Florida's rally falls short at Wisconsin

Wisconsin's Ben Brust drives past Florida freshman Kasey Hill during the Badgers' 59-53 home win on Tuesday. (AP Photo)

Published: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 11:21 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. — It was a noble effort. On the road, short-handed, with a walk-on playing in crunch-time, No. 11 Florida played No. 20 Wisconsin to the final possession before falling 59-53 at the sold-out Kohl Center.

Only don’t tell that to Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II.

“No moral victories here,” Frazier said. “We didn’t come out with the win, that’s our goal is to come here. The guys that we had, we were fully capable of winning, we let it slip right through our hands.”

Frazier scored a career-high 20 points, but the short-handed Gators couldn’t overcome an 11-point second-half deficit. Florida played its second straight game without forward Dorian Finney-Smith, guard Scottie Wilbekin and center Damontre Harris, who sat out the game for disciplinary reasons. After the game, Florida coach Billy Donovan said he hasn’t decided whether any of the three will be reinstated for UF’s next game Saturday against Arkansas-Little Rock.

“There’s still things they need to do, conditions that need to be met,” Donovan said.

Playing with a rotation of eight players, including walk-on Jacob Kurtz, the Gators cut Wisconsin’s lead to 56-53 when senior Patric Young made one of two free throws with 41.8 seconds left.

But Wisconsin was able to get the ball past the midcourt line before Badgers coach Bo Ryan called timeout. Wisconsin turned to junior guard Traevon Jackson, who sank a 16-footer with 9.8 seconds over Kurtz’s out-stretched arms.

“Two things we didn’t want to give up was a 3(-pointer) or a layup,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “We made him take a tough, challenged 2 and he made a difficult shot.”

Donovan said he elected to let the possession play out rather than foul because he wanted to keep it a one-possession game. There was a seven-second differential from the shot clock to the game clock.

“I wanted to keep it a one-possession game on the road,” Donovan said. “I thought if we could have gotten one stop, at least we could get the ball back, three-point game to either call a timeout or take a quick shot.”

Kurtz was playing late because Florida freshman phenom point guard Kasey Hill fouled out with 3:25 remaining. In just his second career game and first in a hostile environment, Hill went 2 of 11 from the floor, finishing with four points, four assists, one steal and two turnovers.

“I thought his lack of putting the ball in the basket really impacted him on the defensive end of the floor, being a young guy,” Donovan said. “He was visibly disappointed, upset, bothered and I think that led to some of his foul trouble, where he’s got to move to the next play as a young kid.”

Sam Dekker led Wisconsin with 16 points, with Jackson adding 13.

Frazier did his best Erik Murphy impersonation early, making three straight 3-pointers to help the Gators build an early 16-4 lead. But Dekker helped quell UF’s early momentum with back-to-back 3s to cut Florida’s lead to 16-10. That got the red-clad crowd of 17,249 at the Kohl Center back into the game.

“It’s a loud atmosphere to play in and they had great energy tonight,” Frazier II said. “I don’t think we matched their energy at times and that was a negative for us.”

A Casey Prather layup in transition on a pretty feed from Hill put the Gators up 24-16 with 7:57 remaining. From there, though, Florida went on another mind-numbing scoring drought. The Gators failed to score during a 7:35 stretch that included two turnovers, an air-ball 3-point attempt from DeVon Walker and two missed hook shots inside by Young.

Wisconsin took advantage during a 13-0 late first-half run. A 3-pointer from Jackson cut Florida’s lead to 24-21 with 6:38 left in the half. Dekker’s driving layup cut UF’s lead to 23-24 and Wisconsin took its first lead of half, 26-24, on a deep 3-pointer from Ben Brust.

Jackson’s second 3-pointer of the half put Wisconsin up 29-24 with 38 seconds remaining. But Will Yeguete ended UF’s scoring drought with two free throws with 12.6 seconds left, cutting Wisconsin’s lead to 29-26 at halftime.

“I thought we had a really, really hard time finishing some plays, particularly around the basket,” Donovan said. “We missed a lot of layups and finishes at the rim that I think hurt us.”

Florida’s perimeter defense was strong early, but wilted as the half wore on. Wisconsin made three of its five first-half 3-pointers in the final 7:57 of the first half. For the game, the Badgers shot 45 percent (9 of 20) from beyond the arc, while Florida shot 35.7 percent (5 of 14).

“We lost that focus that we had early on,” Young said. “The first eight minutes we were playing great, we were playing exactly the way we wanted to, played our offense well, not giving up 3-pointers. We lost focus on what was helping us.”

Despite the loss, Donovan felt the Gators made strides defensively, limiting Wisconsin to 59 points and forcing 14 turnovers. Florida’s press was effective in the second half, helping the Gators whittle away at their 11-point second half deficit.

“We always felt like we were right there,” Young said. “We just needed a couple of stops in a row.”

Young said there was a miscommunication when Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky hit a big 3-pointer to put the Badgers up 54-48 with 4:01 left and blamed himself for a couple of missed rotations.

Prather added 12 points for Florida, but accounted for five of UF’s 11 turnovers. Florida also was outrebounded for the second straight game (31-28) and went 10 of 17 from the free throw line.

Like Frazier, Young refused to use the Gators being short-handed as an excuse for their inconsistent performance.

“We still let this game slip away,” Young said. “We still had an opportunity to win this game. Of course it would have helped having those guys, but I think the guys that we lined up where capable of coming away with the win tonight.”

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