KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Eighth-ranked Florida was beaten at its own game by Kansas State.
The Wildcats kept chasing down loose balls, kept taking away passing lanes on defense and generally made life miserable for Mike Rosario and the rest of the Gators.
The nation’s best defensive team was out-defended, and Gators coach Billy Donovan knew it.
“I thought they were just a step ahead of us, a step quicker,” Donovan said after a 67-61 loss Saturday night. “We gave up some offensive rebounds. We had just a couple plays there where we were just late on some things, particularly our guards getting over screens.”
Patric Young had 19 points and 10 rebounds despite foul trouble, but he didn’t get a whole lot of help against Kansas State’s in-your-shorts defense.
Rosario, the team’s leading scorer, had five points on 1-for-9 shooting. Scott Wilbekin scored 11 points but was 0 for 3 from beyond the arc, where the Gators were 5 of 19 as a team.
“When a guy like (Rosario) goes 1 for 9, probably a third of his shots were blocked,” Donovan said. “When you’re getting your shot blocked, it’s not a good night.”
It was a dandy night for the Wildcats.
For all the area teams, as a matter of fact.
Will Spradling had 17 points, six rebounds and five assists to lead the Wildcats, who followed up No. 9 Kansas’ win over No. 7 Ohio State and No. 12 Missouri’s victory over No. 10 Illinois on Saturday with the most surprising result of them all.
“Whenever you’re shooting it well — you see the ball go through the net — it brings confidence to you and for your team as well,” said Spradling, a sophomore guard from suburban Kansas City. “This is probably my best all-around performance that I’ve had.”
Spradling didn’t even have a turnover in 39 minutes.
Rodney McGruder added 13 points and Jordan Henriquez had nine points and five blocks for the Wildcats (9-2), who watched a 10-point halftime lead evaporate before clamping down against one of the nation’s top defensive teams and then pulling away in the final minutes.
“We were in tune with one another. We wanted this game,” McGruder said. “Our preparation for Florida was great, tremendous. The past couple practices guys were getting after one another.”
Young’s two free throws with just over 2 minutes left got Florida (8-2) within 58-53, but Spradling found Shane Southwell in the corner for an open 3-pointer and the Wildcats managed to put the game away from the foul line down the stretch.
They ended up shooting 21 free throws in the second half.
“If you’re looking at the game, I’d think everyone would say Kansas State’s energy was much better than ours,” Donovan said. “The reason they got the lead they did, it was because their energy was much better.”
The Wildcats have been struggling in new coach Bruce Weber’s motion offense, and it showed in sloppy, lackluster losses to No. 2 Michigan and No. 14 Gonzaga. But they finally managed to get it clicking just enough against one of the nation’s premier defenses.
“Just a heck of an effort by our guys,” Weber said. “The thing I challenged them with is we had to compete for 40 minutes, just to give ourselves a chance. Against Michigan, against Gonzaga, we only competed for 20.”
It was defense that ruled this one from the start.
Kansas State built an early lead by turning over Florida twice in the opening minutes, and the Gators responded with a 9-2 surge in which they twice scored off turnovers in transition.
Kansas State eventually settled down on offense, and McGruder’s basket with just under 5 minutes left made it 26-19. The Gators’ Michael Frazier curled in a 3-pointer for his only basket, but Kansas State rattled off seven more points that helped it take a big lead into the break.
“Our guards made some very poor plays in the first half in terms of our ball movement,” Donovan said. “We were very insistent on driving the ball and taking runners and floaters in the lane. … We had guys open all over the place. All we had to do was make the extra pass.”
Florida started to make that extra pass early in the second half.
The Gators scored on their first six trips down the floor and put together a 12-3 run that allowed them to wipe out almost the entire deficit. Kenny Boynton’s 3 with 13:10 left drew them even at 41-all, the closest they’d been since leading 19-17 midway through the first half.
“I just said, ‘We’ve been here before,'” Weber said. “You get a point where the other team comes at you and do you lay down or do you step up?”
The Wildcats kept stepping up.
Things were going so well for Kansas State that Henriquez, who had been 2 for 19 from the foul line, stepped up and calmly knocked down four straight free throws.
“When I hit those four in a row, it felt good,” he said. “I felt good.”
It was a feel-good night all-around for the Wildcats.
“This was a great win for our team, great win for our staff, a great win for our league,” Weber said. “This was a great win for us.”