Defensive effort fuels Florida run

Billy Donovan used his plan to perfection. Facing a young Kansas team starting four freshmen for the first time in school history, the Florida head coach wanted to throw everything he had at the Jayhawks on the defensive end of the floor. The Gators flipped between 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones while stifling the Kansas offense and eventually securing a 67-61 win over the Jayhawks.

"Playing against us, there's a lot you have to get ready for," Billy Donovan said.

Florida mixed in some of its man-to-man defense in the early going before the zone wreaked the havoc necessary to get into a comfortable lead. Kansas took a 10-3 lead after Frank Mason hit a three-pointer with 15:55 left in the first half. It was the last time the Jayhawks scored for 8:43 on the clock.

By the time Kansas got on the board next on a layup by Perry Ellis with 7:12 left to play in the first half, the Gators had already sprinted off to a 24-12 lead thanks to a 21-0 run. But it was fueled on the defensive end of the floor.

"We went big, and we tried to play the passing lanes," Dorian Finney-Smith said. "We got deflections and caused them problems."

Finney-Smith was a key to it. The Gators moved him to the small forward position while moving Casey Prather to shooting guard. In the 1-3-1, Donovan pushed Prather to the top of it, using his length to limit passing lanes and make it tough on a Kansas team without an experienced point guard.

Finney-Smith keyed the zone

Scottie Wilbekin was at the bottom of the 1-3-1 zone, using his speed to run sideline-to-sideline if necessary to defend the perimeter. It worked to perfection, exactly the way Donovan thought it would after watching film on Kansas. The Gators went away from it later in the first half because of some foul trouble, but the damage was already done with Florida boasting a double-digit lead.

"When we went big at one point with a 1-3-1 zone, I thought that kind of opened up the game for us a little bit," Donovan said. "Our zone was good. I think the difference in the game was we forced a lot of turnovers tonight."

Florida forced 24 turnovers on the night, the most forced by the Gators this season. The season high of turnovers for Kansas in previous games this year was 16 and the Gators forced that by halftime. Meanwhile, Florida turned the ball over a season-low eight times. The Gators outscored Kansas 28-4 in points off turnovers.

"I think it was important," Wilbekin said. "I think it spurred our run in that first half. They were flustered and didn't really know what to do."

Donovan went back to the 2-3 zone to start the second half since Frazier, Prather and Wilbekin went into halftime with two fouls. It allowed Kansas to get back into the game, cutting the Florida lead to nine points with 14:04 left to play before Donovan went back to mixing defenses like usual.

Against a youthful Kansas team with plenty of talent, it was the experience and length of the Florida defense that served as the difference.

"I think it was difficult for them to throw the ball over and around our guys," Donovan said. "Our length I think caused some issues for them."


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