Nothing like last time

Florida and Ohio State's lineups hardly resemble those from recent meetings.

By Antonya English
Published December 22, 2007

GAINESVILLE - As rematches go, it's hard to imagine two basketball teams more changed from their previous meeting.

Florida and Ohio State are playing each other today for the third time in 12 months, and technically, it's a rematch of April's 2007 NCAA national championship game, which earned the Gators a second title.

But in reality, it's far removed from last December's game in Gainesville, or the title game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

When Florida 11-1 travels to Columbus, only one of the 10 starters from the teams that played in the title game will be in the arena: Buckeyes guard Jamar Butler. And only 16 of the 159 combined points scored will be represented (nine by Ohio State, seven by Florida). Ohio State (7-3) has several players remaining that played significant roles last season, while the Gators have just one - junior Walter Hodge.

"It's not even close, not even close (to last year)," Hodge said. "But they've got good players and we've got good players, so it's going to be a war."

What today's game amounts to, Florida coach Billy Donovan said, is two very different teams looking to the future, yet linked by the past.

"(Ohio State) is really maybe a lot different than we are, in that you look at their personnel, a Jamar Butler, a David Lighty, Othello Hunter, all those guys started at one point during the national championship run and they played significant roles on their team," Donovan said. "If there is any pressure or expectations our guys feel from the past, I hope the pressure and expectations they feel is how to play the game, how to be a team and how to be unselfish because I felt like the last two years our team was a model of that. And I hope that they feel an enormous amount of pressure from the past to become that type of team."

For Florida, which has a starting lineup that includes two freshmen and two sophomores, this is only the second game this season against a team from a power conference and the first true road test. Although the Buckeyes are not ranked, this is a chance for Florida to see just how much it has progressed since its lone loss to Florida State last month, and to see how it handles itself in a hostile environment.

"It's definitely one of those games you look forward to," freshman Chandler Parsons said. "Our nonconference schedule, we didn't play big, nationally televised games. So when we see Ohio State, that's definitely an exciting game. We don't have to do anything different just because it's on national TV. We don't have to go and play different. But we haven't been getting a lot of national recognition, which we shouldn't because we're a young team and we've still got a lot to prove. But this will be a good opportunity for us."

Thad Matta's Ohio State team, like the Gators, is working through some growing pains, still trying to find its identity after so much success the past two years.

"We obviously have to take this day by day and just focus in on continuously getting better," Matta said. "Last year's team, the team before that won the Big Ten championship. We are who we are and let's take great pride in that and go out and do the things that we are capable of doing."

As for last season's game, Hodge said he doesn't believe it's a factor today - at least not for the Gators.

"We don't even think about that," he said. "Maybe they're going to think about that, revenge and all that. But that's in the past. We have the banner over here. That's not going anywhere."

Matta admits he has thought about and watched tape of the championship game several times since, breaking down what OSU might have done differently. Despite the outcome, he believes history will one day marvel at the caliber of players who played in the game.

"What was it? Eight guys were drafted from that game," Matta said.

"I think without a doubt that championship game will go down as probably one of the most talented two teams to play."

Now it's on to the future.

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.



Florida at Ohio St.

When/where: 4 p.m., Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio.

TV/radio: Ch.10, 620-AM, 1250-AM.

Records: UF 11-1; Ohio St. 7-3.

Scouting report: This is Florida's first true road game of the season and probably its toughest to date. Coach Billy Donovan is eager to see how the Gators respond in a large, hostile arena. "We're not prepared right now to play on the road," he said. "We haven't played a road game. ... As a team, they have belief in themselves, but I don't know if it's false belief." Nick Calathes leads the Gators in scoring (15.8 points a game) and assists (5.5). Freshman big man Kosta Koufos leads the Buckeyes in scoring (15.8).