GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida basketball team won a school-record 30 in a row, went an unprecedented 21-0 against Southeastern Conference competition and lost just three games all last season. Two of those losses came against Connecticut, including a bitter defeat in the Final Four.
The fact the Huskies were good enough to knock off one of UF all-time greatest teams twice proved them beyond worthy of the national championship they went on to win last April.
And that should make a Jan. 3 rematch with the Gators at the O’Connell Center all the more lively.
The UF-UConn showdown to start the calendar year — and springboard the Gators into the SEC season — will highlight the home portion of Florida’s 2014-15 non-conference schedule. The slate was released Wednesday and is yet another testament to Coach Billy Donovan’s willingness to challenge his team in preparation for conference play.
Last year, Florida played a non-conference schedule rated among the most difficult in the country, keyed by early road trips to Wisconsin (which also advanced to the Final Four) and Connecticut. The Gators also welcomed Andrew Wiggins, the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, and Kansas for a game at the O’Connell Center and later faced Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
This year, it’s more of the same.
In addition to that home game with UConn (a return end of a home-and-home series started last year), the Gators will play host to in-state foe Miami in the third game of the season (Nov. 17), face Kansas on the road in the SEC-Big XII Challenge (Dec. 5), take on Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl Classic at Sunrise, Fla. (Dec. 20) and head to Florida State for their annual clash with the Seminoles (Dec. 30).
Along the way, the Gators will spend Thanksgiving week (Nov. 26-28) at Paradise Island, Bahamas, as part of a loaded eight-team field in the Battle 4 Atlantis, where UF will play a trio of games against a combination of North Carolina, UCLA, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Butler, Oklahoma and Alabama-Birmingham. That event’s field will be released by tournament officials next month, but travel packages already are on sale.
“This difficult schedule will not only prepare our team for league and postseason play, it delivers a terrific lineup of marquee games for our fans,” said Mike Hill, UF’s executive associate athletic director for external affairs. “From hosting the defending national champions, to renewing the Miami rivalry, to playing in perhaps the toughest tournament ever assembled, this schedule has it all for the Gators."
The deadline to purchase or renew season-ticket packages is Aug. 15.
Florida opens the 2014-15 campaign Nov. 14 against William & Mary at the O’Dome.
The Gators also play home games against Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 21), Yale (Dec. 8), Texas Southern (Dec. 12) and Jacksonville (Dec. 14).
The SEC portion of the schedule will be announced by the league office in August, along with tip-off times for all games.
Single-game tickets will go on sale Sept. 23 for all games except UConn and the to-be-determined Kentucky date, but the Gator Ticket Office will offer three-game mini-packages where buyers can pick either the UConn or Kentucky game and pair it with one other SEC game (some exclusions will apply) and one of the other non-conference home dates.
The Gators have to replace the winningest senior class in school history off a team that went 36-3 and captured both the SEC regular-season and tournament championships.
The return of shooting guard Michael Frazier and SEC Sixth Man of the Year Dorian Finney-Smith, increased roles for point guard Kasey Hill and center Chris Walker, plus impact of transfers Alex Murphy (from Duke) and Jon Horford (Michigan) figure to keep the Gators in the mix to compete for another title.
FLORIDA’S 2014-15 NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE
Nov. 6 — Barry (exhibition)
Nov. 14 — William & Mary
Nov. 17 — Miami
Nov. 21 — Louisiana-Monroe
Nov. 26-28 — Battle 4 Atlantis (North Carolina, UCLA, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Butler, Oklahoma, UAB), Paradise Island, Bahamas
Dec. 5 — at Kansas (SEC-Big XII Challenge)
Dec. 8 — Yale
Dec. 12 — Texas Southern
Dec. 14 — Jacksonville
Dec. 20 — Wake Forest (Orange Bowl Classic), Sunrise, Fla.