"When David's like that, he can carry us," said sophomore Lee Humphrey. "He was really intense today and that rubbed off on all of us."
Lee was coming off a performance against FSU last Sunday that was perhaps the worst single game of his career. He took only two shots, scored only two points and played only 19 minutes as Florida lost to the Seminoles. This was a far different David Lee on Saturday at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. He put together his most complete game of the season, scoring 17 points, pulling down seven rebounds, dishing out five assists and blocking two shots to lead the Gators to an 82-74 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks before a boisterous crowd of 11,021.
This was the kind of game that Donovan needed from Lee, particularly with his leading scorer Matt Walsh out 4-6 weeks with a severe ankle injury. Donovan worried about where the points were going to come from with Walsh and his three-point game on the bench for awhile, but more importantly, he worried where the intensity and leadership was going to come from. It got to the point that he resorted to calling Lee out in public during the week, demanding that his senior put up or shut up, especially with Arkansas coming to town at 13-1 with only a narrow loss to number one ranked Illinois.
Lee responded from the outset turning in an offense game that was efficient and productive. His 17 points came off only seven shots from the field, but he didn't need to take a lot of shots. Lee did something he hasn't shown in recent weeks, demanding the ball and when he had it in his hands, he became David Lee the scorer, David Lee the creator and David Lee the center of the Florida offense. He played hard on both ends of the court.
Defensively, he steadied the Gators efforts on the inside. It was his intensity that motivated the Gators efforts on the defensive end in the first ten minutes of the game. Florida collapsed on the Razorbacks every time they tried to get the ball down low, and they effectively cut off the three point game for the Razorbacks by aggressively defending the perimeter.
"Every possession I was living and dying out there," said Lee. "I didn't want to lose today."
He got the Gators first two points of the game on a 12-foot jumper in the lane, then forced the action inside on Florida's next possession to draw a foul on Arkansas' 7-foot freshman center Steven Hill. He hit a jumper from the foul line at 10:38 to give the Gators a 13-10 lead.
Three minutes later, on consecutive plays, he made a no-look pass to a cutting Chris Richard that ended with a dunk then took a charge to draw a third foul on Rashard Sullivan. With just 1:43 remaining in the half, he made another outstanding pass, this one to freshman Joakim Noah, and the result was another dunk that helped the Gators take a 31-26 lead at the half.
Lee got the Gators going in the second half as well, but he had plenty of help. Freshman Corey Brewer (11 points, three steals) stepped up his defensive game and became a high flyer on the break. Anthony Roberson, though held in check from the outside, took the ball to the hole and got to the foul line consistently. He had 15 points for the game, eight coming from the foul line. Al Horford hit all four of his shots from the field and went 4-5 from the line for 12 points.
Then there was Humphrey who canned two threes in a 12-0 run that put the Gators ahead, 57-40. His second three-pointer with 12:31 remaining in the game almost brought down the house at the O-Dome.
"That was one of the best runs I can remember in awhile," said David Lee. "The crowd was just deafening and when Lee (Humphrey) let that last one go, I saw it and didn't even go to rebound, I just raised my hands. It was pretty much a done done deal when it left his hands."
Humphrey, who scored 15 points in his first start of the season against FSU last Sunday, responded with 10 against Arkansas. He said his shots felt good all day long. He hit three of his four three-point attempts and the one that didn't drop did a lap around the rim before popping out.
"That's the best my shot has felt in a long time," said Humphrey. "On that last three-pointer, I knew the moment it went up that one was in. I just felt that one and knew it was good."
Arkansas took advantage of a few turnovers by the Gators late in the game as well as some erratic free throw shooting, but Florida never lost its poise or the lead. The win got the Gators off to a 1-0 start in the SEC and evened Arkansas at 1-1 in the conference.
It was only one win, but Donovan felt it was a building block, especially if he can get Lee to play with that kind of intensity game in and game out. The Florida coach said he'll do whatever it takes to get Lee motivated to play consistently at the level fans saw Saturday.
"I told him [Lee] I will do whatever you want me to do," said Donovan. "I will yell and scream, I'll be nice, whatever I have to do to get you to play at the level that you can play at, that's what I'll do."
When Donovan called Lee out publicly during the week, the big senior didn't sulk, although he admits that a couple of years ago, he would have had hurt feelings.
"I think my freshman and sophomore years I might have tried to blame other people or say Billy's just picking on me," said Lee, "but I'm a veteran --- a captain, a senior on this team --- and if I don't produce then I either need to be benched or called out in the media, and if that's the way he [Donovan] wants to do it, that's fine with me. I need to step up and I'm sure he'll say nice things after I do well."
After Donovan called Lee out, Lee responded by going to the gym early to work on his game. By showing up at practice and increasing his intensity level, Donovan said the effect on the team was phenomenal.
"I was hard on David after the FSU game and for him to respond by coming back with the intensity level, the enthusiasm and the emotion that he did made me very proud of him," said Donovan.
Lee said that the way he played is the way that he should play each game.
"This is probably the way I should be playing for this team being the captain," he said. "I gotta do whatever I can to make our team win, and if we don't win it should be a reflection on me not doing my job."