FLORIDA MEN'S BASKETBALL

Gators looking to avoid letdown


Published: Saturday, January 31, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 31, 2004 at 12:59 a.m.

Facts

Gator gameday

  • WHO: No. 22 Florida Gators (13-4, 4-2 in SEC) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (10-6, 2-4).

  • WHEN: Today, 3 p.m.

  • WHERE: Thompson-Boling Arena (24,535), Knoxville, Tenn.

  • ON THE AIR: Jefferson Pilot Sports (Channels 4, 51), AM-850

  • The ingredients are there, so obvious and yet so troublesome.
    In playing at Tennessee this afternoon, No. 22 Florida might not have to worry about guarding Southeastern Conference leading scorer Scooter McFadgon or all-SEC point guard candidate C.J. Watson as much as guarding against overconfidence.
    Florida (13-4, 4-2 SEC) enters the game knowing that it handled the same Vols' team quite handily three weeks ago. True, the 95-57 whitewash occurred at the O'Connell Center, but Florida's most lopsided conference win since 1993 is still fresh in the minds of its young players, who may or may not believe that by just stepping on the floor they are 38 points better.
    Meanwhile, Tennessee comes into the game on a four-game losing streak, which matches the longest in coach Buzz Peterson's three-year tenure.
    The perfect recipe for a letdown. Right?
    "I would be very disappointed in my team if that were the case," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "Some teams mature during the course of a season, and it would be a big mistake for us to think that we could just go out there and show up and expect to win the game."
    It will be a test, too, of Florida's maturation. Two weeks ago, Florida traveled to Vanderbilt to face a Commodores team reeling after consecutive losses to Kentucky and Tennessee. The Gators left 86-72 losers in a game in which their intensity and focus dwindled during a turnover-riddled second half.
    "We need to only look at that game as a reminder for us," Florida forward David Lee said. "I'm sure they're going to be looking for payback, just the same way we'll be looking for payback when Vanderbilt comes to our place."
    Peterson has made changes since the Florida loss. He's slowed down the tempo. Six-foot-10 freshman Major Wingate has replaced 6-8 sophomore Jemere Hendrix as the starter at power forward.
    "There should be some motivation for our guys," Peterson said. "We took some of the starters out. They were frustrated, and we were frustrated. Things started to snowball in the second half."
    The changes have made Tennessee more competitive, even though the wins haven't come. The Vols took No. 8 Kentucky to overtime before losing 69-68. Last Sunday, No. 4 Louisville beat Tennessee 65-62 after the Vols led for much of the second half.
    "Our guys know they're better," Peterson said. "They've been in some tight games."
    Both losses were at home, where Tennessee has traditionally been more effective. The Vols are 9-2 at Thompson-Boling Arena this season. McFadgon, averaging a conference-high 18.7 points per game, is averaging 21.1 points at home. Watson is averaging 6.5 assists.
    Donovan pointed out the stats to remind his team how well Tennessee plays at home.
    "I think you have to," he said. "When you look at stats, field goal percentage, opponents field goal percentage, there's a wide discrepancy there."
    Florida is coming off an 88-78 win at Alabama on Tuesday and is 2-1 on the road in the SEC. The Gators shot 56.1 percent from the field Tuesday. They committed just seven turnovers, a season low.
    "Our offense carried us," Donovan said. "We made some strides offensively."
    The game also will serve as a homecoming for freshman Lee Humphrey, who grew up 20 miles north of Knoxville in Maryville, Tenn. Humphrey said he's lost track of the number of ticket requests, estimating it at close to 200. Both his parents will be in the stands.
    The reserve guard has emerged as one of Florida's biggest surprises this season, averaging 5.9 points per game in the conference after playing sparingly through the nonconference schedule.
    "I'm just going to try to treat it like any other game," Humphrey said.
    You can reach Kevin Brockway by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5054.

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