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Opinions on early start are varying

UF's Donovan wishes FSU already had played in the regular season while FSU's Robinson wishes UF hadn't.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 16, 2001


GAINESVILLE -- Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan has mixed feelings about tonight's game against Florida State.

He's thrilled the Gators will get an opportunity to play their intrastate rival in front of a packed home crowd as part of one of the biggest weekends in college football.

But Donovan isn't so happy about the Gators starting their season early while others are just getting started. There hasn't been much to go on in preparing for the game.

The No. 6 Gators are fresh off their season-opening, runner-up finish at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic last week at Madison Square Garden. This is the season opener for Florida State "Right now, it's tough for us from a preparation standpoint just because we don't have a whole lot on FSU," Donovan said. "I think the big thing with FSU right now is they've got a lot of people back. And any time you've got players back, you're always going to be improved."

With the exception of a pair of preseason games, the Seminoles haven't been able to see what they are capable of either. FSU coach Steve Robinson said the advantage goes to Florida in that respect.

"It didn't hurt them," Robinson said when asked if the Gators' early start is a big advantage. "They got a chance to see their guys in a battle-tested environment, playing on a neutral court against two pretty good opponents. I think it certainly gave him an idea of how some of his players would perform and things they have to do."

Florida (1-1) is averaging 71.5 points this season, shooting 42 percent from the field but just 26.5 percent from 3-point range. The Gators realize they are a long way from becoming the team to compete for a national title.

"We're nowhere near where we want to be intensitywise, defensively and with offensive execution," junior guard Justin Hamilton said. "But it will get better and it will start (tonight)."

One year remains on the present contract that calls for the game to be played on the Friday before the schools' football game. Robinson has said he would like the game moved to a different weekend. Donovan said he thinks it's in the perfect spot on the schedule.

"I hope as long as I'm here at Florida we keep doing it the way we're doing it," Donovan said. "The bottom line is it's a great weekend and the game deserves to be back on campus. I know there's been a big argument that basketball needs to stand on its own two legs. But for me, having it on a Friday-Saturday, basketball-football is great. I think it's great for our fans and it's great for college basketball. I personally like it a lot and hope we can continue to do that."

Florida has won the past three over Florida State by an average of 22 points and the Gators put their 22-game nonconference home winning streak on the line. Robinson said his lineup will match up well against the Gators.

"We have a group that can be very competitive with them," Robinson said. "I never felt like we didn't have a chance (the past three seasons). They're the nationally ranked team. We're the team that's trying to fight for respect. We've been the underdog the last four years we've played. But I feel confident with our group that we'll go in. We'll play hard, and we'll play well. And we'll see what happens."

TONIGHT: FSU AT NO. 6 UF

TV/RADIO: Sunshine; WDAE-AM 620; WDCF-AM 1320; WWJB-AM 1450; WXCV-FM 95.3.

COACHES: FSU -- Steve Robinson (52-67 fifth season; 98-87 overall). UF -- Billy Donovan (103-57 sixth season; 138-77).

STARTING LINEUPS: FSU -- Michael Joiner, F, 6-7 So. (9.3 ppg, 6 rpg); Antwuan Dixon, F, 6-5 Sr. (8.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg); Nigel Dixon, C, 6-10 Jr. (6.7 ppg, 5 rpg); Delvon Arrington, PG, 5-11 Sr. (11.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Monte Cummings, G/F, 6-4 Sr. (10.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg). FSU stats are from last season. UF -- Matt Bonner, F, 6-10 Jr. (13 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Udonis Haslem, C, 6-9 Sr. (14 ppg, 12 rpg); Brett Nelson, G, 6-4 Jr. (11.5 ppg, 6 apg); Justin Hamilton, G, 6-3 Jr. (10.5 ppg, 4 rpg); Orien Greene, G, 6-4 So. (3.5 ppg, 3 rpg).

OF NOTE: FSU's Anthony Richardson returned to Raleigh, N.C., for the funeral of his grandmother but is expected to play. This is the 10th Florida-Florida State basketball-football doubleheader. The Gators have won 16 of 17 past home openers and Donovan is 5-0 in home openers at Florida.

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