Arkansas vs. Florida

FAYETTEVILLE — Any chance Arkansas had of sneaking up on No. 2 Florida vanished with its 27-point shellacking of Alabama on Saturday.

In reality, though, Florida coach Billy Donovan already had convinced himself that this Razorbacks squad wasn't one to underestimate.

"To me, they're a better team right now than they were a year ago," Donovan said. "They're a team. They look like they get along playing with each other. They're very, very unselfish."

The defending national champions could be in for a scare tonight if Donovan's on target with that assessment.

Fresh off the kind of victory that can permanently instill confidence, Arkansas (12-3, 1-0 SEC) travels to the Stephen C. O'Connell Center for a 6 p.m. contest with Florida (14-2, 1-0).

ESPN televises tonight's game, giving Arkansas a national stage to prove Donovan correct and convince national voters the Hogs are deserving of their first Top 25 ranking since Dec. 23, 2000.

The Razorbacks used a home victory over Florida to springboard a run to last year's NCAA Tournament. This year's team, with almost an entirely new backcourt that Donovan praised, hopes to do the same.

A nearly flawless performance Saturday gave the Razorbacks a much-needed boost of self-esteem they'll need to tap into tonight.

"We don't play to lose, we play to win," Arkansas junior Sonny Weems said. "We try to go out and beat everybody, no matter who it is. Florida is coming off a national championship, but that doesn't mean too much to us.

"We're going to play them as equal as we played Alabama, keep the game at our pace and take advantage of their mistakes." Problem is, Florida doesn't commit too many miscues. The Gators brought back all five starters from their title-winning team, which evoked a bold comment from Arkansas coach Stan Heath.

"I don't think I've seen a team that can handle, pass, defend and score at all five positions at such a high level," Heath said. Four of those starters score in double figures, led by point guard Taurean Green's 13.6 per game. But, as Kansas and Florida State revealed, the Gators aren't unbeatable.

They are immensely talented, but Arkansas could possess the type of players needed to pull an upset.

Gary Ervin can equal Green's defensive intensity. Patrick Beverley can mimic Lee Humphrey's sharp-shooting. Weems can match Corey Brewer's athleticism. Charles Thomas can counter Joakim Noah's magnetic personality. Steven Hill can defend Al Horford's post play.

Now, whether Arkansas can win those matchups is uncertain. But physically, not much separates Arkansas from Florida, especially when the Hogs can bring in Darian Townes and Vincent Hunter to test the Gators' frontcourt depth.

"(Arkansas has) probably the deepest and most talented returning frontcourt in the country, when you talk about Hill, Thomas, Townes and (Vincent) Hunter," Donovan said.

Initially, Heath frowned upon the timing of this game, just three days after the tilt with Alabama.

But now, after Arkansas dominated the Crimson Tide, Heath said tonight was as good a time as any.

"In that sense, it's probably a good thing we are playing a team like Florida (after Alabama) because we know again we have to play our best basketball," Heath said. "They know right now, even after a big win, they cannot have a letdown going to Florida."

TODAY'S TICKET

Arkansas at No. 2 Florida

WHEN: 6:05 p.m.

WHERE: Stephen C. O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.

TV: ESPN (cable channel 25)

RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-SM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3

RECORDS: Arkansas 12-3, 1-0 SEC; Florida 14-2, 1-0.

COACHES: Arkansas, Stan Heath (5th season); Florida, Billy Donovan (11th season)


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