First Chance, December '01
The Gators actually reached the number two spot for the first time in the final poll of the 2000 season after losing the national championship game. But Christmas Eve 2001 was the first time a Florida basketball team actually took to the court ranked number two in the nation, earning that spot in the Coaches Poll that week. The Gators were 8-1 and responded with two wins to wrap up their non-conference schedule. They continued to excel, opening the SEC with four straight wins before losing at home to Georgia 84-79, dropping them to number four in the next poll two days later. It began a painful slide as the Gators went from 15-1 to winning just seven of 15 the rest of the way.
The following season marked next time the Gators cracked the top two, February 3, 2003 when Florida's 20-2 team got the first number-one ranking in school history. They celebrated for all of one day before getting smacked around at Kentucky the next night, 70-55. They bounced back to beat Alabama before dropping in the next rankings. That win remains the only time the Gators won a game from the number one spot in the polls. The Gators stayed in the top ten the rest of the season, but never got higher than number three.
The next fall Florida had its third experience with an elite ranking. The December 1 polls had UF number two on the strength of a big win over Arizona in the Tip-Off classic. The Gators posted wins over FAMU, UCF and Stetson the next week to move up to number one. After reaching the top spot, they promptly lost to Maryland at home and Louisville on the road. Florida quickly dropped out of the top ten and never ranked in single digits again that season.
Billy Donovan on Handling Recognition
I asked Florida Coach Billy Donovan about how he addresses the lofty recognition his young Gators have received this year.
BD: " The only thing I have told them Larry, in the reality of it is the polls and the way we rank teams is an imperfect science. Anytime you have people voting in things like that you have results based on what someone's eyes are seeing. You can move up in the polls based on someone else's misfortunes and that's not an exact science. The thing I've tried to get across to our basketball team at this point in time is, who knows? Who knows?
"Everything as far as I'm concerned gets settled on the floor. The bottom line is if we lose a game we won't be the number two-ranked team in the country. If we keep winning our games, we'll probably be two or one the rest of the year. I think our guys understand that it's people voting, it's people's opinions. Just like it was people's opinion not to rank us to start the year, and I think our guys have been able to see through some of that stuff. Ultimately what happens is if you win, you're going to get a lot of attention. And if you don't win you're going to drop down or drop out of the polls and to me it doesn't make a difference.
"I have not really felt that our guys have been all that caught up in it all and I hope that as a coach I'm not 'missing it' so-to-speak with them. I don't like I am. We came out yesterday (Thursday) and had a good day of practice and I anticipate another good day today. I don't think our basketball team has lost any of its humility. And I don't know how you can't be humble when you lost what we lost last year and you have no real proven scorers or players or contributors who have on a night in and night out basis done it. I'm hopeful that will continue for this team."
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Three Dog Night sang "one is the loneliest number" and with good reason. It's hard to handle such lofty acclaim the first few times you get that kind of recognition. The Gators have not had many chances to deal with it, but when they've been this high up, the second spot has been a more comfortable place. So all things considered, the Gators might just as well keep winning, and hope Duke keeps on keepin' on as well.
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