UF MEN'S BASKETBALL

Set to pounce


Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 11:54 p.m.

BATON ROUGE, La. - As the Florida men's basketball team continues to climb to the top of the college basketball world, LSU is just looking to regain its footing.

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LSU's Jaime Lloreda has been a force inside for the Tigers this season.

(AP Photo)

Facts

Tonight's matchup:

  • WHO: No. 4 Florida (16-2, 5-0 in the SEC) at LSU (12-5, 1-4)

  • WHEN: 9 p.m. tonight

  • WHERE: Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, La.

  • ON THE AIR: ESPN/WRUF 850 AM; 103.7 FM

  • The Tigers have been there before. It was just two weeks ago when they had won 10 of 11 and were looking like the team to beat in the SEC's West Division.

    Times since have been tough. The home loss to Ole Miss was surprising, but not shocking. The stunner came a few days later when LSU fell to Arkansas, which is clearly the SEC's worst team.

    The Tigers added a tough road loss to Mississippi State and now are another loss or two away from a full-fledged free-fall.

    So, when No. 4 Florida plays LSU at 9 tonight at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the popular thinking would be that the Gators would roll through the Bayou and return to Gainesville with its winning streak still intact.

    But Florida coach Billy Donovan knows a dangerous game when he sees it. He doesn't know which LSU team Florida will see tonight. If it's the one that lost to Arkansas, the Gators will win easily. If it's the one that beat Arizona, the Gators could be in for a long night.

    "This is the same team that beat the No. 1 team in the country," Donovan said. "I feel like we're going to get LSU's best shot."

    Florida has already had to deal with more than its share of teams overachieving this season. Florida State, Miami, South Carolina and Vanderbilt all played one of their better games against the Gators.

    "I'm not so concerned about how they come out," Donovan said. "I'm more worried about how we come out."

    LSU coach John Brady said he thinks Florida is as talented as any his team has faced this season.

    "This is a big challenge for us," Brady said. "I think Florida is playing as well as anyone in the league right now."

    Even Brady, who typically likes to downplay his team's chances, said he's been caught off-guard by how up and down his team has been this season.

    "The 1-4 start is because of inconsistency of our offense," Brady said. "If we're going to have a chance to beat Florida, we're going to have to play pretty close to a perfect game."

    If the Gators are going to win tonight they are going to have to stop small forward Ronald Dupree or power forward Jaime Lloreda. Dupree is one of the SEC's most effective scorers, while Lloreda is one of the best rebounders.

    "Lloreda may be the premier big man in our league," Donovan said. "Based on what I've seen of him on film, he is very, very impressive."

    Florida will likely have to rely on sophomore center David Lee to shut down Lloreda in the middle. Lee has stepped up his game considerably in conference play and is averaging 13.2 points and 8.8 rebounds over the last five games. Lee had a career-high 22 points in last week's win over Vanderbilt.

    "It's a tough matchup," Lee said. "But I have confidence in coach Donovan coming up with a way to stop Lloreda. I have faith in him setting up something for us to do that."

    Even against a struggling team, Florida knows it's going to have to be ready for LSU. With the way the Tigers have played this season, there's no knowing which team is going to show up.

    Dylan B. Tomlinson covers UF men's basketball for The Sun. You can reach him by calling 374-5054 or by e-mail at tomlind@gvillesun.com.

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