Florida rides dominant first half to win over Kansas
Kansas jumped out to a quick 10-3 lead over Florida in Gainesville on Tuesday night before the under-16 TV timeout. When play resumed, the Gators came out in a 1-3-1 zone and took the lead within the next three minutes. They wouldn’t trail again for the rest of the night.
After that early seven-point deficit, Florida outscored Kansas 33-11 for the rest of the half. The Jayhawks rallied in the second half behind Andrew Wiggins, but Florida held on for a 67-61 win.
In losing two of its first eight games, Kansas had struggled mightily shooting the ball from deep. The Jayhawks entered Tuesday’s game shooting just 29.8 percent from behind the arc. As such, many teams have turned to the zone against them to neutralize their athleticism, forcing them to beat them from deep. It proved to be their undoing against the Gators, as they turned the ball over a remarkable 16 times in the first half while shooting 2-for-7 from deep. Both of their makes came with Florida in man-to-man. A healthy Scottie Wilbekin had his best game of the season, scoring 18 points on 7-12 shooting, and adding six assists and four steals.
We’re more than a month into the season, we’re still not sure how good Florida could be. The Gators have been undermanned all year due to injuries and suspensions. Tuesday marked the first time both Wilbekin and Kasey Hill played in the same game this season. Hill appeared to still be feeling some of the effects of his high-ankle sprain, but Wilbekin looked like he was back to 100 percent. It was clear to see the impact he has on this team on both ends of the floor.
Florida remains a hard team to peg, but we are starting to get a better picture of who they Gators are. Despite everything they’ve already dealt with this year, their only losses came at No. 4 Wisconsin and at No. 9 Connecticut on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater. Reinforcements are on the way, with McDonald’s All-American forward Chris Walker reportedly on the cusp of becoming academically eligible, potentially in time for next week’s game with No. 16 Memphis.
Meanwhile, the Jayhawks continue to struggle to find any sort of offensive identity. They had twice as many turnovers as made field goals in the first half, and Wiggins once again looked all too content to blend in rather than take command of the offense. Like he did in the loss to Colorado, he turned it on late, drilling three straight three-pointers and bringing Kansas to within five points with 58 seconds left. Still, it was too little too late, and the team got nothing out of anyone else. Wiggins led the Jayhawks with 26 points. Their next highest scorer was Frank Mason with nine.
It’s sometimes easy to forget how young the Jayhawks are because of all their talent. That youth showed against Florida’s 1-3-1 zone in the first half. Bill Self’s squad has seen plenty of zone this year, but it still looked completely lost once Billy Donovan abandoned the man-to-man. Kansas’ intense non-conference schedule may ultimately pay off later in the year, but Self may be regretting setting his team up with such a tough slate at this point. The Jayhawks had already played No. 8 Duke and No. 10 Villanova on neutral courts, and No. 21 Colorado in Boulder before Tuesday’s game at Florida. Their next four games are against New Mexico, Georgetown, a talented mid-major in Toledo and No. 25 San Diego State. The Big 12 is as good as it has been in years, with Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State all looming as serious threats to end Kansas’ incredible run of dominance in the conference. While the bet here is that Kansas’ non-conference schedule steels it for conference play, it would be encouraging to see them rebound against the Lobos on Saturday.