Friday basketball game breeds excitement

This is always the way Billy Donovan wants it. Sometimes there's opposition from the Florida State side, but the Florida head coach always wants the game against the Seminoles to take place in Gainesville the night before the two teams play on the gridiron. Friday at 7:30 p.m. will be the first time the basketball game has happened the night before football since 2007.

"I do like it," Billy Donovan said. "For our fans it's obviously a great weekend. I like it around the football weekend because I think it's great for our fans."

Florida State isn't always on board with it. The game in Gainesville has been played at different times in December in 2011 and 2009 because the Seminoles were traveling to play in early season tournaments overseas. Florida State recently returned from playing in an early season tournament Puerto Rico, where it netted a win over No. 10 VCU.

Donovan has seen different looks to the Florida State rivalry in his 18 season at Florida. When he first took the job, the two teams played in Orlando every season. Donovan said the schools recently came to an agreement that the game will "generally" be played at the beginning of December in Tallahassee and on the Friday night before the football game in Gainesville.

The players like it, too. Florida announced on Tuesday that the game was close to a sell out, and there's always a loud atmosphere in the O'Connell Center. In the end, the goal is always the same.

"I want to get a win against the Seminoles," said senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, who is aiming to leave college with a perfect 4-0 record against Florida State.

The recent history of the rivalry has been in Florida's favor. The Gators have won four straight in the series and six of the last seven games played in Gainesville. The only loss in the last seven games at home came in 2007 when the Florida roster was decimated by the early departure of Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah following the program's back-to-back national championships.

This season, the Seminoles bring in an improved team with plenty of height, length and athleticism. Florida State starts four players 6-7 or taller, led by senior forward Okaro White, who is averaging 14.3 points and 7.5 rebounds.

"They are a very, very long and athletic team," Donovan said. "They are playing very good basketball. They have played well all year long. They've got some experience. They've got some young guys. They can play really big if they want to or they can go with a small lineup. Okaro White is a multi-dimensional guy, an older guy that can play a lot of positions and do a lot of things so they are a very, very good team."

No. 15 Florida could be without sophomore guard DeVon Walker, who has started all six games this season, as he battles a mid-foot sprain. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill (high ankle sprain) remains out.

Friday starts a difficult four-game stretch for the Florida team. After playing Florida State, the Gators travel to take on Connecticut on December 2. Florida then returns home to host Kansas on December 10 before facing Memphis in New York City at Madison Square Garden on December 17.

"It's going to be pretty tough," Scottie Wilbekin said. "Obviously we had the Wisconsin game, but it's going to be a real test for us to see where we're at."


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