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Arnold says No. 3 ranking is deceptive

The win-loss record looks dominant. And Florida's lofty spot in the polls certainly gives credence to that assumption.

But baseball coach Joe Arnold still is not convinced.

An 8-1 record? Forget it, Arnold says. A No.

3 spot in the Baseball America poll? Hogwash.

"We're definitely not where we need to be to go out and beat a dominant club," Arnold said Monday.

That's bad news for UF fans because the Gators have two dominant clubs coming to Gainesville this week. Florida State, ranked No.

5 in Baseball America (see poll, 7C), is at Florida Wednesday and No.

1 Miami is in town Saturday and Sunday.

The Gators started the season with eight consecutive victories before falling Sunday against then-No.

8 Long Beach State. Florida was impressive at the plate _ averaging more than 11 runs a game during the streak _ but equally unimpressive everywhere else.

At least as far as Arnold is concerned.

"We've scored a lot of runs, but the defense has been off and on and the pitching has just been fair," Arnold said. "I'm not happy with (pitching). Coach (Scott) Lovekamp is not happy and the pitchers aren't happy."

Florida was supposed to have one of the premier pitching staffs in the country, but it has sputtered. All-American John Burke is 2-0 but has a 4.20 earned-run average and has allowed 23 baserunners in 15 innings. Last year's freshman sensation, Sarasota's Ron Scott, has an 8.31 ERA.

The pitchers aren't getting much help from the defense, either. The Gators have given up better than one unearned run per game.

Offense has carried Florida through the first two weeks, and Arnold said his team can be dominant as soon as the pitching comes around. With the talent on Florida's staff, the pitching will be there eventually. But there's still FSU and Miami on the horizon.

"It's not unusual for one phase of the game to be ahead of another early in the season," Arnold said. "Right now, the hitters are well ahead of the pitchers."

It's showtime: The Florida-Auburn basketball game Wednesday night is shaping up as UF's most important in the past two years.

A victory over Auburn and the Gators keep pace in the SEC Eastern Division, where they are tied for second with Tennessee. A loss and the Gators' league record falls below .500 and two road games follow.

"This is a very important ballgame," coach Lon Kruger said. "No.

1, it's a home game. No.

2, we're battling Tennessee for that second spot. We've got six games to go, three at home and three on the road. From this point forward, when you have a home game it becomes even more significant."

The Gators (12-9 overall, 5-5 SEC) have a chance for their first three-game winning streak since the first week of December. Auburn (11-10, 4-6) is the only league team Florida has yet to play this season.

Young No.

1: Freshman Lisa Raymond, the top-ranked college tennis player in the nation, is the first player to ever win both the National Clay and National Indoor championships. Raymond, a native of Wayne, Pa., also has won 19 of her first 20 college matches in straight sets.

_ JOHN ROMANO

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