Gabe York has become a Pac-12 college basketball phenomena of sorts. His uncanny ability to show up and show out when Arizona really needs him is either an endearing or frustrating quality, depending on which side of the ball your allegiances reside.
His “clutchness” has earned him nicknames and spurred hashtags, Twitter debates, text conversations and Bill Walton rants. He has spoiled many opposing team’s dreams of beating the top-ranked Wildcats, both at home and on the road.
He is a player you love to hate. And he knows it.
Most recently, in Arizona’s 64-61 defeat of the California Golden Bears last weekend, York played a pivotal role yet again. Despite scoring no points in the first half, the senior from West Covina, CA put up 19 second-half points, including two three-pointers in the final minute to secure victory for his team.
The high-pressure, last-second shot is a comfortable thing for the senior guard and pivotal seems to be a role the sharp-shooter was born to play.
“I was that guy in high school, I’ve always been that guy,” York told TSFJ in Las Vegas on Thursday. “When I got here to Arizona, I sort of went under the rug and I didn’t get that opportunity. But now, Coach (Sean Miller) has given me that opportunity and I’m running with it.”
But with great power comes great responsibility. Luckily being the “go-to” guy is a role York appears to relish.
“At the end of the day, they put the ball in my hands and it’s either make a play and score for our team or give someone a pass to score like I’ve done before,” York explained. “But sometimes I’ve had the ball and dribbled it out of bounds – you’ve got to take the good with the bad. For me, I don’t mind all the criticism that comes with being that player. It just becomes a matter of how mentally tough I am and I just gotta get better everyday. I’ve been doing that and I’ve been working my butt off to be in a position to make those shots.”
Coach Miller expressed how happy he was with York’s efforts against Cal in the Wildcats' last regular season home game.
“What he did at McHale Center this past weekend I haven’t seen ever – he put us on his back and just had two incredible performances and I thought it was a spectacular way for a great kid and a terrific player to end their career. We are very proud of him.”
His teammates also never fear when York is near.
“We see it in practice all the time – when he’s open, whether we are on his team or playing against him we know it’s going in,” said freshman teammate Chance Comanche. “If he misses, we are somewhat shocked. So in the game, when he’s hot, we know he’s going to make it. And even if he’s not hot, we know he’ll get going and make the three of the free throw – whatever we need.”
York also demonstrated his dependability from the free throw line in the 'Cats 82-78 win over the Colorado Buffaloes in Thursday’s Pac-12 quarterfinal game, hitting two key free throws with two seconds left.
“I believe that he will make his free throws all the time," said Comanche. “Coach Miller has us shoot free throws all the time, before every game and each practice – one day we had to shoot 100 and he made 97 out of 100, a few times actually, so we just know he can make free throws.”
As the Wildcats make their moves through March, expect York to be the player Arizona needs, even if he’s not always the one it deserves.
“We need all of these guys because now that we are in the month of March and playing single elimination basketball, to be with us on offense and defense and be at their best,” said Miller. “And we are going to rely a lot on Gabe.”
Arizona will look to lean on York as the Wildcats navigate their way through the Pac-12 tournament, facing the top-seeded Oregon Ducks in the first semi-final game on Friday.
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.