Things were looking great for Kansas University’s basketball team early in last season’s Big 12/SEC Challenge contest against Florida in Gainesville.
A 10-3 lead, however, quickly morphed into a 24-10 deficit, courtesy of a 21-0 Gators’ run. The outcome was never really in doubt after that, the No. 13-ranked Jayhawks ultimately falling to the No. 19 Gators, 67-61.
“I mean we all watched it and played in that game. It wasn’t pretty at all,” KU sophomore forward Landen Lucas said Wednesday. “To be able to play them again is going to be fun for us and definitely something we’re looking forward to.”
The Jayhawks, who return six players, and Gators, who bring back four who played in last year’s game, will tangle again in a Big 12/SEC Challenge rematch at 8 p.m., Friday, in Allen Fieldhouse.
“We started the game out all right. They went to a 1-3-1 and gave us problems. We turned the ball over a lot and they broke out the lead crazy,” recalled KU junior Jamari Traylor. “We made plays down the stretch with Andrew (Wiggins, 26 points). It was not as close a game as the score was.”
Watching tape of last year’s KU-Florida game has helped ground the No. 11-ranked Jayhawks, who were elated upon winning Sunday’s Orlando Classic championship battle against Michigan State. Unranked Florida (3-3), meanwhile, went 1-2 last week, beating UAB and losing to North Carolina and Georgetown at the Battle4Atlantis.
“Even though the game ended up being respectable from a score standpoint, they totally dominated us,” KU coach Bill Self said of last year’s contest. “We played awful. They were the best defensive team in the country and they’re very good defensively again. They’re definitely a team that will be a high seed in the tournament.”
Florida has three starters who are double-figure scorers — junior guard Michael Frazier II (15.2 ppg), junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10.3 ppg) and senior center Jon Horford (10.3 ppg).
Starters faring well: Self has been pleased with the starting lineup of Frank Mason III, Svi Mykhailiuk, Perry Ellis, Lucas and Wayne Selden Jr., which has opened the last four games.
“We’ve gotten off to better starts. That is it. It doesn’t matter who starts. It’s a lot more important who finishes,” Self said. “I think Cliff’s (Alexander) going to foul quick. We probably need a big guy to defend other teams’ bigs. Svi, without question, has played the best of the perimeter guys other than Frank. He’s been really solid.”
Asked about bringing in Alexander off the bench, Self stated: “I don’t know if you noticed this, but Cliff has a tendency sometimes to put his hands on others wearing a different jersey that would lead to a whistle. At least this way, if he gets two quick fouls, he’s going to get it at the 14- or 13-minute mark as opposed to getting it at the 18-minute mark. I also think there’s an advantage of having a chance to watch from his perspective.
“When I was at Illinois, or Tulsa or Oral Roberts, nobody ever gave a crap who started. No media ever did. And here it’s a big deal. I mean, why the big deal? I don’t know,” Self added.
“I think sometimes we get caught up as this or that, and it doesn’t make any difference who starts. It’s far more important who finishes, and whether Cliff starts or not — and he probably will end up starting eventually without question — but if he starts or not, it wouldn’t affect the number of minutes he plays. Foul problems will dictate the number of minutes he plays regardless, just like it has basically every game so far.”
Graham’s status: Devonté Graham (sprained shoulder) should be able to play Friday.
“Devonté is fine. He wears a yellow shirt in practice (with players not allowed to hit him). I don’t know what that means. But football does it, so I guess we should try to copy football,” Self joked. “He’s practicing full speed. I think it was good that we only had to use him limited minutes, though (in Orlando Classic), to try to reduce the exposure that he had out there.”
Naismith list: KU’s Perry Ellis, Cliff Alexander and Wayne Selden Jr., have made the 50-player Naismith Trophy watch list, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced. Arizona, Duke and Kentucky also had three players on the list.
Self on Mykhailiuk, who averages 6.0 points a game as a 17-year-old: “Well, if he leaves after two years, because that’s what we’ll have him for more than likely is two years ... he could be terrific. He could be as good a basketball player as we’ve had here. Not the best athlete, but as good of a basketball player as we’ve had here. Think of him four years from now, that’s going to be a bad boy and he’s still going to be ridiculously young. He’s got a bright future.”
Mason rebounding: The 5-foot-11 Mason is averaging 4.0 rebounds a game.
“He was our best defensive rebounder. I mean he went and got them better than anybody else did,” Self said of Mason’s 10-rebound outing against MSU. “They were two-foot jumps and they were two-handed. He was, without question, the most aggressive going after the ball.”
Asked if Mason reminded him of Sherron Collins, Self said: “Sherron is the baddest boy we’ve had here. It’s hard to say that anybody is Sherron. I mean, you know, Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins) was great last year. There are a lot of guys we had that great. There’s nobody that came in here that was a better basketball player than Sherron Collins, period. The thing about it is, Frank’s more athletic than Sherron, because as Sherron got older, I don’t think he was quite as explosive as he was when he was young. But I love Frank, but that would be a great goal, for him to get to the point where he can play like Sherron, because that guy was a special college player.”