Gators open their SEC play at home tonight


Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
They're 12-1, winners of 10 straight games and recipients of a new No. 25 ranking in the USA TODAY/ESPN coaches' poll.
Yet, the Florida Gators are looking for something more when they open their Southeastern Conference schedule at 7 tonight against Alabama in the O'Connell Center.
Respect. "Definitely," senior Danielle Santos said. "We're trying to do some big things this year. But earning respect is going to take more than just a couple wins."
Of course, it will take a lot for the Gators to earn some respect in one of the toughest conferences in the country. Top-ranked Tennessee and No. 3 LSU are strong favorites to battle for the SEC title while No. 17 Georgia and No. 20 Vanderbilt are also expected to figure into the equation.
Florida, meanwhile, is lurking in the shadows. The Gators haven't lost a game in 43 days, fueling the belief that maybe they, too, can contend in the SEC.
"I think we always have that opportunity," coach Carolyn Peck said. "This team has demonstrated we are capable of accepting a challenge."
A challenge is what they'll get. Florida was picked to finish seventh overall in the conference in the preseason media poll. Back then, of course, the Gators were viewed as a team in transition. Florida, 14-15 a year ago, entered the season trying to replace their leading scorer from last season (transfer Bernice Mosby) while blending six freshmen into the mix.
Two months into this season, it's one of those freshman - point guard Sha Brooks - who is leading the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game. And the loss of Mosby appears to have brought Florida closer together and given it a greater emphasis on team basketball.
"This year it's been a common goal to win as a team and not as individuals," Santos said. "Everyone is sharing in the success."
Brooks said the team has set a goal of being a top-four seed in the SEC Tournament. That would make the Gators a virtual lock to return to the NCAA Tournament given they already have 12 wins.
It would also make the rest of the SEC take notice.
"We want to go get respect," Brooks said. "That would mean a lot. I think we're slowly getting there."
Florida was there just two seasons ago when it finished fourth in the SEC with an 8-6 mark. The Gators made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament that season but followed it up with a 5-9 conference record and a first round SEC Tournament loss last season.
Peck believes her team's hot nonconference stretch isn't enough to warrant respect in the SEC.
"We were picked to finish seventh (in the SEC) so I think we're very unproven," Peck said. "And I think we will be until we take care of some things."
  • 5,000 WAYS TO BEAT CANCER: Peck is hoping a large crowd turns out tonight for reasons greater than supporting her team. If the Gators draw 5,000 fans tonight Aeropostale will donate $5,000 to the Coaches vs. Cancer Foundation.
    The promotion is being dubbed "5,000 Ways to Beat Cancer." Both teams will wear pink shoelaces and fans attending are encouraged to wear pink as well.
    You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at zimmerb@gvillesun.com.
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