PHOENIX -- On a night that set offensive basketball back half a century, the city of Phoenix would like to thank the Florida Gators for doing something no other team in the West Regional could do Thursday: eclipsing the 40 percent shooting threshold.
For that, the Gators can thank guard Bradley Beal, who continues to use the NCAA tournament as his personal showcase.
Beal followed up strong performances against Virginia and Norfolk State with a 21-point, six-rebound, four-assist, two-block, two-steal performance in the Gators surprisingly easy 68-58 win over Marquette in the Sweet 16. Oh, and he went 8 for 10 from the floor while NBA scouts around the country began salivating at the thought of him leaving school after one season.
Thats a heck of a line, Marquette coach Buzz Williams said of Beals stats. I think he's really, really good.
Nothing against (Floridas) Erving Walker, nothing against Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Patric Young," Williams said of Florida's other key players. "But in a lot of ways, I think Bradley Beal is their swing vote because he's so multi-versatile, talented, can guard multiple guys.
If you want to nitpick, Beal didnt demand the ball late in the game despite his teammates shooting woes (a combined 16 for 49), but hey, hes a freshman. Hes not supposed to be that cocky. Not yet, anyway.
Hes got great awareness as a young kid of what team chemistry is all about, Florida coach Billy Donovan said. He doesnt want to step on anybodys toes. Hes very much aware of where his place is on the team.
Beal is also very aware that the nations eyes are upon him.
Before the games, Im aware of the stage and I get caught in the moment, he said. But once the balls in the air, I just block everything out. I just stay humble. I stay grounded and focused on the team.
That wasnt easy for Beal early in the season. The 2011 Gatorade national player of the year out of Chaminade College Prep in St. Louis, Beal had expectations for himself.
I had a hard time with him early in the year, because I think when you come out of high school, as decorated as he was, there is this expectatio -- not only for himself but with people around him who know him and watched him play -- that he's just going to step on this stage and just be this star, Donovan said.
Instead, Beal went through a shooting slump in December.
He didn't handle it well, Donovan said. At times, he could get a little moody and get a little pouty.
Eventually, Beal realized that he could also help the team through rebounding, assists or playing multiple positions.
That versatility was on display Thursday when he took a turn guarding Marquettes 235-pound power forward, Jae Crowder, due to the Gators shortage of forwards in the wake of Will Yeguetes foot injury. Beal accepted the challenge without flinching.
Hes got a great presence, Donovan said.
When asked after the game if it was his best performance of the season, Beal appeared to be caught off-guard by the question.
I guess it was, he said, stopping to ponder the eye-popping stat line he put up. I had a lot of confidence in myself tonight, as well as my teammates. I found ways to get open tonight and I just stayed aggressive.