GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Bradley Beal stood outside Florida’s locker room after last Saturday’s victory over LSU and pronounced his slump finished.
It was Beal’s third solid game in a row -- he scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds -- since he hit a rough patch after returning from the Christmas break. The 6-foot-3 freshman guard from St. Louis knows he’s still going to have some bad games the rest of the season, but he now has a much better understanding of how he’s supposed to play and adjust his game to the challenges of the Southeastern Conference.
“He’s got a better feel and understanding of when and where shots are coming for him,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “I don’t know if he ever really felt comfortable with that. I think he’s getting better at that. I think he’s understanding when to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive, but he’s not allowing some missed shots or plays that maybe don’t go his way to affect him on the next play.”
That last part was Beal’s biggest problem. He knew things weren’t going to be as easy in college as they were in high school, but he was so hard on himself when he did miss a shot or blow a defensive assignment that he wasn’t concentrating on what he was supposed to do on the next play.
As a result, he was a half-step -- sometimes even a full step -- behind everyone else mentally. Then it would snowball. He’d miss another shot, get down on himself, not be in the right frame of mind the next time he shot the ball, miss again …
“I hardly faced any [adversity in high school], so this is very new to me,” said Beal, who is UF’s second-leading scorer (14.1 ppg) and third-leading rebounder (6.1 rpg). “When I went through the first couple of games where I wasn't playing so well, I was down on myself. Coach Donovan said it's going to be tough like that. I really just had to keep my head and stay mentally tough.
"It's real hard because I'm probably the biggest critic of myself. It's really hard for me, but I just try not to focus too much on it and move past it."
Beal seems to have done that the past three games. He’s averaging 14 points and 7.3 rebounds and is shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 50 percent (7-for-13) from 3-point range in the 13th-ranked Gators’ victories over Georgia, South Carolina and LSU. In the four games between Christmas break and the Georgia game, Beal was averaging 10 points and 4.8 rebounds and shooting 29.8 percent from the floor and 12.5 percent (2-for-16) from 3-point range.
He also turned the ball over 14 times in those four games. He’s turned it over only three times in the last three.
One of the things that Beal has realized over the past two weeks is that he doesn’t have to score to help Florida (15-4, 3-1 SEC) win games. He averaged 32.5 points per game as a senior at Chaminade Prep, so not thinking points-first has been an adjustment -- but one Donovan believes Beal has finally begun to handle.
“A lot of times your scoring has a direct reflection on the outcome of the game when you’re in high school and your team needs you to score,” said Donovan, whose Gators play at Ole Miss (13-6, 3-2) on Thursday. “Sometimes your identity gets wrapped up in your scoring. I think he’s starting to figure out right now that there’s so much more he can do.”
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.