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Senior center Patric Young and the Gators face a big challenge Tuesday night against Kansas.

Monday December 9, 2013Out-of-This-World Youth vs Battle-Tested Experience: Wiggins, Kansas Invade O-Dome to Face Gators

Senior center Patric Young and the Gators face a big challenge Tuesday night against Kansas.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Michael Frazier came into college basketball last year with his eyes wide open.

They quickly got wider.

“It’s a rite of passage,” the Florida sophomore guard said when asked to look back on his freshman season. “You’re going to a different level and playing at a different speed. There are things you have to adjust to that you just can’t prepare for until you get out there and experience it. So it helps to have veterans around you who have gone through it.”

Now, here come the 12th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks (6-2), armed with a star-studded roster featuring three freshmen already projected as NBA lottery picks next June (plus a sophomore who will be a first-rounder) to face the 19th-ranked Gators (6-2) in a Big 12/SEC Challenge matchup Tuesday night at the O’Connell Center.

The Gators may have a second-round guy in center Patric Young, but he's also one of four seniors who will start for UF. That quartet has 425 combined games between them. KU’s starting lineup of three freshmen, a sophomore and a senior have played 172.

We're talking Out-of-This-World Youth vs. Experienced/Talented/Successful Veterans.

Yeah, this should be fun.

“Anytime you have really good freshmen players there’s still going to be learning and growing curves, but that’s what this time of year is all about,” said Gators coach Billy Donovan, whose team has been doing some learning and growing on its own while balancing a flurry of injuries and suspensions early in the season. “But what happens with younger guys, they keep getting better. Their ceiling is greater.”

In the case of Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins and 7-foot backup center Joel Embiid, a pair of freshmen either of whom could be No. 1 overall NBA picks, their ceilings reach the tip-top of the O’Dome. And beyond. Guard Wayne Selden, another freshman, and sophomore forward Perry Ellis, will be in the NBA whenever they announced they’re leaving.

That’s why the UF-KU game is shaping up as one of biggest non-conference showdowns ever played on the Florida campus.

Both teams are coming off buzzer-beating losses, with the Gators’ last outing that Dec. 2 heartbreaker at Connecticut. The Jayhawks lost 75-72 Saturday at Colorado on a 30-footer at the horn.

UF has had more than a week to get over its Husky hangover. Even better, the Gators have had a week to get back senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who left the UConn game with just over three minutes to go with a sprained right ankle.

And the news on the ankle front got even better over the weekend.

Freshman point guard Kasey Hill, out since rolling his right ankle against Southern three weeks ago, returned to practice Sunday and will get some minutes against the Jayhawks.

The Wilbekin-Hill situation makes for an interesting dynamic.

Hill, the McDonald’s All-American who was rated the No. 2 point guard prospect in the nation, was pressed into starting duty the season’s first four games while Wilbekin served a suspension. Hill had some very nice moments -- highlight-reel moments -- but also had a really tough night in a loss at Wisconsin, a team now unbeaten and ranked fourth in the country.

It was one of those wide-eyed kind of moments Frazier referenced.

“Last year, I had games like that and I had the older guys, the seniors, to tell me to just keeping grinding through it,” said Frazier, who leaned on Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy to navigate the ebbs and flows of his rookie season. “I know Scottie and Kasey talked about moving on from that game. That’s what he needed.. A guy like that to talk to.”

When Wilbekin was reinstated, Hill was still recovering from his ankle injury.

So the KU game not only will mark the first time Wilbekin and Hill are suited up together, but the first time they’ll be on the floor together.

“And, yes, that’s going to happen,” Donovan said. “We need that.” 

The UF staff doesn’t really know what to expect when they go with that backcourt option -- Wilbekin and Hill just haven’t been able to practice much together -- but it will give the the Gators an altogether different look and tempo, with two guys who can penetrate, get fouled and dish the ball to open teammates. 

A lot of experience, with a dash (literally, given Hill’s speed) of youth.

Yeah, this should be fun.


GATORS HOOP SCOOP 
No. 19 Florida vs No. 13 Kansas
Big 12/SEC Challenge

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Records: Florida 6-2; Kansas 6-2 
TV: ESPN (w/Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and Shannon Spake)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 191/XM 91
Game notes: Florida notes; Kansas notes

THE TIP-OFF

History: The Jayhawks, one of the true blue bloods of college basketball, and Gators have met just four times, with only two of those games coming on each other’s home floor. The two teams last played in a neutral-site showdown in Las Vegas on Nov. 25, 2006, when KU defeated reigning national champion and No. 1-ranked UF 82-80 in overtime. The Jayhawks’ only visit to Gainesville came on Jan. 11, 1996, a game won 69-54 by a KU team armed with Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz and Jacque Vaughan that reached the Elite Eight that season. 

Pre-game storyline: Put simply, this is a rare treat for UF basketball fans. This is like North Carolina, Duke or UCLA coming to town -- which none of them ever do. The O’Dome should be rocking for a matchup that pits two annual national championship contenders, with the Jayhawks packing a pair of marquee NBA prospects in forward Andrew Wiggins and reserve 7-foot center Joel Embiid. Ask any of the 20-plus pro scouts in attendance tonight. Many think Wiggins will be anywhere from the first to third overall pick in the 2014 draft. They’re saying the same thing about Embiid, too.

The players: Senior forward Casey Prather leads the Gators in scoring at 19.1 points per game on 63.6-percent shooting from the floor. He’s also averaging 5.9 rebounds. The 6-6 Prather figures to draw Wiggins in the halfcourt. ... C Patric Young (10.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is coming off his best all-around game of the season. Young went for 17 points and 7 rebounds against UConn, including some clutch baskets (and even free throws) down the stretch. One of the best defensive post players in the country, Young has to have another great game -- especially on KU's offensive end -- against a Jayhawks team that loves to pound the ball inside. ... Welcome back, freshman point guard Kasey Hill. He was averaging 10.3 points and 4.2 assists when he suffered a high ankle sprain Nov. 18 against Southern, but his return (after missing four games) is a hugh boost for the team’s depth.

The opponent: The Jayhawks defeated Duke on a neutral-court in the second game of the season, but later lost to Villanova (now 9-0 and ranked 10th) in the Bahamas for their first loss. Then came the dagger at Colorado over the weekend. ... The 6-8 Wiggins (15.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is a matchup nightmare, especially in transition, and can get to the rim at will. He doesn’t shoot the 3 great (33 percent), but he still shoots it. ... Embiid is averaging just 19 minutes per game, but the kid from Gainesville, Fla. (yes, he played one year at The Rock School) is shooting 66 percent for 9.3 points to go with 6.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. When the Gators drive the paint, Embiid will be on their minds. ... Forward Perry Ellis (14.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is the team’s workhorse and does a lot of everything on both ends, while 6-5, 230-pound Wayne Selden Jr. (9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2 apg) looks like a linebacker in a 2-guard’s body. He will have a good 30 pounds on UF counterpart Michael Frazier and will use it. ... Frank Mason (9.1 ppg, 3 apg) is another freshman starting for KU and he’s also the point guard, which means he’ll get a really good look at Florida’s full-court pressure.

Key numbers:

* 25 - Percentage of 3-pointers Kansas hit in the loss at Colorado (5-for-20). 

* 37.1 - Scottie Wilbekin’s field-goal percentage in his three games. That needs to improve, and will. He’s struggled to finish plays in the paint.

* 44.4 - Wilbekin’s free-throw percentage (just 4-for-9). It also has to improve. He’s the point guard.

* 50.5 - Kansas’ shooting percentage as a team for the season. For a UF defense that is not playing great (40.5 percent, 8th in the SEC) that’s a red flag.

* 268 - KU’s ranking in defensive free-throw shooting. The Jayhawks foul a lot. The Gators, hitting just 68.9 from the line as a team, need to make free throws. Colorado made just 59.5 percent of its and needed a miracle shot.

Watch for it: The press. With Hill, the Gators have one more guy (if only for 10-12 minutes) to roll into the rotation. Donovan will want this game to get chaotic rather than let KU settle into halfcourt sets with those live athletic bodies in the frontcourt. That makes discipline in transition defense an absolute key to the game.

 

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