The Kansas Jayhawks have some of the best young talent in the country and Head Coach Bill Self decided to showcase them from the beginning of Tuesday’s match-up with #19 ranked Florida. The Jayhawks started four freshman, G Frank Mason, F Andrew Wiggins, F Wayne Selden Jr., and tonight, his first career start, C Joel Embiid. Along with the four Freshman, the Jayhawks start Sophomore F Perry Ellis.
Kansas had the hot hand early, getting out to a 10-3 lead, but things went downhill quickly for the youthful Jayhawks.
Kansas soon found themselves in the midst of the worst eight minutes in the history of the University of Kansas basketball program. Florida, backed by their stifling zone defense, exploded out to a 21-0 run that included 0-8 shooting from the floor and 6 turnovers for Kansas and 6 Florida offensive rebounds. The Jayhawks panicked and had butter fingers the majority of the night, finishing the first half with 16 turnovers, which matched their season-high in an entire game (16 vs. Villanova in Bahamas). Regardless of the insane amount of turnovers, the Jayhawks only trailed by 15 going into the half as the Gators led 36-21.
Andrew Wiggins came to life in the second half and did everything in his power to bring the Jayhawks back. After burying three consecutive three-point shots, the Jayhawks clawed back to within five points with just under a minute remaining. After a free throw shooting contest, the Jayhawks ultimately came up short as the Gators hold on for the 67-61 home victory.
Kansas finishes the game with 24 total turnovers, the most by the Jayhawks this season and only 19 made field goals, the lowest amount by KU this season. Nine of the eleven Kansas players to see the floor tonight had at least one turnover and six had two or more. No Florida player had more than two turnovers the entire game. KU loses back-to-back pre-conference games for the first time since the 2005-2006 season, when the Jayhawks fell to Arizona and then Arkansas in the Maui Invitational.
Andrew Wiggins finished the contest with career high’s in points (26) and rebounds (11), his first double-double of the season. Aside from Wiggins, no other Jayhawk reached double figures. Kansas managed to keep themselves in the contest with good three-point (8-19, 42.1%) and free-throw (15-19, 78.9%) shooting.
The Florida Senior leadership proved to be too much as 3 Seniors finished in double figures (Wilbekin – 18, Prather – 12, Young – 12).
The Jayhawks, despite the abundance of turnovers, never gave up tonight and continued to fight until the grim end. Kansas still needs to improve on the defensive glass (Florida: 13 Offensive Rebounds) where they only average about 38 per game. The Point Guard position needs to be established as well. Who is going to be the playmaker? The Point Guard position only produced five assists tonight, all by Junior Naadir Tharpe. In addition to point guard play and rebounding, the Jayhawks need to establish a leader who can rally the troops when things get tough. Wiggins took a step in the right direction tonight to be just that guy.
Tonight, as much as it may sting for Rock Chalk Nation, was a both a growing and learning experience for Kansas moving forward into the conference schedule and towards March. They tenaciously kept fighting and scrapping to cut away at the lead. A couple more months of learning from Bill Self and this Kansas squad can be dangerous.
Kansas is next in action Saturday December 14 versus New Mexico at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, 7:00 PM EST.
Florida hosts #16 Memphis next Tuesday, December 17th at 9:00 PM EST.