The last time Florida was ranked in the Top 25, a listless defeat saw them drop out of the poll.
The No. 20 Gators hope they have a bit more staying power this time as they try to continue their success against Arkansas in an SEC matchup on Saturday.
Florida (18-3, 5-1 East), the two-time reigning NCAA tournament champion, cracked the poll at No. 25 in November and appeared to be in position to move up after a 102-51 rout of North Florida on Nov. 20. However, the Gators followed that up with a 65-51 loss to Florida State on Nov. 23 and fell out of the Top 25.
They were able to regain their status as one of the elite programs in the country after beating then-No. 14 Vanderbilt 86-64 on Sunday for their 13th win in 15 games. Florida used a pressing, trapping defense to put together a 23-0 run and build a 34-6 lead in the first 12 minutes.
Despite the strong showing, Gators coach Billy Donovan is wary of a letdown caused by his young team being ranked.
“It’s like poison,” Donovan said. “If they want to drink the poison and take it in, they’ll start to feel good about themselves, think they’re a lot better than they really are, they’ll stop working and they’ll get complacent, and you know what? They’ll get humbled.
“You can do one of two things: You can humble yourself or life will humble you. I think it’s a lot easier to find a way to humble yourself.”
Donovan knows that Arkansas coach John Pelphrey will have the Razorbacks (15-5, 4-2 West) prepared for an upset. The two coached together for eight years, including six in Gainesville, and still have a close friendship.
“As a coach, he basically raised me,” said Pelphrey, who is in his first season at Arkansas after spending five with South Alabama. “Outside of my father, he’s probably the most influential male in my life. If I had a male soul mate, he’d be it.”
The Gators hold a 10-9 all-time advantage on the Razorbacks, beating them twice last season, three straight times and six of the last seven meetings overall. Their lone loss to Arkansas in that span was an 85-81 overtime defeat on Feb. 18, 2006, in their last visit to Fayetteville.
Freshman swingman Nick Calathes, who had 15 points, a season-high 10 assists and seven rebounds against the Commodores, has been a big part of Florida’s return to the Top 25, averaging 20.0 points, 7.3 assists and 6.3 boards over the last three games. He is averaging team highs of 16.0 points and 6.0 assists while adding 5.0 rebounds.
The Razorbacks, meanwhile, are looking for a third win in a row after beating Mississippi State 78-58 on Wednesday, handing the Bulldogs their first conference loss.
Sonny Weems, Arkansas’s leader with 14.4 points per game, has been outstanding shooting the ball of late. The senior swingman made 8 of 17 shots for 22 points Wednesday after going 7-for-13 and making all five of his 3-pointers for 21 points in a 68-52 win at LSU last Saturday.
“Sonny has been practicing his butt off,” Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley said. “He’s stepping up as a scorer and a leader. Our defensive intensity and pressure is key to our offense and our victories.”
Weems scored 28 points in the two games against Florida last season.