University of Kansas

Florida beats Kansas 67-61, the Jayhawks’ third loss in four games

Updated: 2013-12-11T07:49:13Z

By RUSTIN DODD

The Kansas City Star

— Andrew Wiggins pushed through a doorway and took a few short steps into a hallway, looking for family. It was late Tuesday night, more than 30 minutes after No. 13 Kansas had lost 67-61 to No. 19 Florida, and Wiggins was moving slowly through a concourse at the O’Connell Center.

Back on the court, in a nearly empty arena, his older brother, Mitchell Jr., was waiting for him. And Wiggins was hoping for a few brief moments with his oldest sibling, a senior at Southeastern University, a nearby NAIA school.

In the moments after a setback in the inaugural Big 12-SEC Challenge, Wiggins wasn’t particularly interested in dissecting another lost night. He wanted to talk about the future, about the distance between now and March, about how a young Kansas team will be better when it really counts.

“We’ve just got to come together as a team,” Wiggins said. “And just find what’s wrong.”

In Tuesday’s aftermath, that was the only question that really mattered. How can Kansas fix itself? After an offseason filled with so many expectations and so much promise, the Jayhawks are 6-3 with another difficult game — against New Mexico at the Sprint Center — on Saturday night. In the span of 12 days, KU has suffered three losses in four games — the first time Kansas has recorded three losses before Dec. 11 since the 2005-06 season. That was the last time KU coach Bill Self attempted such a dramatic program reload. And the young core of Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Julian Wright needed a couple of months to find themselves.

Tuesday night, Self started four freshmen for what was thought to be the first time in school history. And the youngsters took their lumps.

“We’re not very good right now,” Self said. “We’re not. But I’m also leaving out of here believing that we could be really good if we can just continue to try to grind it out and just get a little better day to day.”

So where can Kansas improve?

For another night, the Jayhawks struggled to attack a zone defense, this time a 1-3-1, crumbling the under the weight of a 21-0 Florida run in the first half. For another night, the Jayhawks’ point guards — Frank Mason and Naadir Tharpe — struggled to keep the offense in a rhythm or flow. By the end of the night, the Jayhawks had recorded 24 turnovers, including 16 during an ugly first half. Florida outscored the Jayhawks 28-4 on points off turnovers.

The Gators turned an early 10-3 deficit into a 36-21 halftime lead. And from then on, they never lost control. It’s likely no coincidence that Florida started four seniors, including a senior point guard (Scottie Wilbekin) who led the way with 18 points and six assists.

“If your offense (stinks) in football, usually you look at the quarterback,” Self said. “But … it doesn’t fall on the point guards totally, because they can do better, but we can all do better.”

In that way, the loss wasn’t much different from losses to Villanova and Colorado, games in which Kansas’ defense wasn’t good enough to make up for lackluster offense.

Better point guard play, Self says, could also help Wiggins, who finished with a career-high 26 points and 11 rebounds in 37 minutes. Most of his offense (18 points) came in the second half, but Self thought some of his early struggles came from a lack of touches against Florida’s zone.

“They went 1-3-1 zone, and we practice attacking it and attacking it, and have no problem in practice,” Self said. “But it’s a different pressure in the game. It’s a different pressure. And these young kids are understanding that.”

Late on Tuesday, though, Self was partly wanting to blame himself for putting his young team through such a strenuous early season schedule. The Jayhawks haven’t played at Allen Fieldhouse since Nov. 22, and they’re in the midst of a 29-day stretch without a game in the comforts of the Phog.

“We’re the only (BCS) school in America that doesn’t have any home games for month,” Self said. “And that’s my fault. And the schedule doesn’t lend itself to getting some confidence by winning some games (where) you don’t have to play great.”

Self still believes in his young team’s talent, but the pieces just aren’t fitting. He knew a rough patch was coming, but he’d hoped KU could avoid some losses as they weathered the storm. On Tuesday, the answers eluded Kansas again. But maybe, Self says, they’re getting a little closer.

“We have all the way to March to make our team come together,” Wiggins said. “We’re young. We started what, four freshmen right now? So we’ve just got to come together as a team.”

Struggling offense

Kansas scored at least 80 points in each of its first five games (all wins), but hasn’t scored more than 72 in losing three of its last four games.

Category First 5 Last 4
Points/game8764.8
Field goal pct..545.434
Three-point pct..338.289
Free-throw pct..681.678
Assists/game18.210.8
Turnovers/game11.417.3

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to rdodd@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/rustindodd.

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