LAS VEGAS (AP)—Kansas sure grew up in a hurry.
Just 10 days after losing to Oral Roberts—and 24 hours after struggling to beat Ball State—the youthful Jayhawks had the poise and precision to knock off the defending national champions.
Darrell Arthur scored six of his 19 points in overtime, Julian Wright had a career-high 21 and the 10th-ranked Jayhawks played sterling defense when it mattered to beat No. 1 Florida 82-80 in the Las Vegas Invitational on Saturday night.
With thousands of Kansas fans turning the Orleans Arena in a mini-Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks ended Florida’s school-record 17-game winning streak when Corey Brewer missed an open 3-pointer at the buzzer. Though they celebrated with their fans, the Jayhawks tried to stay level after the early low spots in the young season.
“We took a huge step forward, and now we have to make sure we don’t take a step back,” said Russell Robinson, who had 12 points, seven rebounds and a key last-minute assist. “I can’t think right now, but this definitely has to be the biggest win of our college career.”
Kansas (5-1) beat a No. 1 team for the sixth time in school history and ended the Gators’ 26-game winning streak against non-conference opponents with a shockingly mature effort, complete with gutsy free-throw shooting and tough defense down the stretch.
Remember, this squad dominated by underclassmen lost at home to tiny Oral Roberts last week—and then shot terribly in a lackluster victory over Ball State on Friday night.
“We showed a lot more maturity tonight than we have in our prior games,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “It’s ridiculous that we can play like this and then lay an egg against Oral Roberts—nothing against ORU.”
Joakim Noah scored 17 points and forced overtime with a tip-in shortly before the regulation buzzer, but Florida (6-1) couldn’t score in the final 1:22 — and couldn’t overcome constant foul trouble in its first loss since regular-season SEC play last winter.
Florida took an 80-77 lead on Taurean Green’s 3-pointer, but Arthur hit two free throws. After Green made a turnover, Robinson found Brandon Rush for the go-ahead layup in traffic with 26 seconds left.
Robinson then hit another free throw with 4.7 seconds left, but Brewer had an open look at a winning 3-pointer. It clanged short, and some Jayhawks fans rushed the court.
“We should welcome this tension to help us become better players,” Wright said. “This is a lesson in how we have to make things happen when it’s tough on us.”
Green scored 25 points and Lee Humphrey hit two overtime 3-pointers among his 16 points, but the Gators never really found their flow after early foul trouble. Al Horford had nine points and eight rebounds before fouling out in overtime, and Noah wasn’t his usual effective self.
“When we got into foul trouble, we couldn’t get into a flow,” Noah said. “In the second half we picked it up energy-wise, but we couldn’t get there.”
Mario Chalmers and Rush finished with 13 points apiece, and Arthur added nine rebounds to an impressive performance.
Roughly 80 percent of the sellout crowd in the noisy 8,500-seat arena wore Jayhawks blue and filled the air with Kansas chants. Florida coach Billy Donovan knew his club would be playing in Lawrence, Nevada—and he used it as a motivation for a squad with seemingly fewer areas for improvement than most college teams.
“What made us special last year was that we were a great team,” Donovan said. “We got a little bit away from our team concept today. I still believe our margin for error is very, very small unless we play as a team.”
The phalanx of scouts representing every NBA team also saw what it was seeking, witnessing standout performances by each of the half-dozen potential lottery picks on the floor.
Wright and his teammates exploited one of Florida’s few perceived weaknesses: defending off the dribble. With fluid ball movement and none of the indecision of their previous efforts this season, the Jayhawks dissected the Gators’ perimeter defense for most of their points.
Wright, the versatile sophomore who did his best work on the boards against Ball State, was inspired offensively from the opening tip. He made seven shots in the first half—all but one coming deep in the paint, thanks to his array of slashing moves—while grabbing five rebounds.
“I knew I had to come out very aggressive,” Wright said. “That’s usually not the type of player that I am, but I knew that was the only way to approach this challenge.”
After leading for most of regulation while playing gritty defense, the Jayhawks seemed safe when Robinson hit two free throws for a 70-66 lead with 16.9 seconds left. But Brewer hit a layup and rebounded his own missed free throw before Noah leaped above a crowd and tipped in the tying basket off Green’s miss with about 3 seconds left.