UF looks to regain power


Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 22, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
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Florida guard Taurean Green gets some help from the fans to keep from falling into the crowd while playing Vanderbilt in the second half of a college basketball game in Nashville, Tenn. on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006.

The Associated Press
The memories still are fresh in the minds of Florida players.
A botched fastbreak. A missed 3-pointer. Then a sea of orange-clad students charging the basketball court.
When Tennessee upset Florida last month, preventing the Gators from their third No. 1 ranking in school history, it began a shift of power in the East division of the Southeastern Conference. Florida, two games behind the Vols with four to play, will look to reclaim some momentum tonight in a rematch at the O'Connell Center.
"It was disturbing," point guard Taurean Green said. "We didn't want to lose. They played a good game, but we're just going to have to stop them in transition and cut down on turnovers."
As impressive as Florida has been in its 22-4 start, the 19-4 Vols have been as surprising in successfully adapting to a new style under first-year coach Bruce Pearl.
If you had said last October this was going to be the first matchup between two ranked SEC teams, someone would have suggested a CAT scan.
"Right now Tennessee and LSU on both sides are the teams that have been the most consistent," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Though Tennessee hasn't clinched the SEC East yet, it would likely take Florida to finish a game ahead the Vols to clinch the top seed for the SEC Tournament. Florida has lost three games within its division, while Tennessee is a perfect 5-0 in division play.
The Vols had a seven-game win streak snapped last Saturday at Alabama. Still, at 10-2 in the league, Tennessee has defied critics who said a running, pressing style would be difficult to pull off in the SEC.
Pearl created unity borne from offseason hill runs next to Neyland Stadium and 6:45 a.m. Monday weight-lifting sessions.
But Tennessee also has done it with talent. Sophomore guard Chris Lofton has made a strong case for conference player of the year honors, averaging 17.8 points per game. Lofton is on a shooting tear, having made 29 of his last 41 3-point attempts. He's also third in the SEC in steals at 2.06 per game.
"He's better off the bounce," Pearl said. "He's also getting more offense from his defense. He's a sophomore, so he's a year older, a year stronger."
Florida sophomore forward Al Horford befriended Lofton when the two played together on a summer high school all-star team and recalled Lofton's work ethic.
"He's a dude that will just go in before the game and get shots up," Horford said. "Even for an all-star game, you don't see that. He was getting shots up when everybody else was gone. You could tell he was really committed."
Though Lofton has carried Tennessee at times with his shooting, Florida players note that he's not the only threat on the floor. Senior point guard C.J. Watson is running a steady ship at point guard, and junior Dane Bradshaw, at 6-4, is averaging 6.1 rebounds per game as an undersized power forward.
Florida sophomore forward Corey Brewer is as wary of Bradshaw as he is of Lofton.
"The main component that holds their team together is Dane Bradshaw," Brewer said. "He does all the little things. He's their key player. Lofton is going to get his shots off. We just have to try to contain him and Watson. But we can't let Bradshaw or (Stanley) Asumnu or (Major) Wingate get off. We have to hold all them down instead of letting all three or four of them get hot."
Tennessee leads the SEC in scoring offense at 83.3 points per game, with Florida second at 81.0 points per game. But the Vols also rank last in scoring defense at 73.9 points per game. Tennessee is vulnerable at the defensive end if teams can break its press consistently.
That will be the key for Florida, coming off a 19-turnover game in a loss to Arkansas. Tennessee is forcing 6.57 more turnovers than its opponents. No one else in the league is close to that number. Alabama is second at plus-3.04 turnovers, with Florida third at plus-2.62.
"They like to go up and down the floor and we like to go up and down the floor," Donovan said. "The team that executes that phase better is the team that will win the game."
You can reach Kevin Brockway by calling 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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