Gators wary of Wiggins-led Jayhawks
Published: Monday, December 9, 2013 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 9, 2013 at 10:00 p.m.
Andrew Wiggins has been anointed the next LeBron James, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and had fans waiting for autographs on recruiting visits.
Who: No. 19 Florida Gators (6-2) vs. No. 13 Kansas Jayhawks (6-2)
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
When Wiggins plays in the O'Connell Center against Florida, the 6-foot-8 Kansas freshman basketball prodigy will carry a star quality rarely seen in college hoops circles. But Florida insists it's about more than stopping Wiggins in tonight's SEC-Big 12 matchup. It's about stopping the Kansas team.
“For us, defensively, it's never a one-on-one situation where we are just playing him and this guy is guarding him and he's on an island by himself,” Donovan said. “Obviously they've got a lot of talented, gifted players that we're going to need to provide help, be in good position and be ready to help on certain situations, certain screening actions.”
By all accounts, Wiggins is a humble superstar not prone to embracing his own hype. With a 40-inch vertical leap, the Canadian has been effective finishing at the basket over centers and power forwards.
“I saw that last bucket he got in the second half of the game against Colorado,” Florida senior center Patric Young said. “There wasn't even a hole. He just went straight through the guy's chest and finished. I thought that was a pretty bold move because the guy could have taken a charge. But he's a very talented player."
But like the rest of the Jayhawks, Wiggins has struggled from the perimeter, shooting just 33.3 percent from 3-point range.
“Obviously, you don't want a guy to come to your house and get off against you,” Florida sophomore guard Michael Frazier II said. “It's not just one guy. It's our whole team. We're going to play our defense, and we're going to play hard.”
That means keeping Wiggins from driving to the rim, where he does his most damage.
“That's going to take all five guys being alert, being ready to help,” Frazier said.
From a health standpoint, Florida received more good news Monday. Donovan said freshman point guard Kasey Hill (high ankle sprain) will be available to play for the first time since suffering the injury Nov. 18 against Southern. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin also is back in practice and available to play after suffering a mild ankle sprain last week at Connecticut.
Hill, a 6-foot-1 McDonald's All-American, returned to full contact in practice Sunday, Donovan said.
“Because he's been out and been out of practice so long — it's been nearly about three weeks right now — I just don't know what I'm going to get from him,” Donovan said. “We'll give him an opportunity. He'll have another day of practice under his belt. Hopefully he will get back to feeling more comfortable. He feels pretty good right now and as long as that continues we'll use him as we need him.”
It will mark the first time Hill and Wilbekin will be able to play together this season. Wilbekin was sidelined for UF's first six games due to a disciplinary suspension.
“In practice those guys are mostly going against each other,” Young said. “We'll see if they're on the court at the same time. Probably going to be different times. I'm not sure what coach Donovan's plan is. But it'll be exciting to watch. Both of them are great players.”
Both No. 19 Florida (6-2) and No. 13 Kansas (6-2) are coming off losses at the buzzer. The Gators have had eight days off since their 65-64 loss at Connecticut that ended with a 12-footer from Huskies senior guard Shabazz Napier as time expired. Kansas is coming off a 75-72 loss at Colorado that ended on a 30-footer from guard Askia Cooper.
“Guys are resilient,” Donovan said. “They are excited about the opportunity to play. And it becomes much, much more difficult when you lose a game like that and it's the last game of the year.
“So for us, I think our guys are excited. We've had some time to kind of practice, try to get healed up a little bit, to work on ourselves to try to get better. But I think it should be a great game. Based on what happened last game, I think both teams will come out and play very, very hard.”
For a Kansas team that starts three freshmen, the atmosphere at the O'Connell Center could present a challenge. Florida has won 20 straight home games. The Gators are expecting a sellout crowd of more than 12,000 tonight.
“Anyone who thought we were just going to run through this thing (undefeated) doesn't understand college basketball,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We're a young team that's still trying to improve.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 13.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 11.3 ppg, 5.7 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr. 19.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg
KANSAS PROBABLE STARTERS
G Wayne Selden Jr. 6-5 Fr. 9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg
G Frank Mason 5-11 Fr. 9.1 ppg, 3.0 apg
G Andrew Wiggins 6-8 Fr 15.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg
F Perry Ellis So. 6-8 14.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg
F Tarik Black 6-9 Sr. 3.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg
Notes: Florida and Kansas are playing in the marquee matchup of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. In the first season of the challenge between the two conferences, the Big 12 currently holds a 6-2 lead. … The Gators are 1-3 all-time against Kansas and 1-1 under Billy Donovan. The last time the two teams met, Kansas upset the Gators 82-80 on Nov. 25, 2006 in the finals of the Las Vegas Invitational. … Just five games into the season, Florida has had just five players appear in every game, which includes four scholarship players (Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, Patric Young, Michael Frazier II) and walk-on Jacob Kurtz. … Frazier leads the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage (.523, 23-44). … Kansas is a deep team, with nine players averaging 10 or more minutes per game. … Kansas assistant Norm Roberts served as an assistant at Florida during UF's Elite Eight season in 2011-12. … Kansas has won eight of its last nine road games against ranked teams.
Three things to watch
1. In the zone
Kansas has struggled all season from the perimeter, shooting just 29.8 percent from 3-point range. Florida coach Billy Donovan gets his team to mix defenses throughout the game, so don't be surprised if the Gators start in a zone and force Kansas to try to settle for outside shots early.
2. Battle on the boards
Florida outrebounded Connecticut 34-26, but the inability to come up with defensive rebounds late proved costly in its 65-64 loss to the Huskies. Connecticut's final six points were second-chance points off offensive rebounds. Kansas has outrebounded seven of its first eight opponents with a rebound margin of plus-6.5. Florida sophomore 6-foot-8 forward Dorian Finney-Smith has averaged a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game off the bench and could play an important role in the outcome of the game.
3. Playing under control
Turnovers were another issue for the Gators in their loss at Connecticut. The Huskies scored 24 points off 16 Florida turnovers. The Gators should play more poised at home. The return of McDonald's All-American freshman point guard Kasey Hill should take some of the pressure off starter Scottie Wilbekin. Kansas forces just 11.9 turnovers per game.
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