Wednesday December 11, 2013Gators Show Signs of Taking Shape in Impressive Win over Kansas
Seniors Casey Prather and Will Yeguete salute the crowd after Tuesday night's 67-61 win over No. 13-ranked Kansas.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No one can doubt that Kansas, with all those lottery-pick underclassmen, has some the best players in the country.
But after Florida’s 67-61 defeat of the Jayhawks Tuesday night, it’s clear the Gators have one of the best teams in the country -- and one that should only get better as guys get healthier and the roster takes shape over the next few weeks.
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin scored a season-high 18 points, dished six assists and pilfered four steals, and 19th-ranked UF used a 21-point first-half blitz to shell shock the 13th-ranked and turnover-plagued Jayhawks, eventually finishing off a mega-quality win before a sold-out O’Connell Center crowd of 12,423.
UF (7-2) started four seniors and a sophomore, compared to KU’s four freshmen and a sophomore. Debate away whether experience proved to be the difference -- especially after watching Jayhawks rookie Andrew Wiggins go off for 26 points and 11 rebounds, the only KU player in double figures -- but there are very few situations the Gators have not collectively been in.
“A lot of talented players that are one-and-done, if they have the opportunity to go into the NBA right away, I think they should take that opportunity,” UF center Patric Young said. “But the guys here are going to develop and progress and go through battles together and know what it takes to win. It's tough to beat guys like that; guys like us who have been through stuff like that."
Not that KU, which looms a dangerous team come March, didn’t give it a run.
“Wiggins looked like a four-year player out there at the end,” Wilbekin joked after seeing the 6-foot-8 forward being heralded as the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft next June rain in a pair of late 3s to throw a scare into the home team and crowd. “We did a good job of sticking to the process, staying tough and staying together. When they started inching back into the game, we handled it.”
The Gators (7-2), winners of 21 straight at home, shot just 37 percent for the game and were blasted 40-30 on the glass, but forced the Jayhawks (6-3) into 24 turnovers -- KU’s previous high this season was 16 -- that led to 28 points and allowed UF to build an 18-point first half lead.
Florida led Kansas 36-21 at the break, but the Jayhawks awakened to score 40 second-half points and managed to whittle the lead down to four, 65-61, with 8.5 seconds to go.
That’s when guard Kasey Hill, in his first game back since suffering a high-ankle sprain Nov. 18, sank two free throws and basically iced the game.
That would be Kasey Hill, the freshman.
“We’re just now starting to come together and still got so much work to do,” Hill said. “We’re going to get even better and we have more time to play together.”
Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith came off the bench to score 15 points, hitting four of his six 3-point attempts, and grab five rebounds. Young was good for 12 points and six rebounds. Wilbekin, showing zero effects from the ankle sprain that forced him from last week’s last-second loss at Connecticut with three mintues to go, finished 7-for-12 from the floor and hit a couple treys.
The Gators, though, struggled to make just 20 of 34 free throws (58.8 percent), with forward Casey Prather (12 points, 5 rebounds) making that statistic respectable by hitting 10 straight in the second half to help stave off the Jayhawks’ comeback.
Good thing UF built that big lead.
After watching his team start just 1-for-7 from the field -- with some really bad offensive possessions -- Coach Billy Donovan slapped a 1-3-1 zone on KU and put his bigs out front to harass the smaller Jayhawks guards.
And off the Gators went on that 21-0 blitz.
Kansas went nearly nine minutes without a point, as UF turned a 10-3 deficit into a 24-10 lead before Perry Ellis made a driving runner to break the KU drought at the 8:43 mark.
Their previous field goal came at 15:51.
“I think we should have had an electrical shortage and cancelled the game after that,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We played pretty well the first four or five minutes, but we were awful after that. And Florida played great.”
Donovan and his coaches warned their players they had not seen the best of the Jayhawks, but were about to.
Seriously? Who scores 21 straight against one of the marquee programs in college basketball history?
“They’re going to come out and play hard,” Donovan said.
KU went 6-for-12 from distance in the second half and went to the free-throw line 15 times. Unlike the Gators, the Jayhawks made most of theirs (15 of 19 for the game) and made things just uncomfortable enough, especially with UF repeatedly going to the free-throw line.
Prather finished 10-for-12 there, while his teammates combined to go 10-for-22.
It was enough. Barely.
“These are the kind of wins that can define your regular season,” Wilbekin said. “It was a big game, we all knew it, and we just wanted to come out and get the W.”