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HOOPS: Gators topple Jayhawks

GAINESVILLE -- No. 19 Florida bullied No. 13 Kansas 67-61 in a raucous O’Connell Center on Tuesday night.

The Gators picked up their first marquee win of the year thanks to a suffocating defensive effort -- including a 21-0 run in the first half -- and a transcendent performance by senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin.    

Here are three thoughts on UF’s victory.

1. Age trumps beauty

Kansas (6-3) started four freshmen -- guard Andrew Wiggins, guard Frank Mason, guard Wanye Selden Jr. and center Joel Embiid -- for the first time in their program’s rich history. Meanwhile, the veteran Gators (7-2) started four seniors -- Wilbekin, forward Casey Prather, forward Will Yeguete and center Pat Young. So something had to give.  Ultimately, Florida’s experience schooled Kansas’ young talent, but coach Bill Self’s gamble worked for about three minutes. And then it didn't. After the Jayhawks jumped out to an early 10-3 lead, they chased the scoreboard the rest of the game as their freshmen were visibly rattled by the rowdy atmosphere and Florida’s punishing press and 1-3-1 zone defense. The Gators stymied the Jayhawks’ aggressive penetration, forcing 16 first-half turnovers en route to a 36-21 halftime lead. Selden, KU’s third-leading scorer who finished with just four points and three turnovers, was so flustered by Florida’s pressure he didn’t log a single minute in the second half. Still KU’s talented freshman, especially Mr. Wiggins (more in a second), flashed enough playmaking skills UF coach Billy Donovan said afterwards, “There may not be a team in the country that has as high of a ceiling as (Kansas does)." Having said that… Florida’s ceiling is rather high too. The Gators toppled a very good team Tuesday night, and the game may have been a blowout had they knocked down free throws (a measly 59 percent) or avoided another second half marred by complacency (40 points allowed). Florida still isn’t totally healthy and the (likely) addition of athletic forward Chris Walker will make an-already very solid defensive team potentially dominant. Donovan can only hope to bottle-up Young’s recent production (12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block) while he tinkers with various lineups involving Kasey Hill, Dorian-Finney Smith, Michael Frazier and the other three seniors.

2. H.A.M Part I

Wilbekin was masterful Tuesday night despite being fresh off an ankle sprain late in a disappointing performance in Florida’s buzzer-beating loss at Connecticut. The senior point guard, who played with constant energy and fire, flashed his newly-polished offensive skills -- filthy floaters and finishes, improved 3-point range -- while continuing his outstanding hustle and tenacious perimeter defense. He finished the evening with 18 points, six assists and four steals, but his stat-sheet stuffing hardly does just on his impact. The Gators clearly fed of his intensity and passion throughout the evening.

3. H.A.M. Part Deux

Florida’s Rowdy Reptiles provided an electric atmosphere for the primetime showdown. The boisterous students waited in the rain all day Tuesday, making Donovan joke postgame, “I don’t know if our student body is going to pass any of their exams.” And yet, the crowd’s “OVERRATED” chant IN THE FIRST HALF at KU’s freshman phenom was utterly ridiculous. Asinine actually. Wiggins, a tantalizing talent who effortlessly impacts every facet of the game, was scary good Tuesday night without ever actually dominating the game. The freshman did not disappoint with a career performance, recording a collegiate-high 26 points (including three treys in a span of 90 seconds to close KU’s deficit to five late) and 11 rebounds. His monstrous block (second only to Embiid’s insane rejection on Prather) and gliding transition finish were just two plays that left a bevy of NBA scouts salivating. 

THIS & THAT

Roughly 20 NBA scouts were in attendance. … Hill and Wilbekin played together for the first time all season. … Florida extended its home-winning streak to 21 games. … The Gators forced 24 turnovers. Kansas’ season-high was 16. … Kansas, who ran the clogged toilet offense for much of the first half, slowly grinded its way back into the game with contstant fouling. At one point Self employed the hack-a-Pat strategy, as the Gators struggled to hit free throws. Prather was a cluch 10-for-10 before missing two late, but the rest of the team was a dreadful 10-of-22. … Finney-Smith was 1-of-10 from 3-point range in his last four games, but the redshirt sophomore drained 4-of-6 from behind the arc Tuesday night. 

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