GAINESVILLE — The highly anticipated visit to the O'Connell Center from perennial power Kansas on Tuesday night didn't disappoint. The game between No. 19 Florida and No. 13 Kansas had drama, a big-time college basketball atmosphere — and a furious late rally that nearly derailed the Gators' victory.
Florida jumped out to a double-digit halftime lead then withstood a comeback and a career night from Kansas freshman guard Andrew Wiggins for a 67-61 victory in front of 12,423.
It was the first December home victory for the Gators (7-2) over a Top 25 foe since an 86-60 win over Ohio State in 2006.
"It was fun, that's all you can say," said senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who had a career-high 18 points and six assists. "That was fun. We wanted to get a good win. We haven't really had a win against a ranked team this year, so I feel like this was our first quality win and I felt like we all really knew that and understood that we needed this game."
The Gators led 36-21 at halftime after taking advantage of a nine-minute Kansas scoring drought midway through the half. But the Jayhawks (6-3) opened the second half with a 7-2 run and eventually outscored Florida 18-9 to pull within eight with 12:13 left.
"We knew they were going to come back," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "To me, they looked to be a lot more intense than we were in the second half. … Overall, I think our guys gave a really good effort and played pretty well."
Trailing 56-46, Wiggins hit back-to-back 3-pointers to pull the Jayhawks within six with 1:22 left. That was as close as they got.
"Basketball is all about runs," said Wiggins, who had 26 points and 11 rebounds, both career highs. "We have to learn how to respond."
The Gators said experience against the young Jayhawks made a difference down the stretch.
"I don't know what goes on inside their locker room, but I think there was a little level of disrespect toward our team, as talented as they are," UF center Patric Young said. "But whenever you face a team with experience you've got to have some type of respect and know that we're going to give them a good ballgame."
Kansas opened by shooting 4-of-5 with four different scorers to take a 10-3 lead.
But Florida's 1-3-1 defense stymied the Jayhawks during a 21-0 run for a 24-10 lead with 7:38 left in the half. Florida forced 16 first-half turnovers, 24 in the game.
"I think we should have had an electrical shortage and canceled the game after that," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I don't think it was a lack of effort. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong. They kicked our (butt) on the glass in the first half."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.