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Saturday December 22, 2012Fired-Up Kansas State Hands Gators Second Loss of the Year

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One of the constants of Florida's dominant seven-game winning streak to open the season was the team's consistent effort and energy. The Gators not only beat those opponents soundly, they outplayed and out-hustled them on both ends of the floor.

But then came those two hideous minutes in Arizona.

And now 40 more forgettable ones in KC. 

Kansas State was the aggressor from the get-go Saturday night and the eighth-ranked Gators did not react well in the unfriendly confines of the Sprint Center, as the Wildcats controlled tempo for nearly the entire game and staved off each UF run with timely baskets en route to a 67-61 win before a purple-clad crowd of 16,303.

Guard Will Spradling set the tone by scoring all but four of his 17 points in the first half, but backup 6-foot-11 center Jordan Henriquez came off the bench and helped swat away any chance at a Florida rally by scoring nine points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking five shots in just 18 minutes. Henriquez came into the game having made just two of 17 free-throw attempts for the season, but went 5-for-9 (including four straight) against the Gators (8-2), who lost their second game in eight days.

"They were always a step ahead of us and a step quicker," Coach Billy Donovan said. "We played totally uncharacteristic to how we played during the course of these first nine games of the year. That's what stood out to me."

That and junior center Patric Young, who had his best game of the season in finishing with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the floor, plus 10 rebounds and two blocked shots. When Young carved out his spot in the post, he scored. Problem was, he didn't get the ball nearly enough, especially in the first half.

The rest of the Gators, meanwhile, went a combined 15-for-46, including 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) from the 3-point line. Senior guard Mike Rosario, who was playing of late his best basketball since transferring to UF from Rutgers two years ago, went 1-for-9 from the floor. Backcourt mate Kenny Boynton dug himself out of his shooting slump a bit, but still finished just 4-for-11 and 1-for-5 from the arc.

Up front, forwards Erik Murphy and normally consistent Will Yeguete really struggled against the more active Wildcats. Murphy grabbed just four rebounds, while Yeguete missed all three of his shots, cleared just two rebounds and had three turnovers.

K-State (9-2), which defeated a top-10 non-Big 12 Conference opponent for the first time in 31 years, scored the most points of any team against a UF defense that led the nation in points allowed at just 49.6 per game. The Wildcats blasted Florida on the boards 36-27, worked their offense for 16 assists on 20 field goals and battled to get to the free-throw line 29 times.

"We were in tune with one another. We wanted this game," said K-State guard Rodney McGruder, who chipped in 13 points. "Our preparation for Florida was great, tremendous. The past couple practices guys were getting after one another."

Time and again, it was K-State that came away with the big rebound -- five Wildcats had at least five boards -- or hit the basket when Florida was inching back and trying to seize momentum.

"When we play 40 minutes, nobody beats us," Boynton said. "We need to push through."

That leverage needs to start from the beginning, though.

The Gators had a couple bursts in the first half, but K-State scored nine straight points over a nearly three-minute span late in the period and led by as many as 11 points before going to the locker room with a 33-23 advantage and the backing of a home crowd that seemed like it was beamed in from the campus two hours away in Manhattan, Kan.

"But it's nothing we haven't seen before," Young said. "The majority of the guys on this team are veteran guys. The crowd should not affect us."

Donovan made that point -- and more -- at halftime; and it showed. The Gators used a 9-2 run to open the half and draw within four, and then back-to-back 3-pointers from Murphy and Boynton to tie the game at 41-all at the 13:15 mark.

On the the Wildcats' ensuing possession, though, guard Martavious Irving got free courtesy of a UF defensive breakdown and buried a wide-open 3-pointer from the top of the key.

"When we needed stops, we didn't get them," Boynton said. "Offense affects defense, but we needed to get after them more and play with more intensity."

When the Gators drew within one, the Wildcats ran off four straight. And when Scottie Wilbekin (11 points, 7 assists) later made a driving layup to make it a 3-point game, UF went the next four possessions without the ball as much as touching the rim (three blocked shots, one turnover).

Donovan was miffed with his backcourt players for driving the ball at Henriquez and taking floater shots -rather than looking for the extra pass, one of the hallmarks of their halfcourt offense the previous eight games. By Donovan's count, UF took nine first-half floaters and made one.

"We had guys open all over the place," Donovan said. "Patric Young getting open like he was in the second half? That was there the entire game."

Very little else, at least for the Gators, was there.

Even from the start.

"They definitely wanted the game more than us," Young said. "They gave us every opportunity to come back, even though we weren't playing that great. We didn't execute, we didn't get the job done."

Now they'll have three days off for Christmas before returning to practice Wednesday, with the next game a Dec. 29 date against Air Force in Sunrise, Fla.

Those post-holiday practices probably won't be pleasant.

"I thought there were some possessions in the game that we competed really, really hard," Donovan said. "But looking at the whole game, I think everybody in this room [of media] would say that Kansas State's energy was much, much better than ours."

Better believe he made the same points in the locker room.

Far more pointedly.

 

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