoop, had nowhere to go and just threw the ball to the top of the key, where it was stolen and quickly converted into a Vanderbilt basket.

But there was Walker, moving the ball for the most part while Boynton did a terrific job on Commodores shooter John Jenkins (except for a couple of possessions) and also took high-percentage shots.

"My freshman year we had to score," Boynton said.

That's not the case these days.

Freshman guard Bradley Beal is Florida's best overall player. He can shoot it from deep, get to the basket and finish, rebounds like a big man and also gets his teammates easy opportunities. Erik Murphy has excelled in his role as a pick-and-pop forward, shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc. Then there's Mike Rosario, who has bought into his role coming off the bench, and reserve forward Will Yeguete, who is a relentless rebounder/defender who changed the game with his energy on defense against Vandy.

Boynton went for 18 against Vandy. Beal chipped in 16 points and seven boards, Walker had 11 points and five assists, Rosario had 10 points, Murphy finished with eight and Yeguete had five points and eight rebounds.

Florida knocked off No. 25 Vanderbilt -- a team that many picked as a top-10 preseason team with a healthy Festus Ezeli -- while getting virtually nothing from Patric Young.

"We need to get him back to what he was," Boynton said of Young.

Young, considered by some as the Gators' top NBA prospect prior to the season (that honor should have been bestowed on Beal), was a complete non-factor in his 14 foul-plagued minutes on the floor. He was 1 of 3 from the field and grabbed only four rebounds.

"Our guys stepped up," Young said.

Now it's Young's turn.

He's got a Ben Wallace-esque body and an improved low-post game. But he still needs to learn how to play hard -- all the time.

"He's the key -- and he's healthy now," Florida coach Billy Donovan said of Young. "He has incredible bursts of energy for one-minute spurts or two or three possessions, but he has to learn how to continually do that. That's what made Joakim Noah so good."

Young said the tendinitis in his ankle that has hindered him since December has improved significantly over the past week or so, and that he's still trying to get back into the flow.

"In the second half I was exhausted after one minute," Young said.

The past two games -- wins against South Carolina and Vandy -- Young is averaging only 3.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. He just doesn't look quite right and it's not only fatigue. I'm no doctor, but he doesn't appear to be close to 100 percent. Or maybe, as Donovan said, Young will have to battle this tendinitis issue for the remainder of the season and this is what he'll be until he either has surgery or extended rest.

These days it's a rare sight to see the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Young leaping above the rim to snare a rebound from the air. On Saturday afternoon, the man-child was physically manhandled by Ezeli for the bulk of the 14 minutes he spent on the court.

"I just need to get back into the flow," Young said. "Get my confidence back."

Good luck. The timing couldn't be worse. The next opponent? In Lexington against the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats and the potent front line of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones.

"He's the best shot-blocker in the country, maybe even if you put him in the NBA," Young said of Davis. "We've got to be mentally ready."

Mentally and physically -- or else he and the Gators, even with a much-improved backcourt, may not be able to recover from what happens Tuesday night at Rupp.

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