Gators aim to end Vols' hold on series


Published: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 12:11 a.m.

Some games have come down to last-second steals, botched in-bounds plays and blocked shots.

Facts

Today's game

Who: Florida Gators (15-5, 4-2 SEC) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (15-4, 3-2 SEC)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena
TV: CBS
Radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850

FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Fr. 15.0 ppg, 3.2 apg
G Erving Walker 5-8 So. 13.3 ppg, 5.3 apg
F Chandler Parsons 6-9 Jr. 10.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg
F Alex Tyus 6-8 So. 12.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg
C Vernon Macklin 6-10 Jr. 10.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg

KEY RESERVES
F Dan Werner 6-8 Sr. 5.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg
G Ray Shipman 6-4 So. 2.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg
F Erik Murphy 6-9 Fr. 3.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg

TENNESSEE PROBABLE STARTERS
G J.P. Prince 6-7 Sr. 7.6 ppg, 3.3 apg
G Bobby Maze 6-3 Sr. 9.1 ppg, 3.5 apg
F Scotty Hopson 6-7 So. 13.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg
F Kenny Hall 6-8 Fr. 5.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg
C Wayne Chism 6-9 Sr. 11.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg

KEY RESERVES
F Cameron Tatum 6-6 So. 7.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg
F Renaldo Woolridge 6-8 So. 4.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg
G Skylar McBee 6-3 Fr. 4.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1.Centers of attention
Florida starting center Vernon Macklin said he's known Tennessee center Wayne Chism since both were in the eighth grade. This afternoon, Macklin's relationship with Chism will get even closer when both bang in the paint in a physical SEC contest. The 6-10, 240-pound Macklin provides Florida's best physical matchup against Chism since Joakim Noah and Al Horford in 2007. Look for Florida to continue to try to get Macklin involved offensively. The Gators are 10-1 when Macklin scores in double-figures.

2. The 3-point line
Tennessee has hurt Florida playing inside-out in recent seasons. With the defense collapsing to stop Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith inside, Tennessee has taken advantage of open looks on the perimeter, averaging 11 3-pointers per game against Florida over the last two seasons. With Smith off the Vols due to disciplinary reasons, Florida can afford to guard the 3-point line more effectively this afternoon. Florida may have to sacrifice some points inside to keep UT shooters Scotty Hopson and Skyler McBee from heating up from beyond the arc.

3. Taking care of the ball
Like Florida, Tennessee generates energy from its press. The Vols are forcing 17.5 turnovers per game in SEC play. Florida has been excellent taking care of the ball since league play began, leading the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio in league games at 1.3. The Gators will need to remain steady passing and dribbling to keep the Vols from generating easy baskets off turnovers.

THREE QUESTIONS
1. Can Florida stay with Tennessee early and keep the crowd from becoming a factor?
2. How well can the Gators contain Tennessee center Wayne Chism?
3. Can Florida break Tennessee's press and score easy points in transition?
Go to Gatorsports.com after the game to read Kevin Brockway's answers.

Others have been lopsided blowouts.

Whatever the outcome, Tennessee's 7-1 record against Florida under head coach Bruce Pearl is hard to ignore. When Florida faces No. 14 Tennessee this afternoon at Thompson Boling Arena, the Gators will again try to break the hex of the Vols coach best known for his Creamsicle jackets and orange body paint.

Pearl chalks up his record against Florida to part luck, part preparation.

“It's been an important game for us because it's meant a championship every year,” Pearl said.

Tennessee has been the roadblock that's prevented Florida from making the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons. Florida is 0-4 against the Vols during that span. Of the players on UF's roster, only senior Dan Werner has been on the floor when Florida beat Tennessee. Werner was a freshman when Florida routed Tennessee 94-78 in 2007 at the O'Connell Center, handing Pearl his only loss so far against the Gators.

“We haven't beat them in the last two years but it's a new team, a new year,” Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons said. “It doesn't mean we're 0-4 against them this year. We're 0-0 against them. It's just another chance for us to get a good SEC win.”

It might be Florida's best chance to beat Tennessee in recent memory. The Vols are coming off back-to-back losses against Georgia and Vanderbilt. After upsetting then-No. 1 Kansas earlier this month with just six scholarship players, Tennessee is finally starting to feel the effects of the loss of senior power forward Tyler Smith.

Smith was dismissed from the team following his arrest on drug and weapons charges on Jan. 1. Two other players involved in the incident, forward Cameron Tatum and guard Melvin Goins, have been reinstated to the team after serving suspensions. Backup center Brian Williams remains suspended indefinitely.

Smith earned All-Southeastern Conference first-team honors last season and was named the SEC's player of the year as a sophomore. Smith and senior Tennessee center Wayne Chism provided the one-two punch down low that made the Vols a difficult matchup for the Gators.

“If you look at the last two years as an average, they've made 11 3-point shots against us,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “And that probably in years past has really opened up Chism and Tyler Smith inside because you are playing to take those guys away and trying to force them to make 3-point shots.”

Donovan said he's as wary of the challenges that the rest of Tennessee's roster presents. Sophomore forward Scotty Hopson scored 20 points against the Gators last season at Thompson Boling Arena, sinking 4-of-6 3-point attempts. And Chism has hurt the Gators inside, averaging 14 points and five rebounds in his last three games against UF.

“Though hurt with a great player like Smith leaving, I don't know if there is enough credit given to the personnel that they do have there because it is pretty good,” Donovan said.

Florida (15-5, 4-2 SEC) is on a four-game winning streak, its longest in the SEC since starting the 2007 season 11-0 in league play.

“There are always emotions that come into every game,” Donovan said. “This is a game where they (Tennessee) are coming off of two losses. So I am sure in their minds, I know how our basketball team felt when we came out of the Vandy and Kentucky week to start the SEC, they are going to be a team that's going to play and feel like their back is against the ball and that this is a must-win for them and they are going to come out with that mentality.”

The crowd also could play a significant factor. Florida hasn't won at Thompson Boling Arena since 2005. In three of the four straight losses, Florida has lost by double digits.

Last season at Tennessee, former point guard Nick Calathes drew two quick fouls and Florida never recovered. The Gators trailed 39-22 at halftime and lost 79-63.

“To start the game and I think inside the game we have to do a great job staying focused on the things that we need to try to do to put ourselves in a position to win,” Donovan said.

Parsons said it's possible for Florida players to channel some of the energy they felt in November, when the Gators began the season unranked. Defying some doubters, Florida upset Florida State and Michigan State to jump to an 8-0 start.

“We're going to go in there with the same mindset we've had all year, to go in and play physical,” Parsons said. “We're going to go in and play as tough as we can no matter if we're 4-0 against them in my career or 0-4. It doesn't really matter what's happened in the past.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at gatorsports.com.

Rocky Topped

A look at Tennessee's 7-1 record against Florida under head coach Bruce Pearl

Jan 21, 2006, at Tennessee, Tennessee 80, Florida 76

UT guard Chris Lofton's steal leads to deciding Dane Bradshaw layup in the closing seconds.

Feb 22, 2006 at O-Dome, Tennessee 76, Florida 72

UT's Bradshaw does it again, steals Corey Brewer in-bounds pass, scores go-ahead layup.

Feb 3, 2007 at O-Dome, Florida 94, Tennessee 76

Vols crumble on the road without leading scorer Chris Lofton.

Feb. 27, 2007 at Tennessee, Tennessee 86, Florida 76

Florida trails by as many as 20, last loss before winning 10 straight to secure second national title.

Feb. 5, 2008 at Tennessee, Tennessee 104, Florida 82

Florida gives up more than 100 points for first time since Dec. 9, 1998 at Duke.

March 5, 2008 at O-Dome, Tennessee 89, Florida 86

Florida blows 13-point halftime lead, wastes 10-21 shooting performance from 3-point range.

Jan. 31, 2009 at Tennessee, Tennessee 79, Florida 63

Gators can't recover after former starting point guard Nick Calathes picks up two quick fouls.

March 1, 2009 at O-Done, Tennessee 79, Florida 75

Florida g Erving Walker's tying 3-point attempt blocked by UT's Scotty Hopson in the closing minutes.

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