Saturday, January 20, 2018
Sports

Gators like challenge of basketball visit from Kansas

GAINESVILLE

Ordinarily, Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan would be downplaying tonight's showdown with No. 13 Kansas as just another game. And considering it's a long season, he would be correct.

But Monday even Donovan had to acknowledge that having a perennial power like the Jayhawks visit the O'Dome in early December is a pretty big deal.

"For our school and our fans, it's great," Donovan said. "I really feel like coming out of the Wisconsin game, on the road the second game of the year, made our team better. I think the UConn game, going through that experience made our team better. I'm sure this game will be the same way. Here it is Dec. 10 and we've played several teams that will be ranked in the top 10, so you get a really good feeling of where you're at as a team.

"On top of that, because our season is so long in basketball and people identify with our league in the SEC, we've made a philosophical change to say, 'Okay, let's try to play some games in the O'Connell Center in November and December that maybe our fans can identify with.' This will be one of those games people around the country and certainly here in Gainesville and here in Florida would identify with as a game. I think it's a great game for everybody all around."

Florida will benefit from the return of senior G Scottie Wilbekin and freshman G Kasey Hill. Wilbekin suffered a high ankle sprain at UConn last week; Hill has been out nearly three weeks with the same injury and how much time he can play remains uncertain. It will be the first time Gator fans will see both on the court at the same time. Wilbekin was serving an early season suspension when Hill got injured.

Both teams are coming off losses on last-second game-winners — Florida to UConn, Kansas at Colorado. But Donovan said he expects both teams to have put those games behind them tonight.

Kansas coach Bill Self knew heading into this stretch that his team would be challenged, even joking about how the schedule was set up.

"It's going to be a hard road trip," he said. "I don't know whoever did our scheduling, I don't really understand. I'm the one who did it. But it's probably not the wisest thing to have done. But you know what? We'll come together."

FOWLER, HARGREAVES ALL-SEC: Sophomore DL Dante Fowler Jr. and freshman CB Vernon Hargreaves III were named to the AP All-SEC first team announced Monday. Junior CB Loucheiz Purifoy, who is leaving for the NFL, was a second-team selection.

Hargreaves is the first true freshman at Florida to earn first-team All-SEC honors since punter Shayne Edge in 1999, and the first true freshman offensive or defensive player to do so since Emmitt Smith in 1987. He is the only true freshman on the team. The former Wharton standout had 35 tackles, three interceptions and 11 pass breakups, matching Janoris Jenkins in 2008 for most by a UF freshman.

Fowler, a Lakewood alum, was one of only five players to start every game. He was fifth on the team with 50 tackles (10.5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks, forced three fumbles and had one fumble recovery.

Auburn RB Tre Mason is offensive player of the year, Missouri DE Michael Sam is defensive player of the year, and Auburn's Gus Malzahn is coach of the year.

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