GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — As Scottie Wilbekin jogged off the court, students chanted his name.
It was a feel-good moment for a senior who was suspended to start the season and struggled in last week’s loss at No. 9 Connecticut.
Wilbekin scored a career-high 18 points, Dorian Finney-Smith added 15 and No. 19 Florida held on to beat No. 13 Kansas 67-61 on Tuesday night.
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The Gators bounced back from a buzzer-beater loss against the Huskies and extended their home winning streak to 21 games. The latest victory came in the Big 12-SEC Challenge and surely will be meaningful when the NCAA tournament seeds are settled in March.
“It just feels like we’re coming together as a whole,” Wilbekin said.
Wilbekin, who injured his right ankle against UConn eight days ago, made 7 of 12 shots and added six assists. It was a much better performance than his last game, when he had more turnovers (3) than assists (2).
Some of his best work Tuesday came in the second half as Kansas kept slicing into Florida’s lead. Wilbekin had a teardrop runner, a driving layup and a three-point play.
“We were teetering there a little bit,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “He made some plays that really helped our team.”
Freshman Andrew Wiggins led the Jayhawks (6-3) with 26 points and 11 rebounds — his first double-double and both career highs. Kansas has lost two straight, both on the road.
This one wasn’t nearly as heart-breaking as Saturday’s loss at Colorado, which hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win 75-72.
The Gators (7-2) went on a 21-0 run and led by as many as 18 points in the first half.
“I think we should have had an electrical shortage and canceled the game after (leading 10-3),” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We made a couple of shots and played pretty well the first four or five minutes. But we were awful after that. … That was not a good team playing there at all, and when things started to go bad, we didn’t do anything to stop it. That was frustrating.”
Self called several timeouts, but couldn’t do anything to stop Florida’s momentum.
Surely Florida’s four senior starters and playing at home were factors, especially when pitted against Kansas’ young and inexperienced lineup.
“I’m not sure young guys have ever faced a situation like that,” Gators center Patric Young said. “We’ve been blown out before. We’ve blown people out before. We know both sides of the spectrum. … We did a great job turning them over.”
The Jayhawks committed 16 turnovers in the first 20 minutes — as many as they had in any game this season.
“We’ve got to get everyone playing together,” Self said. “I can’t blame it all on youth. … A lot of it may be youth, but I think we can still play better individually.”
Kansas clawed its way out of the huge hole and made it 60-55 on Wiggins’ 3-pointer with 55.8 seconds remaining. It was his second 3 in the final 1:20.
Florida closed it out from the free-throw line — barely.
The Gators made 20 of 34 free throws, including nine of their final 11.
Kansas got it as close as 65-61 with 10.9 seconds left. Florida’s Kasey Hill ended any chance of a comeback by draining two free throws.
Aside from Wiggins, who made 7 of 15 shots, Kansas had no one else score in double figures.
The biggest issue for the Jayhawks was 24 turnovers. Many of those came in the decisive early run.
The Gators, who missed six of their first seven shots in the game, got hot from the field. Hill, returning to the rotation after missing the last four games with a high-ankle sprain, got the spurt going with a driving layup.
Wilbekin had a 3-pointer, a floater in the lane and a driving bank shot in the huge run.
Finney-Smith and Young came up big, too. Finney-Smith, the former Virginia Tech starter who is finding his niche in Gainesville, hit two 3-pointers. And Young was a beast in the paint and on the boards.
Young’s three-point play gave Florida a 32-14 lead with 4:14 remaining in the first half.
But for everything the Gators did on the offensive end of the court, they were even better on defense.
Donovan had his team playing a 1-3-1 zone for much of the game, with big men on the wings and the team’s best defender (Wilbekin) running the baseline. It forced poor shots and mistakes.
“I think anything that could go wrong went wrong,” Self said. “It’s just sad that you have to get down like that before you come out and play with reckless abandonment.”