No. 6 Florida faces first road test at FSU

No. 6 Florida faces first road test at FSU

Florida coach Billy Donovan knows what his team will see from Florida State, regardless of the program's record or talent level. The tough defense Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton brought to Tallahassee has been a staple of the team and a key factor in the program's first ACC championship last season. The 4-3 Seminoles are coming off back-to-back losses as they welcome No. 6 Florida.

"Their teams are long, athletic and they defend," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, as his team travels to Tallahassee on Wednesday at 7 p.m. "They pressure the ball and do a really good job. They make it difficult and challenging to score. Their length and size helps rebound the basketball. It's a lot to get prepared for."

The Florida State defense hasn't lived up to expectations so far this season. The Seminoles are 236th in the country, averaging 69.3 points allowed per game this season. There are new starters and contributors on the Florida State roster that might take some time to gel and reach the unit's full potential.

Donovan knows that Hamilton won't stop coaching and emphasizing it.

The Seminoles' offense is 63rd in the country, averaging 75.1 points per game. Florida State is led by senior guard Michael Snaer, who is averaging 14.1 points and 5.6 rebounds this season. Their post presence is junior forward Okaro White, averaging 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds.

The 4-3 record for Florida State could also hinder Florida's preparation, but the Gators insist they won't look at the record. Donovan pointed to the 2006 meeting between the two schools, when the Florida team led by Joakim Noah and Al Horford lost in Tallahassee to a team that came in with a two-game losing streak.

"I don't think that means anything to me at all," Donovan said. "When you play on the road, we're expecting that Florida State is going to play their best basketball."

The players have gotten the message. The Seminoles have lost back-to-back games to Minnesota and Mercer.

"It's a rivalry game. They'll be ready to play no matter what, no matter how many games they've lost before," Florida forward Will Yeguete said. "We're ranked pretty high, so it's a chance for them to get a good win for their resume. They'll be ready to play harder than any game they've played before."

It's also the first true road game for the Gators. Florida opened the season on the deck of the USS Bataan against Georgetown in a game that was cancelled after the first half. The Gators also played a neutral site game against Middle Tennessee State in Tampa. Those are the only two times Florida has left Gainesville to play this season.

The road schedule picks up starting on Wednesday. Two of Florida's next nine games will be played at home.

"Anytime you go on the road, it's always going to be a challenge," Donovan said. "It's our first road test. I'm sure it'll be a great environment for our guys. It's a different test because you're on the road for the first time."

It won't be a normal road game that the Gators will be facing. Florida earned a 37-26 win in football in Tallahassee in late November, and while the basketball rivalry isn't as heated, neither side likes each other.

That passion also makes its way to the stands, where the Florida State fan base will create a tough environment for the Gators to play in on Wednesday.

"It's an important game to us," Florida guard Mike Rosario said. "It's a rivalry. We're preparing ourselves for our first road test. It's going to be a great experience."

It's also an important time in the season when fans of both schools start to focus more on the basketball program. With football's regular season over, the Gators and Seminoles only have their football bowl games left. The heated rivalry on the basketball court is now the focus, starting with Wednesday's game.

"A game like this is good for basketball in the state of Florida," Donovan said. "It brings attention to basketball on the state of Florida. With the college football season winding down and conference play is a month away, it's these games that prepare you for your league."

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