As it tends to go in December, experience was triumphant.
The No. 19 Florida Gators, led by four seniors, dominated the freshman- and sophomore-laden No. 13 Kansas Jayhawks for a majority of the game on Tuesday and held off a late comeback, earning the 67-61 win at Stephen C. O'Connell Center.
#19 Florida extends its home winning streak to 21 as the Gators defeat #13 Kansas. 67-61. #KUvsUF— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) December 11, 2013
Scottie Wilbekin led the way for Billy Donovan's Gators, scoring 18 points to go with six assists and four steals.
Andrew Wiggins had his best game of the season with 26 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks—no one else had more than nine points for Kansas—but the Jayhawks' dug themselves into a big hole and couldn't overcome 24 turnovers in the sloppy road performance.
Wiggins - 26 points. Rest of Kansas starters - 23. Not good.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) December 11, 2013
Bill Self's team took a quick 10-3 lead at the 15:55 mark but didn't score again until there was 7:13 left in the first half.
During that span, Florida's 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones absolutely stifled the young, rattled Jayhawks squad, and on the other side of the court, Dorian Finney-Smith knocked down three three-pointers, the Gators relentlessly crashed the offensive glass and scored 21-straight points.
The Virginia Tech transfer Finney-Smith was key off the bench for the Gators, finishing with 15 points, five rebounds and two steals.
Perry Ellis was able to eventually stop the bleeding for Kansas with a couple of quick baskets, but Florida continued to play with more energy and execution, especially on defense, forcing an absurd 16 first-half turnovers to take a 36-21 lead into the locker room.
This sequence, via ESPN's Myron Medcalf, summed up the first 20 minutes:
Wayne Selden and Landen Lucas fighting over a loose ball. Turns into a traveling violation. That's all you need to know about this game.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) December 11, 2013
Kansas looked like a different team in the second half, though. The Jayhawks continued to be plagued by turnovers, but they executed much better on offense and starting knocking down shots.
However, after a 11-5 run in the first five minutes of the half to cut the lead to nine, the deficit continued to hover in the eight-to-12-point range for the majority of the game.
Every time the Jayhawks looked ready to make a run, Florida answered with a key basket, usually on the shoulders of Wilbekin—the senior scored or assisted on the Gators' first six baskets of the second half.
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Wiggins drilled three treys in the final minutes to cut the lead to as little as five with a minute to go, but Florida knocked down its free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.
While it will be tempting to overreact to this game—Florida looked superior for about two-thirds of the game—remember that it's still early December and both teams are only going to get better.
The Gators showed what they can do when fully healthy with a comprehensive win, and the addition of Chris Walker will only make this deep team even more dangerous.
Great win for Florida and you can see the potential of the Gators as they get healthy and eligible. Chris Walker is next to come on board.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) December 11, 2013
Kansas, meanwhile, is extremely young and still putting the pieces together, but the talent is obviously there. The Jayhawks are inconsistent now, but under Self, they will get things figured out.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: A
It wasn't quite a perfect 40 minutes from Wiggins, who was ice cold early against Florida's zone and turned the ball over four times, but it was close, as he was undoubtedly the bright spot for the Jayhawks.
He was electric in transition, active on the glass, and played tremendous defense, holding Casey Prather to just 1-of-5 shooting.
Wiggins nearly led a one-man comeback in the final minutes (and would have come even closer if not for a controversial no-call), but even in the loss, his ability to take over games was clear.
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida: A
Guess his ankle is alright.
It wasn't certain that Wilbekin would even play in this game, but he came through in a massive way.
He scored from all over the court, he ran the offense (six assists, two turnovers), he forced plenty of Kansas mistakes on defense and he quietly did all kinds of damage at the back of the 1-3-1 zone.
This Florida team is experienced, but Wilbekin's energy, intangibles, leadership and play on both ends of the court is crucial for the Gators.
Joel Embiid, Kansas: B
Every time someone talks about how little Joel Embiid has played organized basketball, it feels like a lie. The future lottery pick has a tremendous feel for the game.
In his first ever collegiate start, Embiid only finished with six points and six rebounds, but he was under control on offense (two assists, one turnover, scored with some nice post moves) and protected the rim (three blocks).
Battling with Patric Young and Will Yeguete down low, Embiid once again impressed.
Patric Young, Florida: B+
It was a Jekyll and Hyde game for Young.
In the first half, Kansas had no answer for him, as he scored in a variety of ways, couldn't be kept off the offensive glass and provided endless energy for the fired-up Gators. Heck, he even knocked down a rare jumper.
The second half was a different story, though. Young struggled inside against Embiid, got into foul trouble and didn't touch the ball much after the first minute of the half.
You can't really be mad at 12 points, six rebounds, a steal and a block, but it felt like it could have been a much bigger night for the strong senior.
Both teams continue their tough non-conference schedule, as Florida takes on No. 16 Memphis in Madison Square Garden next Tuesday, while Kansas takes on New Mexico in the Kansas City Shootout on Saturday.