Almost every time he touches the ball, Bradley Beal does something special. His latest bit of basketball wizardry pushed Florida a win away from the Final Four and set up Billy Donovan with a perfectly scripted matchup against his old coach and boss, Rick Pitino.
Beal, the freshman with NBA written all over him, scored 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting Thursday night to help the Gators to a 68-58 victory over Marquette.
Next up for No. 7 Florida (26-10) — a West Regional final Saturday against Louisville and Pitino, who taught ol' Billy The Kid a lot of what he knows.
Lesson No. 1 on any coach's list, of course, would be to get good players. On this night, Beal was the best on the court. He also had six rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots, including one on Marquette's Jae Crowder while the third-seeded Golden Eagles (27-8) were desperately trying to claw back in after trailing by 14.
Crowder, a senior and the Big East player of the year, never found his touch. He finished with 15 points on 5-for-15 shooting while another Marquette senior, Darius Johnson-Odom also went 5 for 15 in a struggle to reach 14 points. Buzz Williams' team shot 31 percent and was held 18 points under its season average.
Erving Walker had 11 for the Gators, including a 3-pointer that came after Patric Young scrapped for an offensive rebound with 2:05 left. It snapped a 6-0 Marquette run that pulled the third-seeded Golden Eagles (27-8) to within six.
But the biggest difference maker was Beal, a high school national player of the year whom Donovan has been pushing to be more assertive.
In the second half, he gave about five perfect examples of what he can do when he steps up a bit. Blanketed by Marquette's Todd Mayo, Beal hesitated, took a stutter step, then breezed past him for a reverse layup that would've made George Gervin proud.
It was the second time he'd blown past Mayo for a layup. He also had a 3-pointer, a couple of free throws and a pretty assist to Young to help the Gators go up 56-44 with less than five minutes left. For cappers — he dunked for the last points of the game, leaving him one short of the high-water scoring mark of his one-year — one-and-done? — college career.