Gators Face Another Significant Test

Well, the Gator football team was supposed to get a tough test in Tallahassee last weekend, but as tests go it turned out to be the sports equivalent of, "Who's buried in Grant's tomb"? Florida dispatched the Seminoles with ease on their way to their ultimate showdown with Alabama.

On Sunday, the Florida basketball team also gets the opportunity to travel to Tallahassee and deal with a legit post-season team. The Gators have dropped three of their last four games with the ‘Noles including an ugly 65-51 spanking in front of the home folks in the O'Dome last year. Florida is 6-1 on the season and is coming off a less than inspiring 73-58 win over FAMU on Tuesday. The Gators need wins like this as they build their post-season resume'. Florida State is 7-and-1 on the season after losing at Northwestern 73-59. The Seminoles have not made it to the NCAA Tournament during Leonard Hamilton's tenure and they're hoping that year seven is the charm.

Florida State is a big team. In fact, four of their five best players are 6-9 or taller. While they can claim to be a "young" team, their top two scorers Toney Douglas (19.3) and Uche Echefu (10.6) are both seniors. Florida really is a young team with its lone senior, Walter Hodge (6.6) sixth on the team in scoring. The Seminoles have had a huge problem with turnovers, committing 50 more than their opponents. They are not a particularly good shooting team (.434 FG) but are good on the boards and block six shots a game. They boast a seven-footer in redshirt freshman Solomon Alibi who has 14 of those blocked shots, and are getting excellent play from another rookie in 6-9 forward Chris Singleton (9.9/7.9). The Gators will have the challenge of trying to battle the taller ‘Noles on the glass while exploiting FSU's inclination to turn it over.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan was asked why FSU has had such success against the Gators lately.

"They're a good team. They've had good players. I think they're well coached. I think Leonard does a terrific job. They've been a team that's played very very well (against Florida). I thought last year's game was a game where there was no question from an experienced, physical perspective with (Jason) Rich, Douglas and (Isaiah) Swann a really older group against our younger guys was the big difference in the game."

Donovan offered up his assessment of this year's FSU team.

"I think they're playing very good basketball. The one thing I would say about them right now is that they, too have a couple of older guys in Douglas and Echefu and they're also playing some younger guys. I've been very impressed with their team on film. I think they have a god nucleus and appear to have very good chemistry as a group."

Florida has not seen a lot of seven-footers like they will in Alibi. Donovan talked about what he sees in the Seminoles' big man.

"Well last year he battled a lot of injuries. I think he had a foot problem and never got in the flow. I've always been impressed with him. He's a very agile big guy. He's got great length. He's a very good shot blocker. I think a lot of times when you see guys that tall maybe they're not as quick at changing ends. He's a terrific runner. Being a young kid I think his offense and his strength will get better as time goes on. I think with big guys it's always a slower process with them but he's a good player."

Florida State has taken their home game with Florida off the same weekend of the football game between the schools, but the Gators have kept it there whenever possible. Donovan talked about the game and its impact on basketball fans in the state.

"Any time you have two schools in the same state playing there's somewhat of a rivalry. I've always looked at this game as an opportunity to get fans involved at both schools. I've always been a big believer you do that around the football game. It's a great weekend to do it. Leonard feels at his place he wants to play it at his time and I respect that and I understand that and have no problem with that. But really it's a game that gets us prepared going forward on the road against an ACC type of team."

As for the Gators, Donovan said he is looking for more consistent productivity out of his veterans, Hodge and junior forward Dan Werner. Hodge has scored just 19 points in the last five games (3.8) after averaging 13.5 in the first two contests. Werner was averaging 13.2 points after five games, but totaled just 12 points in Florida last two outings. Donovan indicated might-mite guard Erving Walker was not likely to get to start for the second straight game due to the tremendous height of the FSU lineup. Florida also hopes to get continued big time production from Alex Tyus. The sophomore forward has scored 72 points (18.0) in the last four games.

Florida/Florida State basketball can be seen on Fox Sports Florida Sunday at 6:00 p.m.

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