Gators run Volunteers off the floor
Defensive pressure fuels Florida's 95-57 win.
Published: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 1:51 a.m.
A telling sight of Florida's 95-57 rout of Tennessee came in the waning minutes Saturday at the O'Connell Center.
Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson, knees on the floor, pounded his fists in submission after watching another pass sail into the stands.
Florida won its Southeastern Conference home opener by knockout - with its best sustained effort on offense and defense this season. Feeding off the energy of the 12,498 that packed the O'Dome, Florida made 11 of its first 14 shots and 13 of its first 17 and ended the game shooting 64.8 percent from the floor.
The high-percentage shots came off turnovers, which allowed Florida to get out on the break and run Tennessee into the ground. Florida scored 20 of its 32 points off turnovers in the first half.
This was a laugher, Florida's most lopsided win against an SEC team since beating Ole Miss 94-47 in February 1993.
"Coming in here, 9-1, a very good team, I never anticipated for us to beat them the way we did," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I hope just what it does is reinforces in these guys' mind our style of play and what I'm trying to get across."
The tempo pleased Donovan, who started to see signs of his team buying into what pressure defense can do last week against Florida State. Florida held Tennessee without a field goal for a near five-minute stretch in the first half and just three field goals in the final 12:37.
"Anytime you can get to run and press like that it's a lot more fun," said guard Matt Walsh, who scored a team-high 20 points. "It's more fun for everybody. Everybody touches the ball. Everyone gets involved."
Forward David Lee added 17 and guard Anthony Roberson scored 15, enough for No. 14 Florida to improve to 11-2 and 2-0 in the SEC.
"It's a little surprising because in the SEC you really don't expect to beat anybody by how much we beat them by," Roberson said. "But the game got out of hand and we kept playing. We played the whole game today. That's the thing that coach was proud about most."
The pressure came in waves. First from the starters. Then from the reserves.
Before the Vols could blink, they were down 38-14.
At halftime it was 49-30. By late in the second half, with Tennessee down 40, fans started chanting "Pee Wee," for little-used 5-foot-7 Tennessee sub Pee-Wee Gash.
Tennessee finished with a season-high 20 turnovers.
"Their pressure just forced us into bad decisions," Peterson said. "The 20 turnovers by far are the highest we've had all season, which I think is uncharacteristic for this team."
C.J. Watson led Tennessee (9-2) with 13 points. Scooter McFadgon, who came in as the SEC's leading scorer at 19.8 points per game, was held to 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting.
Watson had four assists and six turnovers, uncharacteristic of a guard who came into the game with the leading assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference.
"Our big focus was trying to deal with McFadgon and Watson because I really have a lot of respect for those two guys as players," Donovan said. "A lot of what they do with (Brandon) Crump and (John) Winchester goes through them, so we tried to be disruptive."
The big lead also allowed Donovan to use his entire bench. Freshman Chris Richard scored a career-high 11 and Florida's bench outscored Tennessee's 33-19.
But Donovan was most happy with the defense.
"The last two games here we've been really disruptive in taking teams out of what they do," Donovan said. "So I hope it makes them feel good about the effort they are putting forth on the floor."
The 2-0 start gives Florida an early advantage in the SEC East. Not that Donovan will allow his team to get complacent. Not with six days to prepare for an important game at Vanderbilt next Saturday.
"If these guys get fat-headed or big-headed," Donovan said, "I'll knock it out of them this week."
You can reach Kevin Brockway by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 374-5054.
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