Vols undaunted by national stage


Published: Sunday, March 1, 2009 at 11:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 1, 2009 at 11:36 p.m.

Make it seven of eight.

With Tennessee’s 79-75 win over Florida on Sunday, the Volunteers are now 7-1 against the Gators since coach Bruce Pearl took over in March 2005. The win also marked the fifth straight Vols win over the Gators.

In the last eight meetings, Tennessee has outscored UF 84-78. They’ve won by 22 and they’ve won by three. The Vols have turned this rivalry into a one-sided affair and while Florida has had more recent success on the national stage, that has yet to affect the Volunteers’ focus.

“Nobody’s going to intimidate me, regardless of if you’re better than me or any of that,” Tennessee junior forward Tyler Smith said.

Smith has certainly been one of the reasons for Tennessee’s dominance over the Gators of late, but he’s had a little help. When he and fellow junior Wayne Chism are on the floor against UF, their games seem to be enhanced.

Both have played together in four of the last five wins and in the three leading up to Sunday’s game, the two averaged a combined 27 points in each affair.

This win was no different as Smith had a team-high 19 points while his sidekick had 18.

“We’re just motivated to play the guys,” Chism said of playing UF. “The atmosphere in here was crazy today. They brought out T-shirts against us and we were like, ‘No, we can’t let them bring out T-shirts against us.’ We brought out T-shirts against them too, so I think they were trying to reverse it, but we did a good job of playing against them today.”

Pearl applauds his players’ efforts against the Gators, but leaves some credit to one other person as well. Assistant coach Jason Shay was given the responsibility of scouting UF when Pearl arrived and in four years, Pearl hasn’t been let down.

“Jason doesn’t just prepare us for Florida, he studies coach (Billy) Donovan,” Pearl said. “He’s simply one of the very best. Jason has us very prepared, particularly on the defensive end and then I focus more on the offense.”

The intensity of this rivalry has increased since Pearl’s arrival and while most of the talk between these two schools has revolved around football, he’s hoping that other sports at both universities begin to view each other in the same manner as well.

“I would hope that when Florida’s athletic teams get ready to play — in all sports — they look at Tennessee as one of the teams they’ve got to beat to win a conference championship,” he said. “Our kids on campus have that feeling about Florida, about their athletic department — men and women.”

Smith said he’s unsure why Tennessee has ruled the series, but he does admit that playing a rival and in general pumps him and his teammates up. He also understands what it means to beat a team that’s school has as much pride in its athletic department as UF does.

“When you get a win down here, it’s always great,” he said. “This is one of the toughest places to play; if not No. 1, then definitely No. 2 behind Rupp (Arena). It’s a place that gives you energy with the whole Gator chant and the two national championship banners.

“We know that they won a national championship in football and we know this is the school that’s really behind its athletics and when (the students) come in here and give it their all in everything, as far as chants, it helps us play. … When you can quiet the crowd, it feels good.”

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