On Wednesday night, Florida State (7-1) suffered a 73-59 defeat thanks to a second half meltdown at Northwestern. The setback in the ACC-Big 10 challenge marked FSU's first loss of the season but Leonard Hamilton's team doesn't have have time to sulk as they host No. 21 Florida (6-1) on Sunday at 6 p.m.
"That is one thing about college basketball, when you don't play quite as well as you think you are capable of playing, and schools go through that two or three times a year, you don't have time to be overly concerned about it because you have a game coming right on top of each other," Hamilton said. "A team that you respect as much as the University of Florida, a nationally ranked team, with a pretty good tradition that they have built over the last several years, is probably pretty good for us because you don't have time to worry or think about anything else than the game you have ahead."
Florida State has won the past two meetings against the Gators including a dominating 65-51 victory in Gainesville last November. The players realize that Florida presents a bigger, and more talented, challenge than Northwestern. Nevertheless, that challenge will provide an opportunity to prove that the poor effort last Wednesday was an aberration.
"We need this win to get us back on track especially after what happened at Northwestern," junior forward Ryan Reid said. "It is a big game for everybody. We just have to come out and play. We have to prove to everybody that Northwestern was just that one game and that we have to move on and show who we really are."
Florida enters the game averaging 79 points per game, having scored 80 or more points in five of the seven. Meanwhile Seminoles are limiting opponents to an average of just 64.6 points per game. The Gators have been effective from the floor shooting 48.4 percent (35.7% 3-pointers) but have allowed opponents to shoot 47.2 percent from the floor (37.5% 3-pointers). FSU is limiting opponents to 37.7 percent from the floor (34.6% 3-pointers).
The Gators' probable starting lineup will consist of three guards – Erving Walker, Nick Calathes, and Walter Hodge – who are combining for 32 points per game. UF's frontcourt is made up of Dan Werner, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound junior who averages 11 points per game and 6-foot-8, 220-pound center Alex Tyus, who is averaging 13.7 points per game and 5.7 rebounds. Tyus has been hot as of late averaging 18 points per game over last four outings.
Florida, an expected tournament team, has only one blemish on their record this season, a two-point loss at Washington. If FSU can rebound with a win over its instate rival it would go a long way to helping them put behind the poor performance against Northwestern.
"It is a special opportunity," senior point guard Toney Douglas said. "It is another national opportunity and they are ranked. So we have to take advantage of it."
While the players are trying to approach Sunday's matchup as just another game, they realize that Florida-Florida State means a little something extra.
"It is a rivalry game," Reid said. "It means a lot. We just want to keep it going. Ever since I have been here we have been winning. They are a good team, I am sure they are going to come out strong and try to win this game early on. They are going to come with it."
One place where Florida State will have to show improvement is taking care of the ball. The Seminoles are turning the ball over an average of 17.4 times per game. And the Gators have been good forcing turnovers with opponents averaging 19.3 per game and includes 11.3 steals per game.
Regardless of the stats, for the Seminole players realize this is a marquee game for the program. As they look to improve to 8-1, it also means an opportunity for some FSU players to sustain a streak of being undefeated against the Gators.
"It means a lot," Douglas said of the winning streak. "It is kind of fun knowing the game will be sold out with your rival. Everybody looks forward to this game. I know I look forward to it because it is the next important game."
The game will be nationally televised by FSN.
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