Sunshine Showdown: No. 7 Florida State hosts No. 23 Florida
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida and Florida State women's basketball teams meet for the 76th time on Thursday, but this marks the first time both teams have been ranked going into their Sunshine State showdown.
''They had some dominant teams in our early years and we've been able to become a top 10 program in the last few years here,'' Florida State coach Sue Semrau said. ''There were a lot of times early where Florida was ranked and we weren't.
''To face each other ranked makes the game even more special.''
The game is also another example of the strength of the state's Division I teams the past two seasons. Florida has four schools in this week's Top 25 with No. 7 Florida State leading the way. Florida is ranked 23rd while Miami is 14th and South Florida 22nd.
Semrau said she looked at Florida, who was coached at the time by Carol Ross when she was hired by the Seminoles 20 years ago, as one of the examples of how to build a successful program.
''One of the things she taught me a lot about was scheduling because that is one area a coach can control,'' Semrau said. ''It's something we take seriously. We want to play a lot of great teams early.''
The Gators were able to use last year's 82-72 victory as the springboard to a 22-9 season and second NCAA Tournament berth in three seasons.
Ronni Williams, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds in that game, is once again one of Florida's top players. The senior forward has three double-doubles this season while averaging 15.4 points and 8.5 rebounds.
''That was a game where we came out very confident and aggressive. We did a great job modeling our game on that the rest of the season,'' Williams said.
Eleanna Christinaki, a sophomore forward who can also play both guard spots, leads Florida in scoring (18.6 points per game) and already has four 20-point games this season.
The Gators are 6-2 despite playing their first 12 games on the road due to renovations to the O'Connell Center. Amanda Butler, a former UF player who is in her 10th season as coach, has been pleased with the results considering the circumstances.
''We've experienced a lot of adversity early which has been a good test for us,'' she said. ''This will be another good one because Florida State is definitely the best team we have faced so far.''
The Seminoles (8-1) have won seven straight since their 78-76 loss to top-ranked UConn on Nov. 14. Senior guard Leticia Romero, who missed that game due to a hamstring injury, is averaging 12.9 points since returning and is 11 of 19 on 3-pointers.
Romero said after Sunday's win over Western Carolina that Florida State has been looking forward to Thursday's game for a long time.
''Considering last year we lost to them, I feel like this is a great chance for us to redeem ourselves,'' said junior forward Shakayla Thomas, who leads FSU in scoring (14.7 points per game). ''We have a great team this year with a whole bunch of depth. I'm excited.''
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