Hunters turn to the hunted real quick


Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2005 at 11:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 12:23 a.m.
Two weeks ago they were awful, poorly coached and lacking heart. Today, they are warriors and their coach is a young version of John Wooden.
Two weeks ago, they were headed for the shame of the NIT, which made their fans mad. Today, their NCAA seed is the only question and their fans are daydreaming again of the Madness.
Two weeks ago, Anthony Roberson was a selfish player who couldn't be counted on to do anything but shoot. Today, there is not a shot you don't want him to take.
Two weeks ago, Matt Walsh's ankle couldn't heal fast enough. Today, don't rush it Matty.
Two weeks ago, Florida was coming off a loss at Florida State, a place where even the football team found a way to win this season. The Gators were 8-3 with nothing of real value to show for their pre-conference season.
When the news came down that Walsh's injury would keep him away for a month and with Adrian Moss staggering along with the back of an old man (for example, a 50-year-old man who writes columns for a living), oh my, this was truly a season on the brink.
But it is also college basketball - where things can change rapidly. One minute you're a one seed and the next minute your star player is laying in a heap under the basket. A couple of buzzer-beaters fall and you're leading your conference. Players transfer out and in as if the admissions departments at Div. I schools have a revolving door.
Basketball coaches would be smart to take a page from Atlanta manager Bobby Cox (until the postseason, of course), who has preached the even keel, never letting his trams get too high or too low.
For this Florida basketball team, the ride halfway though the regular season has gone from wobbly to smooth, almost as if someone found the missing wheel.
"We have a long way to go," coach Billy Donovan said this week.
The hills of euphoria and the valleys of despair await. The SEC season is only three games old, but what a three-game run it has been for the Gators, whose RPI was RIP after 11 games.
Now comes the difficult part for Donovan.
No longer is his team playing with a chip on it shoulder. Two weeks ago the Gators were hearing about how bad they were, now they're hearing about how good they are. They were counted out, as David Lee said. Now, we're counting those who have jumped on the bandwagon.
These Gators are coming off a game where they played one 10-minute stretch at the end of the first half and beginning of the the second half as well as any UF team I've seen over the years.
They have taken the body blow of a one-legged, fallaway three-pointer to tie a game that appeared over only to reveal iron jaws.
One reason Florida has played so well the last three games - at least well enough to be 3-0 - is that the team has played with an appetite. If the Gators are going to continue that success, they have to stay hungry. They have played like hunters, but the targets have returned to their uniforms.
It's easy to lump the next three games together, put a big bow around the package and talk about this team being 6-0 coming out of January. All three games are at home. One of them is against Georgia, the walk-on capital of the world.
Tonight's game is against Tennessee, which was hammered at home by Vanderbilt - the same Vanderbilt that Florida embarrassed in Nashville on Saturday.
In other words, it's a set-up game ... unless Florida comes to the O-Dome with the same attitude it took to Vandy's quirky gym.
"It's a challenge, no question about it," Donovan said.
Every game is different. What has happened so far in January won't mean a thing once the leather goes up tonight.
Everything can change so quickly. The key for the Gators is to keep it going in the right direction - toward a seventh straight NCAA berth.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.

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