Gators return to rankings at 20


Florida's Walter Hodge, right, had a career-high 19 points in a win over Vanderbilt that helped propel the Gators back into the AP Top 25.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 28, 2008 at 2:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 28, 2008 at 2:01 p.m.

After a two-month absence, Florida returned to The Associated Press college basketball poll on Monday for the second time this season.

This time, the Gators are hoping for a longer stay.

Florida (18-3, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) made it back to the poll at No. 20 following an impressive 86-64 victory Sunday against Vanderbilt.

The Gators have won seven of their last eight, with the lone loss an 89-87 defeat at then-No. 18 Mississippi. UF currently leads the SEC East by a half-game over No. 7 Tennessee.

Florida coach Billy Donovan welcomes the ranking as long as his players keep it in its proper perspective.

"It's all about how we handle it, what it means to us," Donovan said. " I try to tell our players to keep a level of humility. If our guys get complacent, don't work as hard, don't have the right focus, then this league can humble you very quickly."

Florida was ranked No. 25 the week of Nov. 16 after getting off to a 4-0 start. But following a 102-51 win over North Florida, the Gators suffered a 65-51 defeat at home to Florida State for its worst defeat at home in close to a decade.

"One of the most difficult things for a young basketball team to handle is success," Donovan said. "We're not that good that we can just think we can show up in practice, show up in games, and just play hard and win."

Donovan also acknowledged his team "probably didn't deserve to be ranked" following its 4-0 start in November. The climb back has been steady. The Gators struggled offensively in December against quality opponents, losing 62-49 at Ohio State and barely beating Georgia Southern, 52-49.

But the offense has clicked in conference play. Florida has scored an average of 81.5 points in six SEC games, beginning with a 90-83 win at Alabama.

"They have terrific young players," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "(Walter) Hodge, (Dan) Werner, (Marreese) Speights they played on those championship teams, so some of that has rubbed off. And they have excellent freshmen surrounding them."

Florida freshman guard Nick Calathes is leading the SEC in assists at 6.1 per game. The Gators have maintained balance on offense while surprising some teams by mixing defenses.

The press has been effective. In six SEC games, Florida has forced 86 turnovers, with some coming off the press.

This week, the Gators are off before playing at Arkansas on Saturday. Then comes a big SEC East matchup at No. 7 Tennessee the following Tuesday.

"I like it and I don't like it," Donovan said of the time off. "Our guys need some rest but we were getting into a pretty nice rhythm playing Wednesday and Saturday. Now that rhythm is broken a bit."

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