Brewer burns Wildcats after Noah's important assist
Maybe Corey Brewer would have been available to burn Kentucky Saturday night had Joakim Noah not noticed his roommate literally was on fire, Andy Katz writes.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- You're not going to believe this one. Joakim Noah literally had to cool down teammate Corey Brewer by slapping out flames on the backside of his pajamas last week in the dorm room the two share with fellow Florida juniors Al Horford and Taurean Green.
Had it not been for Noah's quick thinking as Brewer noticed he was feeling a little hot, then who knows what would have happened. Maybe Brewer wouldn't have been the one leading the Gators to a gritty 64-61 victory over Kentucky Saturday night at Rupp Arena. Maybe Brewer wouldn't have been slicing through for key basket after key basket in the second half or grabbing a pair of defensive rebounds in the final 34 seconds and then converting three of four free throws to help Florida escape.
Maybe it's a reach, but perhaps Brewer would have missed some time and couldn't have been the toughest matchup for opposing teams as the Gators attempt to go undefeated in the SEC and lock up a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.
The scare, which Noah, Brewer and a few of the extended staff were chuckling about late Saturday night, occurred a week ago Wednesday, on the day the Gators played host to Vanderbilt. The incident wasn't publicized and Brewer was a bit surprised when asked about it as he walked toward the team bus.
"Who told you? Jo?" Brewer asked, laughing. "You remember the opening in the kitchen where you look through [to the living room]? Well, Jo's mom had come in and lit some candles to clean the place up and I didn't know. I was standing there and I felt my butt get hot.
"I looked behind me and I was on fire," said Brewer. "So, I was about to drop down when Jo hit me. He put the fire out and burned his hand."
Sure enough Noah has a burn mark about an inch long on the back of his right hand.
"I saved his life," said Noah, smiling through his response. "My mom had candles everywhere and Corey had these $5 pajamas on that he had never worn before. He just caught on fire. You should see it. He's got this hole on the back the size of four or five eggs. I was just hitting at it. Maybe that's the only way to slow him down."
Sometimes you can't make this stuff up.
During this game, Brewer wasn't necessarily hot throughout, but he had his moments where he was untouchable. He finished with 16 points, seven boards, made 5-of-8 free throws and had a block and two steals in 33 minutes (he did have four turnovers, but who wants to be picky).
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said the Wildcats couldn't guard Brewer's curl play. He said they had no answer. That's exactly what Florida needed, since its two anchors inside were in foul trouble all night. Noah played only 21 minutes before fouling out and Horford played the same amount while hampered. That left Chris Richard, a reserve, for necessary buckets inside (11 points) and Brewer for isolations.
"When we see those crazy eyes of his, we know he's ready to play," Green said.
"When Al and Jo got into foul trouble, I knew I had to make plays," Brewer said. "I could get off those curls and make something happen. They were letting me curl. Chris Richard set some great screens and so did Al."
Throughout the season, Brewer arguably has been the most vital cog on this club. He had mono when the Gators lost their first game to Kansas on a neutral court in Las Vegas (though not in front of a neutral crowd, as KU fans turned Orleans Arena into Phog Allen West). He then didn't play in the loss at Florida State. The Gators haven't lost since that game in Tallahassee on Dec. 3.
"He's 6-9, plays the three and is so tough to guard," Horford said. "When he's 100 percent he makes a big difference."
Brewer, who showed no signs of his right knee bothering him after he injured it last Saturday in a win over Tennessee, only missed three games with the illness.
The Wildcats, who as reported here this week didn't stay with recruiting Brewer out of nearby Tennessee because they thought he was too thin, tried to be physical with him. But the bumping and at least one knockdown didn't seem to faze him. I mean, he was on fire, quite literally, last week, so what's a little physical play?
"If we want to win it all," Richard said. "He's one of our key players."
Florida survived against Kentucky in easily its toughest roadie thus far in SEC play. The Gators beat Georgia in Athens earlier in the week. Florida still has three tough stops left at Vanderbilt (even after Vandy got its doors blown off by Tennessee on Saturday), LSU (still capable of causing trouble) and Tennessee (playing well with Chris Lofton back). The remaining home games -- Alabama, South Carolina and Kentucky -- should go in their favor. Regardless of how well the Gators did or did not play is irrelevant. They still "found a way to win," according to Florida coach Billy Donovan.
The assist for this game, though, might have occurred last week. That's when Noah reacted quickly enough to put out Brewer's flames -- one of the few times Brewer's been cooled down this season without any resistance.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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