In one of the biggest non-conference games in O’Connell Center history, the nineteenth ranked Florida Gators beat the thirteenth ranked Kansas Jayhawks, 67-61. UF improves to 7-2 on the season while KU falls to 6-3, losing their third straight road game and second straight overall. The Gators used great zone defense to turn the Jayhawks over 24 times in the game. Florida finally had most of their pieces on the floor, fielding the closest semblance to the team we thought the Gators would have before the season started all year.
In the first half, the Gators struggled early, going 1-for-9 from the field to start the game. But they quickly turned it around with a 21-0 run in which the Jayhawks didn’t score for 8:42. Kansas struggled getting anything going on offense. The Florida zone defense caused all kinds of trouble and forced 16 turnovers. Having point guards Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill on the floor helped Florida as well. Wilbekin and Hill combined for 10 points and 7 assists in the first half, sometimes playing on the court at the same time. Dorian Finney-Smith led the Gators with 12 points off the bench, while Patric Young scored 10 and tallied 5 offensive rebounds. As a team, Florida created multiple second-chance scoring points by getting 11 offensive rebounds. Not only were they great on the offensive glass, but they hustled harder than Kansas, diving for loose balls and being more active offensively and defensively. The Gators carried a 36-21 advantage into the second half.
The second half started just like the first ended. Young blocked a shot on one end and then shot a 10-footer to extend the Florida lead to 17. From that moment on, however, Kansas chipped away at the Florida lead. For about a 15 minute stretch, the Jayhawks were hovering between a deficit of 11 or 9. But it seemed like every time KU cut the lead to single digits, Wilbekin had an answer. With about three minutes to play, Kansas really put the pressure on Florida. Andrew Wiggins hit a three-point jumper with 2:26 left to bring the game to a 56-49 Gators advantage, the first of three that really made the game close. Casey Prather hit two from the charity stripe to put the lead back at eight. Wiggins hit another three to cut the lead to 6 with 1:20 left in the game. Prather responded with two free throws to get the lead back to 8, but Wiggins again hit a 3-pointer with 55.8 seconds left to put Kansas within 5. Kasey Hill hit 1-of-2 free throws to put the Gators up by 6. The Jayhawks then turned the ball over and Prather hit two more free throws to ice the game.
Wilbekin finished the game with a career-high 18 points and added 6 assists and 4 steals. Prather added 12 points, all in the second half, along with 8 rebounds, and Finney-Smith scored 15 points and 5 rebounds. Kansas freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins led all scorers with 26 points and 11 rebounds. No other Jayhawk scored double digits. Kansas actually outrebounded Florida 39-30 and held the advantage in field goal percentage at 43.2% to 37%. But turnovers doomed the ‘Hawks and the Gators tenacity on the offensive glass proved to be the difference. Florida continues to struggle on the young season from the charity stripe, hitting only 20-34 for only 58.8%. Free throw shooting is definitely something Billy Donovan will work on this week before next week’s game against Memphis.
Florida will have a full week off before traveling to New York City to take on the 16th-ranked Memphis Tigers in Madison Square Garden at the Jimmy V Classic. The Gators are expected to get a huge boost with freshman center Chris Walker set to join the team in time for the game. Walker is a five-star recruit, top 10 overall recruit, and McDonald’s All-American. Even if Walker doesn’t play against the Tigers, it has all the makings of a great game. Florida needs to pull out the win to pick up a big road/neutral game. The Gators have lost at No. 20 Wisconsin and twelfth ranked Connecticut. Florida’s game against Memphis next Tuesday starts at 9 pm will be broadcast on ESPN.