BOZICH | With first pick in NBA Draft, Gators take Karl-Anthony - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | With first pick in NBA Draft, Gators take Karl-Anthony Towns

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) – With the first pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select … Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky.

What's the connection to the third consecutive wedgie that the Wildcats delivered to Florida on Friday, crackling away from the Gators in the second half for a 64-49 victory in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Bridgestone Arena?

Simply this: The one Kentucky player the Florida guys were relentless to rave about was Towns, the Wildcats' mammoth, seven-foot freshman center.

Towns took five shots. He made half of them. He shot three free throws. He made three free throws. Towns scored 13 points without hunting shots.

“He's really good,” said Chris Walker, the Gators' back-up center. “He's the number one pick.

“He's got a low post game. He can hit mid-range. He's good on defense, reliable with the ball, good hands, footwork, make free throws. He's just talented, man.”

Towns went to the glass as if he was looking for the winning Powerball ticket. He had 12 rebounds in 27 minutes. Nobody else in the game had more than eight. He had six offensive rebounds. Nobody else had more than three.

Credit Towns with his seventh double-double, third in the last six games. During that six games stretch, Towns has averaged 14 and nearly 9 rebounds. He has made 65 percent of his field-goal attempts and – get this – 86 percent of his free throws (18 for 21).

“Karl is a good kid,” Florida center Jon Horford said. “And he's playing well. On a team like that with a bunch of guys who are extremely talented, just having a young kid like him is great. He's a vocal leader. He plays hard.”

Those numbers confirm that Towns was the most dynamic offensive player on the floor. Another Florida player, guard Chris Chiozza, was eager to testify about the value of what Towns supplies on defense.

Florida played with Kentucky for the first 18 minutes. It was a one-possession game with two minutes to play in the first half – and the Wildcats led by five with 7:40 to go.

But the upset vibe never bubbled inside this downtown arena. Credit that to Kentucky fans out-numbering Florida fans at least 150-to-1. Credit that to the Wildcats overwhelming the Gators with their depth the way they had in the second half in Gainesville and Lexington.

And credit Towns – on the defensive end as well as the offensive highlights I have already outlined. The Florida players certainly did.

“He has a chance to be number one because of his talent and his length,” Florida guard Chris Chiozza said. “The talent and the length. It's just tough to play against teams that are that long. They block a lot of shots.

“Even if they don't block it, they contest a lot of shots and make you change your shot. He gets in the back of your head … It's just really disruptive for layups and everything, post moves.”

It was disruptive – if you consider the Gators missing two-thirds of their field-goal attempts in the second half disruptive.

Florida is not a spectacular three-point shooting team. Billy Donovan, the Gators' coach, said his plan was not to try to craft the upset by making a crazy number of three-point shots. The Gators didn't. They took 11. They made a pair.

But attacking the rim didn't work either. Not with Towns (one swat), Willie Cauley-Stein (two blocks) and Dakari Johnson (two blocks) looming along the baseline.

Two weeks ago, two NBA scouts told me not to be surprised if Towns overtook Jahlil Okafor of Duke as the first pick of the NBA Draft in June. The Florida players did not file a dissent Friday.

Neither did former South Carolina and Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn, who is working this tournament as an analyst for the SEC Network.

“I agree with them,” Horn said. “I think he has more versatility.

“I think the biggest difference with Karl-Anthony Towns now and early in the season is the simple fact that he is playing physical basketball. He has become a physical presence, both on offense and defense.”

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