Gators clamp down, use big run to take down Kansas
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As the Gators prepared to face Kansas, a common theme emerged in watching video of the No. 13-ranked Jayhawks.
"They come out like gangbusters," Florida assistant coach Rashon Burno, in charge of the advance scout of Kansas, said Tuesday night following Florida's 67-61 win. "That's their MO."
Sure enough, Kansas quickly quieted a packed O'Connell Center by jumping out to a 10-3 lead.
And then the 19th-ranked Gators clamped down with perhaps their most impressive stretch of play this season.
After all, who goes on a 21-0 run against Kansas -- in basketball?
The Gators did.
From the time Frank Mason's 3-pointer gave the Jayhawks an early seven-point lead until Perry Ellis' layup ended the drought, the Gators reeled off 21 consecutive points to seize control and nearly cause the paid crowd of 12,423 to blow the roof off the O'Dome.
"It was crazy," Florida center Patric Young said. "We were just so locked in and focused. We held them to 10 points for so long."
So long, in fact, that Young wasn't sure the score was correct. A 10-3 deficit turned into a 24-10 Gators lead.
"When I saw it on the scoreboard I didn't believe it," Young said. "Then I did the math. It added up correct. It was really impressive we could do that and make them feel so uncomfortable."
Florida held the Jayhawks scoreless for 8 minutes, 43 seconds to take a lead that grew to 18 points late in the first half. Kansas was 0-for-8 from the floor during the stretch -- freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins missed three 3-pointers and a jumper as the Gators pulled away -- and committed six turnovers.
Dorian Finney-Smith's 3-pointer with 12:59 left in the first half put Florida up 12-10, a lead the Gators never relinquished. Finney-Smith hit another 3-pointer to cap Florida's outburst with 7:40 left before the half to give Florida a 14-point lead.
Florida turned the game around by going to a 1-3-1 zone using the team's best defender, point guard Scottie Wilbekin, on the backend and rotating big men to front the zone.
"I thought that kind of opened up the game for us a little bit," Donovan said. "Our length caused some issues for them. If you don't have great length and great size, the ball moves pretty fast. And if the ball does move fast, you are really vulnerable to give up a lot of 3-point shots and you're vulnerable to give up offensive rebounds."
The Gators gave up neither, at least not in the sequence that turned the game in their favor.
After four different Jayhawks scored to open up the early lead, Florida's coaching staff pounded home that the Gators needed to start their comeback on defense.
They obviously listened.
"The first thing Coach told the guys was just get stops," Bruno said. "Just get a stop, one at a time. Once we started getting stops and turning them over, it fed our offense and gave us confidence."
Wilbekin and Finney-Smith each scored seven points during the 21-0 run, Kasey Hill and Patric Young scored three points apiece, and Will Yeguete added a free throw.
The Gators led 36-21 at halftime as they outscored Kansas 18-0 -- and 28-4 for the game -- in points off turnovers.
"Our job was to stay composed, stick to the game plan and do what they do," Bruno said. "We were expecting them to get out to a fast start."
With the biggest win of the young season in the books, Donovan said he plans to watch film to see if the Gators' second-half drop-off on defense was a result of fatigue from the run or something else. Florida was outscored 40-31 after halftime as the Jayhawks closed to within five points (60-55) on Wiggins' 3-pointer with 55.8 seconds remaining.
The teams traded free throws in the final minute as Kansas closed to within four with 11 seconds remaining. Wiggins finished with a game-high 26 points but when the game was decided, he came up empty.
"I was trying to throw as many defense as I could at them," Donovan said.
The 1-3-1 zone in the first half worked best. The Jayhawks can attest to that.