The No. 19 Florida Gators (7-2) held on for hard-fought 67-61 victory over the No. 13 Kansas Jayhawks (6-3) on Tuesday night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL in the final game of the Big 12-SEC Challenge despite facing heavy resistance from the visitors in the second half. Head coach Billy Donovan met with the media following the game to discuss Florida’s most notable victory of the young season.
HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS
» Florida is now 2-1 against Kansas under Donovan, though the Jayhawks still lead 3-2 in the all-time series against the Gators.
» UF improved to 5-4 against top 25-ranked opponents dating back to last season with all five wins coming inside the O’Dome.
» Florida has now won 22-straight non-conference games in the House of Horrors and 21 consecutive home games overall, the second-longest streak in school history.
» The Gators are now 61-9 since the beginning of the 2011-12 season when holding an opponent under 71 points in a game.
» Florida is already 3-2 in single-digit decisions this season after going 0-6 in contests decided by fewer than 10 points in 2012-13. Six of UF’s eight losses last year were by six points or less, a constant black mark on the campaign.
» Tuesday night’s game was sold out with a listed attendance of 12,423.
» Despite the Gators’ thrilling victory, the SEC had already lost the Big 12-SEC Challenge before the game even started. The Big 12 held a 6-2 advantage heading into Tuesday’s contest and now leads 6-3. Oklahoma and Texas A&M will play the final game of the challenge on Saturday, Dec. 21.
» According to The Gainesville Sun, UF and KU may have a return showdown next season in Lawrence, KS.
» About two dozen scouts were in attendance at the game.
The Gators played their best half of the season in the first 20 minutes of Tuesday’s game, and it just so happened to be the first time that both of their point guards – senior Scottie Wilbekin and freshman Kasey Hill were able to play in the same rotation and on the court simultaneously.
Wilbekin posted a career-high 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting in 36 minutes but what he did elsewhere was even more impressive. He played lock down defense at times, much of it in the frontcourt (more on that below) while dishing six dimes and picking up four steals. It was quite a turnaround from his lackluster performance in the second half at UConn, a game in which he shot 6-of-14 and committed three costly turnovers.
“He always plays really hard. He gives me great effort all the time,” explained Donovan. “I didn’t think he played very well at UConn. He really, really struggled, had some turnovers late when we had a seven or eight-point lead, made some poor decisions, missed some shots. I thought he struggled in that game. I think having a week off and maybe missing a couple days and having three days to get ready for this game, I think he was eager to play well and knew that maybe the UConn game was a game that we had every opportunity to win and maybe it slipped away there a little bit from us at the end. I think, for him, he was pretty focused on wanting to come back and play better [Tuesday].”
Hill saw 16 fewer minutes than Wilbekin – that’s what happens when you’re recovering from a high-ankle sprain – but handed out three assists and hit 4-of-6 free throw attempts including three in the final 52 seconds. He flashed his lightning-quick speed at times but is still trying to develop his all-around game.
“I think Kasey’s had a real hard three weeks. And I think it’s been very hard for him. And I think that probably the way he played [Tuesday], a lot of it probably was a guy that hasn’t practiced a whole lot. Timing, confidence, doing very minimal,” Donovan said. “You got to play with more ire and passion than that. You got to play with more intensity [than he did] when he was out there. He may have been thinking about his foot. And I’m thankful and appreciative that he took the time to play because we were able to rest Scottie, but it was probably a tough situation for him coming into this game knowing he’s been out for three weeks. I’m happy that we have another week before we play again.”
DEFENSE, TURNOVERS AND A 21-0 RUN – OH MY
The highlight of Tuesday night’s game was a 21-0 run Florida put together over a period of more than eight minutes in the middle of the first half. Trailing 10-3, the Gators took a 24-10 lead by playing stingy defense and making a bunch of shots in a row – including two three-pointers from redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith. Donovan employed multiple defensive sets including the 1-3-1 zone, which really helped Florida take off in the early going.
“I thought the changing defense was good for us in the game. When we went big, 1-3-1 zone, I thought that kind of opened up the game for us a little bit. We also played some 2-3, we pressed. I thought we gave a lot of different looks,” he explained.
Donovan also praised Finney-Smith for bouncing back from his poor performance in the UConn game (1-for-3, four fouls, six turnovers) but noted that despite hitting his first three shots (all three-pointers), he finished the contest 5-for-13 overall.
“He’s got to be more efficient offensively to me, especially in and around the basket. He made some threes, which was great, but he had some opportunities to post up and score and be aggressive and he just didn’t quite finish well enough around the basket,” Donovan said.
Part of UF’s success in the first half was the receipt of 16 extra possessions via KU turnovers, many of which were forced by the Gators’ defense. The Jayhawks were more careful with the ball in the final 20 minutes, but more importantly, Donovan was not pleased with how Florida played at the start of the second half.
“I can’t figure out – is it a fatigue issue because we’re not playing a lot of guys and guys are playing too many minutes – or is it something else? Because you look at, in the first half, I think we hold them to 21 points and then we give up 40 in the second half.”
FREE THROW WOES
Most teams that go to the line 34 times – and only hit 20 free throw attempts – are bound to lose by leaving that many points on the board.
Florida snuck by despite seniors center Patric Young and forward Will Yeguete combining to go just 3-for-11 from the charity stripe. Young missed the front end of consecutive one-and-ones late in the game, possessions that wound up being back-to-back five-point swings for UF as KU freshman guard Andrew Wiggins hit a pair of three-pointers just seconds later to help his team get back into the game.
Young played well at other times though, grabbing five of his six rebounds off the offensive glass, blocking a shot, forcing a steal and hitting a couple of big baskets. His struggles at the line were negated just a tad by the Gators getting top-notch performances at the charity stripe from Wilbekin (2-of-3), Hill (4-of-6) and senior F Casey Prather (10-of-12).
Above all else, Tuesday’s win was a team effort, something Young made an effort to point out when he spoke with reporters after the game.
“It just shows that when this team is healthy and has everybody out there, or even when we don’t, we’re going to put five guys out there that are going to play hard and run our offense and play our style of play and go out and give it our best shot every night,” he said. “We were able to do that, and our style of play was overwhelming for them. We need to bring that every single day.”
In an effort to provide an additional perspective on the Gators’ offensive success on Tuesday against the Jayhawks, OnlyGators.com reached out to former Florida team manager Kyle Gilreath, who now works for Fast Model Sports and runs an interesting basketball blog Words on the Bounce. Gilreath diagrammed a simple pick-and-roll play – 15 Out – that worked over and over on Tuesday.
This middle pick-and-roll play is one that the Gators ran several times in the first half. While a relatively simple play, it was extremely difficult for KU to guard based on the personnel Donovan had on the floor for UF.
As Young (5) sets the middle pick-and-roll, his man is forced to help on Wilbekin (1) to prevent a lay-up at the rim. If Young’s man doesn’t help on the pick, the defender guarding 2 is forced in the corner to help, thus leaving open a dangerous Florida shooter. As a result, the defender on Finney-Smith (4) must sink down to take Young rolling to the rim. A quick throwback from Wilbekin to Finney-Smith resulted in a wide open catch-and-shoot three-pointer.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Florida committed a season-low eight turnovers and scored a season-high 28 points off turnovers. Kansas’s 24 turnovers were a season-high (the 16 coughed up by KU matched the most the team had given away in a single game this year).
» The Gators shot better from downtown (7-of-14, .500) than they did from inside the arc (13-of-40, .325).
» Donovan on Kansas G Andrew Wiggins, who notched a double-double with career-highs of 26 points and 11 rebounds: “I thought Wiggins bombed in some shots late that kind of kept them hanging around a little bit. I thought on a couple of them we were really poor defensively in what we did. … He’s got a chance to be a special player and a very, very good player.”
» Donovan on the home crowd: “I don’t know if our student body’s gonna pass any of their final exams. They’re sitting out in the rain today waiting for the game in the middle of exams, so I appreciate them doing that. And thank God our administration fed them a little bit, which was great. … This was a great crowd, a great environment. I’m very thankful that people came and had the enthusiasm they did.”
» Donovan on Kansas: “There may not be another team in the country that has as good of a ceiling as they do.”
» Wilbekin on Wiggins: “Wiggins looked like he was a four-year player out there at the end.”
@ONLYGATORS TWEETS OF THE GAME
Patric Young's hook rolls in, he draws the foul, goes all Yosemite Sam with the celebration. #Gators
— OnlyGators.com (@onlygators) December 11, 2013
Internet, be sure to create an animated GIF of two Kansas players trying to force a jump ball with each other.
— OnlyGators.com (@onlygators) December 11, 2013