UF all-sports notebook: Rivalry in the pool

Published: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 12:36 a.m.

It’s not quite Florida-Florida State or Florida-Georgia, but UF’s rivalry with Auburn in the pool has been one of bitterness of late for the Gators.

It’s been almost a decade since UF’s men’s swimming and diving team beat Auburn 123-119 on Jan. 30, 1999 in the O’Connell Center. The closest it’s come since then was a thrilling 152-148 loss to the Tigers in 2006.

UF’s women overcame a 14-year draught against their Southeastern Conference rivals in 2008 with a 165-135 win over the No. 2-ranked Tigers in Gainesville.

After excelling at home against Florida Atlantic and the Dallas Morning News Classic over the weekend, the Gators, ranked No. 6 on the men’s and women’s side, travel to Auburn, Ala., to face the Tigers’ seventh-ranked men’s team and fifth-ranked women Saturday.

“Each of the last four years, one of the two sides – men or women – has gone down to the last relay,” UF swimming and diving coach Gregg Troy said at Tuesday’s All-Sports press conference. “It makes it pretty intense.”

Troy wouldn’t say if his athletes were more fired up for this weekend’s meet because of who they will be facing, but he did say that both schools have been involved in many recruiting battles over the same athletes and that this meet could dictate how much confidence his teams have as postseason play arrives.

“Racing a better school like Auburn, who has some real good athletes, you get a better feel for where you’re at than you would if you were swimming (against) weaker teams and you don’t get a real good perspective,” he said.

Senior led

Much of UF’s 15th-ranked women’s basketball team’s success (17-2, 3-1 SEC) can be attributed to the tremendous coaching job Amanda Butler has done in her second year with the Gators, but Butler is the first to mention her two senior starters when she talks about this year’s transformation.

Guard Sha Brooks and forward Marshae Dotson have combined for 27.8 points per game this season. Dotson, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, leads the Gators with a .596 shooting percentage and is grabbing 7.1 rebounds a game. Brooks has a team-high 86 assists and 34 steals on the year.

Their numbers are even more impressive in conference play as Brooks (20.5) and Dotson (17.3) are ranked second and fourth, respectively, in points scored during SEC contests.

“It’s what you expect from seniors,” Butler said, “but it’s also what you see in our league is the good players play well in nonconference and then when the SEC season rolls around they play great.”

Smith back

Friday marked the first time redshirt junior Maranda Smith appeared in the competitive vault lineup since she was a freshman at UCLA in 2006.

Against Auburn she nailed an almost perfect score of 9.90 during the vault – the highest of any participant on either side.

Despite sitting out a year after her transfer and battling through a nagging leg injury, coach Rhonda Faehn said that Smith never complained about not cracking the lineup. It only motivated her to work harder and earn that spot in the rotation.

“It’s wonderful to see that she is doing so well,” she said.

“She’s remarkable. … She’s a very disciplined athlete and she will have success the rest of the year”

Men’s tennis ready for early challenge

Most coaches at big-time programs like to schedule a few cupcakes to begin the season as tune-ups. Not UF men’s tennis coach Andy Jackson.

The No. 10 Gators will begin their 2009 dual match this season when they play host to Furman Friday at 3 p.m., before seventh-ranked Baylor heads to town Sunday.

With the Gators also hosting the National Men's Team Indoor Championships starting Jan. 30, Jackson said he welcomes the early test and expects both matches this weekend to prepare his team for it the high-level competition he expects to see in a week.

“We probably are a little bit better than Furman, but it’ll be our first match,” he said. “There’ll be a lot of pressure on us.

“We’re probably not going to be ready, (Baylor’s) probably not going to be ready either. But then the next weekend when we have the National Indoor Regional here it won’t be our first big match against top-(10) competition.”

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