Patric Young needed to hear the last horn sound before even thinking he had finally lifted his Florida Gators to the Final Four. The disappointment of being turned away in the past three Elite Eights was still far too crisp for premature celebration. But once the buzzer sounded and the referees signaled the end of Florida’s 62-52 Elite Eight victory over upstart Dayton, Young could barely contain the emotion of having slain a seemingly insurmountable dragon.
“When that final buzzer rang, I was just in disbelief,” Young told the Miami Herald. “It still has not hit me yet that we’re in the Final Four.”
The 6-9 senior center was on the front-lines of every one of Florida’s past three NCAA Tournament disappointments. As a budding freshman, Young watched as the second-seeded Florida Gators squandered an 11- point second-half lead and lost 74-71 in overtime to no. 8 seed Butler. More heartbreak would follow the next year for the eight-seeded Gators and the sophomore would once again bear witness to a stunning defensive collapse, as fourth-seeded Louisville finished the game on a 23-6 run to come out on top 72-68. And last season’s loss in the round of eight was arguably the most crushing of the three. After winning its first three tournament games by an average margin of 19.8 points, no. 3 seed Florida would suffer a 79-59 drubbing by fourth-seeded Michigan.
Young’s numbers on the season, 10.8 ppg and 6.2 rpg, were far from eye-popping, but the 240 lb. wide-body’s presence in the paint has been an invaluable part of the Gator’s success. Young’s 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks against Dayton are not indicative of low-post dominance, but they do not tell the whole story. The Florida Gators outscored Dayton by 20 points in Young’s 31 minutes on the court and his 10 points in the paint were just two fewer than the Flyers had as a team with him on the floor. Stat lines like these make it hard to overstate his importance to this team.
His value as a college athlete also extends far beyond the Gainesville campus. Young possesses enough skill, and certainly enough body, to have already pursued a career in the NBA. But rather than leave school early, the Telecommunications major with a 3.37 GPA that started his college career as a McDonald’s All-American and may just graduate as an academic All-American, decided early on that he would stay in school.
“I think everyone that goes to college should stay in college unless they’re one of those special ones,” Young said an interview with the Florida Times-Union. “Overall you should enjoy the process develop, develop and love your teammates because once you leave this, you’re not going to be able to experience it again.”
Next up for Young and the Gators is a matchup with UCONN. The game promises to be a high-level affair. Florida lost a 65-64 buzzer-beater to then no. 12 UCONN back on Dec. 2. They are thick with size and quickness, which should translate into a tougher brand of opponent than the Florida Gators have faced since Kentucky in the SEC Championship game.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat
Follow me on Twitter @Rick Sarlat