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Crucial test finds foes on different learning curves

For the Florida Gators, today's game at Florida State is a midseason exam. For the Seminoles, the annual intrastate showdown is more of an early semester quiz.

They are at different stages, regardless of what the academic calendar says.

Though the Gators (8-2) have played some tough teams, including No. 19 Louisville, Miami and Providence, all have been in Gainesville or on neutral courts.

"This is our first road test," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "This is a game that gets us ready to go on the road and play in the SEC."

And to Donovan, the Seminoles might pose a tougher challenge beyond location.

"This is probably the most talented and deepest team we've played all year long," he said.

FSU coach Leonard Hamilton is using 11 players extensively, but only sophomore guard Von Wafer is averaging double figures (10.8 points). Donovan, however, will tell you that in addition to Wafer, sophomore center Alexander Johnson, senior forward Anthony Richardson, senior forward Adam Waleskowski and freshman guards Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann are all capable of putting up impressive offensive totals.

But then each, on any given night, is just as capable of ending with a less than stellar line.

"To be very honest with you, if I watched our game film (as an opposing coach), I'd be totally, thoroughly confused as to which Florida State basketball team I'd be playing," Hamilton said. "I thought we had three of the best practices we've had all year prior to the LSU game; spirited, worked very hard, executed very well. And (then) I thought we went into the LSU game extremely tentative and unsure of ourselves."

The Seminoles (7-6) lost to the Tigers 67-50 late Thursday night in New Orleans.

It was their most lopsided loss; in fact, their five previous losses were by a combined 21 points. The Seminoles also had won two straight going in, and the streak would have been four were it not for a 90-88 overtime loss at then-No. 23 Maryland.

Hamilton's catch phrase for the season, at least so far, has been "consistently inconsistent."

"I'm not real sure how anyone else can assess us when I'm having a difficult time assessing us," he lamented. "In order for you to have a basketball team that is competitive night in and night out, you have to have consistent effort and focus every opportunity that you have so that you can develop an identity and personality that you all can somewhat depend on. That's something that has been somewhat elusive with this team.

"I'm hopeful that playing a team like Florida will bring that more to the forefront."

So, break out your No. 2 pencils and open your blue books.

Both teams.

TODAY

Florida (8-2) at Florida State (7-6), 1 p.m., Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, Tallahassee.

TV: Ch. 44. RADIO: 1470-AM, 1250-AM.

LINE: Gators by 1.

TODAY: FLORIDA AT FLORIDA STATE

WHEN/WHERE: 1; Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, Tallahassee.

TV/RADIO: Ch. 44; 1470-AM, 1250-AM.

RECORDS: UF 8-2, FSU 7-6.

COACHES: UF _ Billy Donovan (177-86, ninth season; 212-106 overall), FSU _ Leonard Hamilton (40-35, third season; 240-245).

NOTABLE: The Gators are riding a three-game winning streak and have averaged 93.7 points behind their big three of guard Matt Walsh (16.0 points), guard Anthony Roberson (14.9) and forward David Lee (13.4). Each is shooting better than 53 percent from the field. The Gators are shooting 52.4 percent, on pace to shatter their best under Donovan (48.2 percent last season and in 2000-01). The Seminoles, coming off a lackluster loss Thursday night against LSU, have been playing solid defense. They are holding teams to 39.5 percent shooting and 66.3 points. Look for Hamilton to use freshman Ralph Mims a bit more at point guard. Mims didn't play Thursday and fellow freshman Isaiah Swann has struggled of late. FSU is 1-1 against the SEC, including a win at Mississippi. UF has won six straight against FSU, the second-longest streak by either team in the series, and six straight in Tallahassee. It leads the series 37-18.

_ BRIAN LANDMAN, Times staff writer

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