Tennessee cruises against Florida
Published: Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 12:41 a.m.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - After South Carolina upset Kentucky earlier Saturday afternoon, Florida had a chance to move into sole possession of first-place in the Southeastern Conference's eastern division.
But Thompson-Boling Arena proved once again to be a house of horrors for the Gators. Florida dropped its fourth straight game at Tennessee, 79-63, looking rattled early before a while T-shirt-clad sellout of 20,984.
Tennessee freshman guard Scotty Hopson effectively replaced departed senior Chris Lofton as UT's Gator nemesis from the perimeter. Hopson made four-of-six 3-point attempts to finish with a team-high 20 points. Tyler Smith added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Vols.
Tennessee (13-7, 4-2 SEC) led by as many as 23 points in the second half before Florida rallied, cutting the lead to 64-54 on a Nick Calathes layup with 4:34 remaining. But from there, Florida was unable to cut Tennessee's lead into single-digits.
In a game that Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl described as a "must-win," the Vols played with a sense of urgency. Florida, meanwhile, couldn't come back from a 39-22 halftime deficit. With starting point guard Calathes in early foul trouble, Florida turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and missed several easy baskets inside.
"We were a little rushed," Florida coach Billy Donovan said, noting the Gators went 0-for-11 on fast-break opportunities in the first half. "We took some ill-advised shots. On a couple of those possessions you want to push and attack, but there has to be a balance to it and sometimes we didn't show good judgment."
Calathes led Florida (18-4, 5-2 SEC) with 21 points. Forward Chandler Parsons added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Gators before fouling out with 1:29 left.
"We have to learn to play in these kind of environments because it's not going to get easier, going to Rupp Arena to play Kentucky and going to LSU later this season," Parsons said.
Calathes, coming off the second triple-double of his career Wednesday against Georgia, picked up his first foul at the 18:22 mark and second foul with 17:02 remaining by charging into Tennessee center Wayne Chism on a drive in the lane. That left Florida without its leading scorer for much of the rest of the half.
"I didn't think it was a charge," Calathes said. "But that's the ref's call, the ref's judgment. You have to learn from it and play through it."
Said Donovan: "I told Nick after his first one to be careful. He put himself in a position where the referee made a judgment call."
Without Calathes, Florida struggled to get into an offensive flow. The Gators scored just two baskets through the first nine minutes of the half before a bank shot from Parsons cut Tennessee's lead to 16-8.
"Nick is obviously a big part of our team," Parsons said. "It was a good lesson for us. A lot of our other guys have to be able to step up."
Tennessee, which came into the game shooting 30.6 percent, spent much of the half shooting effectively over Florida's zone defense. Smith's third 3-pointer of the half put Florida ahead 24-15. After Parsons cut the lead to 24-17 with an inside lay-in, Tennessee responded with a 7-0 run in which Calathes turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions. Freshman Cameron Tatum capped the run with a 3-pointer to put the Vols up 33-17.
"I have great respect for their frontcourt, Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism," Donovan said. "They came into the game shooting 30.9 percent (from 3-point range) so you want them to take jump shots. To their credit, they made some big shots."
Florida cut Tennessee's lead to 36-22 on a 3-pointer from Calathes with 18.3 remaining, but the Vols answered on the other end with a 3-pointer from Josh Tabb with 3.8 seconds left to go into halftime up 39-22.
Tennessee went 8-for-19 from 3-point range (42.1 percent) in the first half. Florida struggled from the perimeter in the first half, shooting 36 percent from the floor and 36.4 percent from 3-point range.
For Florida, it's another reminder of how quickly fortunes can turn around. Like this season, the Gators started last season 18-3 before losing eight of their next 11 games to fail to make the NCAA Tournament.
"People can talk all they want, but we're a 10-times better team than last year," Parsons said. "We've just got to learn from this and make some progress because we play South Carolina next and they're a very good team."
FREE THROWS: Pearl purchased 3,000 white "out-live" T-shirts for students attending the game, which raised funds and awareness for cancer research at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. ... Former Florida shooting guard Lee Humphrey's family, from nearby Maryville , Tenn., sat behind the Florida bench. Humphrey's father, Tony, said that Humphrey is enjoying his second season playing overseas in Germany and will likely re-sign to play there again next season. ... Both coaching and support staffs wore sneakers as part of a National Basketball Association of Coaches initiative to raise awareness about the dangers of gambling on college sports.
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