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Donovan, Gators happy to be ranked again

GAINESVILLE, Fla. | Florida's 10-game winning streak is starting to get some attention.

The Gators were ranked No. 24 in the latest Associated Press college basketball poll this week, moving back into the rankings for the first time since losing to Florida State in early December. The Gators are the only Southeastern Conference team in the Top 25.

Florida was in a similar position last January. Coach Billy Donovan's team started last season 18-3, 5-1 in league play, and jumped back in the poll after upsetting No. 14 Vanderbilt 86-64. But the Gators foundered the rest of the way, losing eight of their final 11 games and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.

They hope to avoid a repeat performance.

"It's kind of scary," forward Dan Werner said. "It kind of seems like we're in the same situation as we were last year after beating Vanderbilt. On one hand, I'm kind of excited. On the other hand, I'm kind of nervous. Hopefully, we don't follow the same path as we did last year."

The Gators (16-2, 3-0 SEC) play their next two games on the road: against South Carolina on Wednesday and against Vanderbilt on Sunday. Donovan and his players believe they're better prepared to handle success this time around.

"After that Vanderbilt win, I think we got kind of bigheaded," guard Nick Calathes said. "I think we let a couple games slip away and we weren't focused and we thought we were going to make the NCAA tournament because we were ranked. ... We've been through it. We have a lot more older guys on the team and I think that we'll definitely be more focused."

Not only did the Gators miss the tournament, but Donovan kicked them out of their state-of-the-art practice facility following a loss to Alabama in the first round of the SEC tournament.

They practiced in the antiquated Florida Gym, had to do their own laundry and couldn't wear any Florida attire — all because Donovan want to humble them for having a sense of entitlement.

It worked. The Gators advanced to the NIT semifinals and vowed to never take anything for granted again.

"Hopefully we have a better understanding a little more that the ranking doesn't mean much," Werner said. "That's just people's opinion. We had some early success (last year) and everyone kind of thought we had it figured out and stuff. Obviously, we didn't. That's what it came down to."

Although Donovan believes his team has plenty of room for improvement — Florida has struggled rebounding and playing half-court defense — he feels the ranking could be a good thing.

"I'm happy. It's pretty terrific," Donovan said. "I would hope that our guys, after seeing some of these guys go through being ranked, I would hope that would be the expectation, to be ranked.

"I think when you start talking about Duke and North Carolina and UCLA and programs like that, I don't think that they're really talking about those programs being ranked. It almost becomes that's what's supposed to happen. For our team right now, what kind of impact or affect it will have on them, I would say that they should expect that. It should have no bearing on how we perform, prepare, practice, and what we do."