GAINESVILLE — It's being referred to as "the stretch," and it officially kicks off tonight in Gainesville.
No. 15 Florida will host rival Florida State at the O'Dome, the first of four games that will include No. 13 Connecticut, No. 2 Kansas and No. 21 Memphis over the next three weeks.
"It's going to be pretty tough," Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "We had the Wisconsin game, but it's going to be a real test for us to see where we're at. Kasey (Hill) is out, and I don't know when he's going to be back. We have to make due with what we have and hopefully he'll get back soon and we can be full strength."
Florida has been beset with injuries — to Hill (high ankle sprain) and most recently forward DeVon Walker (mid-foot sprain) — and has had several disciplinary suspensions, but coach Billy Donovan said the Gators are taking this stretch as it comes.
"We'll just go one game at a time right now," he said. "We'll get into the same situation when we get into the conference schedule. I always think the conference schedule is a battle, home or away, so certainly for us this is a challenging stretch coming up."
Tonight's game begins he "Sunshine Showdown" weekend, which includes Saturday's football game between the Gators and Seminoles. Florida is going for its fifth consecutive basketball win over the Seminoles and is trying to secure its third 20-game home winning streak. Being the prelude to the football game has become a normal occurrence for the Gators when the football game is in Gainesville, which Donovan enjoys.
"I do like it,' he said. "I think for our fans it's obviously a great weekend. I've always said from a rivalry standpoint, I like Leonard (Hamilton, FSU coach) a lot as a guy. I've known him for a long time, I respect the job he's done. I always feel like coming out of this game we're always going to end up being a better team, we're going to find out more about our team. It's a good game to play."
The Seminoles will be playing their third game against a national-ranked opponent, and a win would give FSU its second victory over a ranked opponent in November for the first time in school history.
With the struggles of the Gators' football team this season, Wilbekin said it would be nice to kick the weekend off with a victory. He and the Gators seniors are trying to become the second consecutive class to finish undefeated against the Seminoles.
"I want to get a win against the Seminoles," said Wilbekin, who has a good relationship with Seminoles forward and former Clearwater standout Okaro White from their AAU days. "I think it's important to beat the Seminoles."
Antonya English could be reached at email@example.com.