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Stifling defense, winning ways have Gators on rise

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Stifling defense, winning ways have Gators on rise

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida center Pat Young knows something is coming.

It could be a speech. It could be a video session. It could be a grueling practice.

Following an eight-game winning streak, a dominant start in the Southeastern Conference and the program's highest ranking in nearly six years, Young figures coach Billy Donovan will do something to get his team's attention.

``I know coach Donovan's going to humble us,'' Young said Monday. ``He's going to find something to make sure we don't get too lifted up on this attention that we're getting now. We want to be great for being recognized as a good team, but we want to make it all the way. We want to win it all. Then we'll finally be satisfied with what we've got.''

Florida moved up four spots to No. 4 in the latest Associated Press college basketball poll, jumped to sixth in the latest Ratings Percentage Index and have been projected a top seed in the NCAA tournament. That's a lot of love for a team that fell to No. 14 after losing close games away from home against Arizona and Kansas State.

How the Gators (16-2, 6-0 SEC) handle their recent success and raised expectations could be key to avoiding the kind of letdowns that have plagued so many other top-five teams this season.

``I almost liken it to driving a car,'' Donovan said. ``You go out and drive in a country field and there's nothing to look at. You're looking at the road. Then all of a sudden, you get into the city and there's a bunch of sights and sounds and things you start looking at. You're not paying attention to what's in front of you and you drive the car right off the road into a pole.

``Our guys have got to understand that the chatter and stuff around them is on the peripheral. It's got nothing to do with us preparing to get ready for the next game. I think that any good team or any team that moves up in the rankings, you have to deal with that.''

Florida is home for four of its next five games. The Gators host South Carolina (12-7, 2-4) on Wednesday night, three days before fellow SEC-unbeaten and 16th-ranked Mississippi comes to town.

The No. 4 ranking is Florida highest since the 2006-07 season, when the Gators won the second of back-to-back national championships. Florida spent much of that season atop the polls, but was ranked third heading into the NCAA tournament.

``It's good for the school, but honestly as a team, we're not worried about it,'' guard Kenny Boynton said. ``Whether we're ranked or not, we're going to get a team's best game. So we've just got to go out there and play.''

Defense has been the catalyst of Florida's rise.

Donovan's squad has held 10 teams opponents under 50 points and 14 under 60. Florida ranks third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 51.2 points a game.

It starts with Boynton and fellow guard Scottie Wilbekin, suffocating on-ball defenders. Young and fellow big man Will Yeguete have provided plenty of help defense on pick-and-roll plays and drives through the lane.

``Being in the right position, staying in the white lines, help defense, that's the main things,'' Boynton said. ``And containing the ball, basically giving up no open 3s and trying to make teams take tough 2s.''

The Gators have been at their best in league play, winning six games by an average of 26.5 points.

The team has shot at least 44 percent in all of those, including at least 35 percent from 3-point range, and allowed no opponent to shoot better than 41 percent from the field.

Now, though, the Gators will try to continue their streak with a few extra distractions that come with more attention.

``We've got to drive our car with two hands on the wheel inside the lane and looking at what's in front,'' Donovan said. ``And what's in front of us right now is South Carolina. So that's the challenge that they need to understand. ...

``No team's perfect. Everybody's got flaws, everybody's got things they've got to work at. I think the biggest mistake you can make as a player or as a coach or inside your team is to say, `OK, we're playing really, really good basketball, we're great, we're OK, everything's going to be fine.' Really, all that stuff is in the past. What about today? We don't want to slip and go backwards. They've worked hard to get to the point now. Can you keep working hard to continue to grow and develop?''

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Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

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Associated Press

Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

Bradley Beal may have had a slow start in the three-point contest on Saturday night, but in Sunday's All-Star Game he worked quickly to make the most of his relatively small window of playing time.

Beal checked in for the first time with 5:45 left in the first quarter and less than 25 seconds later had his first points on a two-handed dunk assisted by LeBron James.

In his All-Star debut, Beal helped lead Team LeBron to a 148-145 victory over Team Stephen as the league utilizied a new format for the annual showcase.

RELATED: BEAL BOUNCED EARLY IN THREE-POINT CONTEST

Beal finished with 14 points and a steal in a productive night. He shot 5-for-10 from the field and an impressive 4-for-8 from long range. 

Beal also tried to get a travelling call from the refs on Karl-Anthony Towns. Yeah, that's not likely to happen in an All-Star Game:

Beal more than held his own and only played 16 minutes, which was good considering he has logged the fifth-most minutes of any player so far this season. A realistic best-case scenario was a strong showing and a short night and that's exactly what he got.

Not only does Beal play a lot of minutes, the Wizards need him now more than ever with John Wall's injury. He needs whatever rest he can get during this All-Star break.

Speaking of Wall, he was in the house despite being in the middle of his rehab from left knee surgery. Per usual, Wall was shining bright:

RELATED: BEST WIZARDS/BULLETS MOMENTS ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

The All-Star Game wasn't all about Beal, of course. Here are some other things that stood out...

*The new format and increased financial incentive were intended to make the game more competitive and that's what happened late in the fourth quarter. Usually, that's how these things go where the players will start trying at the end. But this time it seemed to be up a few levels and it was fun to watch. 

Both teams scored in the 140s, so it wasn't exactly a defensive battle. No matter what the league does, the players will only try so hard for so long. The main goal of everyone's is to not get injured in a game that ultimately doesn't count for anything. Still, this was different and appears to have been a success.

*While everyone was focusing on the reunion of LeBron and Kyrie Irving the best beef was Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook. Those two have traded waves to taunt each other at the end of wins in head-to-head matchups and it was clear on Sunday they still don't like each other. Westbrook tried to dunk all over Embiid in the first half, only to get blocked at the rim.

Westbrook's determination to dunk on Embiid was out of the ordinary for an All-Star Game. It was obvious what was on his mind:

*Irving's handles are simply ridiculous. Check out this fake behind-the-back move he pulled with Giannis Antetkounmpo guarding him. Yes, it didn't fool the defender but it was impressive nonetheless:

*LeBron is 33 years old, yet he was still running up and down the court faster than anyone and leaping above the rim to thrown down alley-oop after alley-oop. It is truly amazing and everyone should enjoy watching him while they can, regardless of whether they like the guy or not.

This was one of his dunks:

LeBron took home MVP with a game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and a steal.

*The pregame show was quite bad. It was anchored by comedians Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle and, though they had some funny jokes, it lasted nearly 30 minutes. The whole thing was pretty much universally panned on social media. Fergie's national anthem was also roasted by the masses.

*The halftime show was much better. It began with N.E.R.D taking it back to their older days with 'Lapdance,' went to Migos performing 'Stir Fry' and swung back to N.E.R.D. who did their latest hit 'Lemon.' 

RELATED: LATEST 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT

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The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

Whoever put together the NBA All-Star Game player introductions has some 'splainin to do. 

The NBA introduced a kinda-full Staples Center to their 2018 All-Stars about an hour ago, and boy was it weird. There were a lot of dancers in different themed costumes. Kevin Hart was screaming. Rob Riggle was screaming. Ludacris showed up? Hey! Did you know that the Barenaked Ladies are still a band? The NBA would like you to know they're still around.  The whole thing was like when you're at an art museum and you're told that abstract piece in the corner is actually really meaningful but you gotta be honest, you don't get it. 

Anyways, the internet hated it. Here are some highlights from the internet hating it:

The lesson here is that you never need Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle. One will do.