Boynton's stingy defense has been key for Florida
By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida's Kenny Boynton has been asked to guard some of the Southeastern Conference's top scorers, including John Jenkins, Chris Warren, Scotty Hopson, Bruce Ellington and Rotnei Clarke.
For the most part, Boynton has held his own in those matchups. And his defense is a big reason the Gators are atop the Eastern Division.
His toughest challenge could come Saturday night against No. 10 Kentucky. It certainly will be Boynton's most familiar opponent.
Boynton and Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight grew up together in South Florida, played for rival high schools and teamed up to win consecutive Amateur Athletic Union championships.
"I'm sure (Boynton's) got some real excitement going through his mind right now and I'm sure he's going to come ready to play," teammate Chandler Parsons said.
The Gators (17-5, 6-2 SEC) probably need Boynton at his best. Knight is averaging 17.2 points for the Wildcats (16-5, 4-3) and is shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range.
Boynton realizes he will have his hands full.
"He's always been a smart player," Boynton said of Knight. "When he's on the court, he makes the right plays. When he's open, he takes the shot or he tries to get to the rim. And when he sees the open man, he's a great passer."
But if anyone on Florida's roster can slow Knight down, it's Boynton.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard has emerged as the team's best defender. His hustle and relentlessness have the Gators ranked second in the league in scoring defense.
"When they ask me to disrupt the other team's best player, I try my best to disrupt them, whether it's contesting shots, getting through screens or forcing them to drive," Boynton said.
It hasn't always been easy, though.
Boynton, a McDonald's All-American in 2009 who was touted as coach Billy Donovan's best scorer since Mike Miller, has struggled to keep his head in games when shots aren't falling.
So it's no surpise the Gators are 14-1 this season when Boynton makes at least two 3-pointers and 3-4 when he doesn't. They also have won 10 consecutive games in which Boynton scores at least 14 points. He is second on the team in scoring, averaging 13 points.
"I thought he really made a great jump coming out of the Mississippi State game," Donovan said. "He had some really, really goods looks, some open looks, and I thought that really affected him on the defensive end and his energy."
Boynton missed nine of 11 shots against the Bulldogs, including all four 3-pointers. On the other end, Dee Bost seemingly scored at will and finished with 24 points -- most of them against Boynton.
Boynton was much better against Jenkins, Vanderbilt's leading scorer.
"I thought he did a phenomenal job on Jenkins," Donovan said. "I know he scored 22 points, but it wasn't from the 3-point line, it wasn't wide-open looks. I think we made him work for it. He got to the free-throw line, he had some drives. (Boynton) was locked in defensively to try to do the best job he could on Jenkins."
How he handles Knight should be a key factor Saturday night.
"We compete on the court, and when it's over, it's over," Boynton said. "Our focus coming into the game is to win and try to not think about the matchup."
Knight is taking a similar approach.
He considered joining Boynton in Gainesville, but ended up signing with Kentucky. Still, they remain close friends and talk occasionally.
"I'm thinking about running my team and coming out with a win by focusing on our team as a unit, not thinking about individual matches," Knight said. "It's just another basketball game, trying to focus in. I'll have more friends there than usual, but it's the same thing as usual -- just trying to win."
Wildcats coach John Calipari needs Knight to maintain his composure, especially on the road, where Kentucky is 1-3 in conference play.
"We'll see. We will see," Calipari said. "I hope he's accurate with that statement because I think what they'll try to do is press him and get up in him, do some stuff. He has to have poise down there because the place is going to go nuts. It'll be interesting."
Received 02/04/11 05:13 pm ET