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Crucial test finds foes on different learning curves

Florida's toughest road game so far is against a Florida State team still finding its identity.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published January 2, 2005


For the Florida Gators, today's game at Florida State is a midseason exam. For the Seminoles, the annual intrastate showdown is more of an early semester quiz.

They are at different stages, regardless of what the academic calendar says.

Though the Gators (8-2) have played some tough teams, including No. 19 Louisville, Miami and Providence, all have been in Gainesville or on neutral courts.

"This is our first road test," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "This is a game that gets us ready to go on the road and play in the SEC."

And to Donovan, the Seminoles might pose a tougher challenge beyond location.

"This is probably the most talented and deepest team we've played all year long," he said.

FSU coach Leonard Hamilton is using 11 players extensively, but only sophomore guard Von Wafer is averaging double figures (10.8 points). Donovan, however, will tell you that in addition to Wafer, sophomore center Alexander Johnson, senior forward Anthony Richardson, senior forward Adam Waleskowski and freshman guards Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann are all capable of putting up impressive offensive totals.

But then each, on any given night, is just as capable of ending with a less than stellar line.

"To be very honest with you, if I watched our game film (as an opposing coach), I'd be totally, thoroughly confused as to which Florida State basketball team I'd be playing," Hamilton said. "I thought we had three of the best practices we've had all year prior to the LSU game; spirited, worked very hard, executed very well. And (then) I thought we went into the LSU game extremely tentative and unsure of ourselves."

The Seminoles (7-6) lost to the Tigers 67-50 late Thursday night in New Orleans.

It was their most lopsided loss; in fact, their five previous losses were by a combined 21 points. The Seminoles also had won two straight going in, and the streak would have been four were it not for a 90-88 overtime loss at then-No. 23 Maryland.

Hamilton's catch phrase for the season, at least so far, has been "consistently inconsistent."

"I'm not real sure how anyone else can assess us when I'm having a difficult time assessing us," he lamented. "In order for you to have a basketball team that is competitive night in and night out, you have to have consistent effort and focus every opportunity that you have so that you can develop an identity and personality that you all can somewhat depend on. ... That's something that has been somewhat elusive with this team.

"I'm hopeful that playing a team like Florida will bring that more to the forefront."

So, break out your No. 2 pencils and open your blue books.

Both teams.