The Seminoles have lost five straight to the Gators, but FSU is ranked and on the rise.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published January 3, 2004
GAINESVILLE - Florida State is coming to town and for the first time in a long time, both the Gators and Seminoles are in the national spotlight and riding high.
Florida (8-2) and FSU (12-1) play today for the first time as ranked teams since 1988. Florida is No. 14 in the Associated Press poll, while FSU is No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, and receiving votes in AP.
Coach Leonard Hamilton has the Seminoles on the rise. A win would move the Seminoles into the Top 25 of both polls, but Hamilton said he's not ready to declare the program all the way back.
"Obviously we're kind of pleased to be where we are," he said. "As I've said many times before, this team is still in the development stage of our process. If we can just keep things in perspective, keep working hard and improve in the areas we need to improve in, hopefully before too long we can all start feeling a little more comfortable about what we're trying to do."
Florida State is coming off a school-record 17 3-point baskets against Stetson, with starting point guard Nate Johnson going 6-of-6 from beyond the arc. They are No. 1 in the ACC in 3-point field-goal percentage, 41.3 percent.
"From a depth standpoint they may be the most talented, most athletic team that we've played," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I'd throw them in there with Arizona and Louisville and Maryland. Obviously they beat Maryland at home and we lost to Maryland at home. I think that gives you an idea of what type of team they are."
Before last season's 58-57 loss to Florida, the Seminoles had lost the four previous games to the Gators by 331-244. Florida has won five straight in the series, but the Florida players realize this is a different Seminole team.
"They were always pretty physical and played very hard but they didn't have the talent of good shooting or they didn't have the size that they have inside now," Florida forward David Lee said. "They have a great shooter in (Tim) Pickett on the wing now, they have great inside presence now and Alexander Johnson has been giving them some good minutes as a freshman. They have a lot of good players so they're going to be something to deal with this year. ... We know if we take this team lightly they are capable of blowing us out of our building."
Though the rivalry isn't quite the same as in football, some Florida players insist this game is a lot about pride.
"It's a different atmosphere, a game that you have no choice but to get up for because you're playing against Florida State," sophomore Anthony Roberson said. "We really owe them. They came and beat our football team on a last-second play so I think all that's going to be thought about and come to mind when we put that jersey on. It'll be a good one."
Hamilton and Donovan, both former assistant coaches at Kentucky, said their mutual respect for each other won't allow them to get personally caught up in the rivalry, but each knows the game is important.
"I try to approach each and every with the same importance," Hamilton said. "As that relates to the Florida game, (it) takes on added importance because they're nationally ranked, they're a heck of a program, they have tremendously talented players and they're very well coached. So that means that it's significant game and a tremendous challenge for us."
- Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.