UF WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Rested Gators set for Tide


Published: Thursday, January 29, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2004 at 12:34 a.m.

It's been a week since the Florida women's basketball team has played a game. The players say they are fresh, healthy and rested. Their coach, however, is still recovering.

Facts

Tonight's game

  • WHO: Alabama (10-8, 2-3 SEC) at Florida (13-5, 3-2).

  • WHEN: 7 p.m.

  • WHERE: O'Connell Center.

  • ON AIR: 850-AM.

  • NOTES: Florida is coming off its second longest layoff of the season, seven days. The Gators had an eight-day break before losing to Baylor, 71-54, Dec. 30 . . . Florida's Vanessa Hayden is second in the SEC in scoring at 19.5 points per game. Arkansas' Shameka Christon averages 21.7 ppg . . . Hayden leads the SEC in rebounding (11.7) and blocked shots (3.3). . . In SEC games, Florida's opponents are shooting 45.1 percent from behind the 3-point line, a conference worst . . . Florida's average margin of victory is 16.3 points . . . Alabama won the last meeting between these teams, 69-65, last February in Tuscaloosa.

    -Brandon Zimmerman

  • Before Wednesday's practice, coach Carolyn Peck sucked on a throat lozenge, her voice still hoarse from the Gators' 61-56 win over South Carolina six days ago.

    "Thursday morning I had a little chest cold and then I got a little excited in the locker room before the game," Peck said. "My voice started to go."

    Right now, it's her team making all the noise.

    Florida (13-5, 3-2 SEC) has won three of its last four and has moved into a third-place tie in the SEC standings heading into tonight's game against Alabama (10-8, 2-3) at 7 p.m. in the O'Connell Center.

    Florida's recent success, punctuated by a 10-point win at Georgia Jan. 18, is allowing the Gators to be noticed in their conference and nationally.

    In Monday's Associated Press Top 25, the Gators were four spots from No. 25 Nebraska.

    The players, though, aren't concerned about the attention.

    "The rankings mean nothing to me," senior center Vanessa Hayden said. "Personally, I like being unranked and going in as the underdog and upsetting teams."

    Like it or not, Hayden and the Gators are losing their identity as the perpetual underdog, a label that stuck with them through last year's 9-19 season.

    Florida faces a Crimson Tide team tonight that has lost three straight, including a 65-57 decision heart-breaker to Mississippi State at home on Sunday.

    Peck says that makes Alabama even tougher.

    "In the SEC, if a team is coming off a loss, that's probably the most dangerous team you can play," Peck said.

    But for the Gators to continue their rise, they must take advantage of this stretch of their schedule.

    The Gators are in a run where they play three of four games at home against teams sitting on the bottom of the SEC standings. A trip to No. 24 Vanderbilt (3-2 SEC) Sunday is sandwiched between last week's win over South Carolina (0-5), tonight's game against Alabama (2-3) and a home game against Kentucky (1-4) Feb. 8.

    And if the Gators can piece together some more wins during this stretch, more publicity may come. Perhaps even the first Top 25 ranking for the Gators since the 2001-02 season.

    "This is a team that wants to earn some recognition and earn some respect," Peck said. "I've got to believe every player on our team is picking up the paper on Tuesday going, 'Dang, why are we not in the top 25?' That helps them to stay focused when they come into practice every day."

    Sophomore point guard Sarah Lowe said the real focus is on continuing their push toward the NCAA Tournament in March.

    "I think rankings are very political," Lowe said. "It gets really stupid, to be honest. But I think people are starting to turn their heads. I think if we keep working hard, we're going to get there.

    "Rankings don't mean a thing. What we want is to be among the final 64 (in the NCAA Tournament)."

    You can reach Brandon Zimmerman at 374-5051 or at zimmerb@gvillesun.com

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