SEC East nemesis Vols standing in Florida's way
Published: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 22, 2010 at 6:33 p.m.
The ball caromed off the backboard, and for a split second, it looked like all the questions about why Florida can no longer beat Tennessee would disappear for a day.
At a glance
Who: Florida Gators (19-8, 8-4 SEC) vs. No. 19 Tennessee Volunteers (20-6, 8-4 SEC)
When: 9 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
Gainesville radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Fr. 13.5 ppg, 2.7 apg
G Erving Walker 5-8 So. 13.0 ppg, 5.1 apg
F Chandler Parsons 6-9 Jr. 11.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg
F Alex Tyus 6-8 Jr. 12.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg
C Vernon Macklin 6-10 Jr. 10.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg
F Dan Werner 6-8 Sr. 4.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg
G Ray Shipman 6-4 So. 2.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg
F Erik Murphy 6-9 Fr. 3.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg
TENNESEE PROBABLE STARTERS
G Melvin Goins 5-11 Jr. 5.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg
G Bobby Maze 6-3 Sr. 9.4 ppg, 3.1 apg
F Scotty Hopson 6-7 So. 12.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg
F J.P. Prince 6-7 Sr. 8.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg
C Wayne Chism 6-9 Sr. 13.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg
F Kenny Hall 6-8 Fr. 5.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg
G Skylar McBee 6-3 Fr. 3.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg
F Cameron Tatum 6-6 So. 3.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Florida's ballhandling
In Tennessee's 61-60 win over the Gators on Jan. 31, the Vols came out with a gameplan to pressure starting guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker. Walker and Boynton combined to commit 10 of Florida's 17 turnovers. Walker and Boynton have not been as steady handling the ball since. Walker, coming off a five-turnover game against Ole Miss, will need to limit his mistakes because Tennessee is at its best scoring points off turnovers in transition.
2. Florida's shooting
Florida is 11th in the SEC in 3-point shooting (30.3 percent) and is 15-for-72 from 3-point range over its last five games. Are the Gators due to break out? Florida coach Billy Donovan said he thinks the pressure could be off his team's shooters the rest of the season because the Gators have proven they can win games without scoring from the perimeter. Still, Florida could use more scoring from outside to keep from being one-dimensional down the stretch.
3 Macklin's performance
Donovan said he planned to challenge center Vernon Macklin in practice this week after he scored a career-high 22 points against Ole Miss. After scoring a career-high 20 points earlier this month against Mississippi State, Macklin followed it up with a five-point, five-rebound game against South Carolina. Macklin will have a tougher assignment against Tennessee senior center Wayne Chism, who earned SEC player of the Week honors after averaging 13.1 points and 7.2 rebounds in wins over Georgia and South Carolina. Florida is a better team when Macklin is involved in the offense. The Gators are 12-2 this season when Macklin reaches double figures.
1. Can Florida keep senior center Wayne Chism and the rest of the Vols off the backboards?
2. Can Florida limit its turonvers after committing 17 in its first meeting against Tennessee?
3. Will junior center Vernon Macklin build off his career-best 22-point performance against Ole Miss?
Come back to Gatorsports.com after the game to read Kevin Brockway's answers.
Instead, Florida junior forward Alex Tyus' potential game-winning bank-shot spun out of the rim with two seconds left. Tennessee escaped with a 61-60 win Jan. 31, the eighth in UT's last nine meetings against the Gators.
When will enough be enough? Tonight's rematch between Florida and Tennessee at the O'Connell Center could serve as a chance for the Gators to make up for the past disappointments. The teams are tied for third in the SEC East with 8-4 records. A win tonight against the No. 19 Vols would provide another boost for Florida's NCAA Tournament resume.
"For the situation we're in, it would be important, not because we've never beaten them," Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons said. "Obviously I want to beat those guys and we feel like we let one slip away last time that we played them. We've got them on our home court with everything on the line so it's going to be a different story."
Parsons is 0-5 lifetime against Tennessee. Of the players on Florida's current roster, only senior forward Dan Werner has won against the Vols. Werner was a freshman when Florida beat Tennessee 94-78 at the O'Connell Center on Feb. 3, 2007. Tennessee has won six straight in the series since.
"We take every game personally," Parsons said. "Just because it says Tennessee across their chest, we're not going to play any harder than we usually do. We play hard every game, we prepare very seriously for every team. This one has a lot of meaning to it, having not beaten them. I think there's something special there. With everything on the line, we're going to leave it all out there."
Florida coach Billy Donovan is preaching about not focusing on the past but instead about what the Gators can control heading into tonight.
"You can learn from the game tape and things that they were trying to do," Donovan said. "But I think it's another game against a team on our side in the SEC East that we got to go out there and battle and play who has really been ranked all year long, been ranked very high."
That Florida stayed with Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena last month is a sign the talent gap between the two teams is closing. In its previous two road games at Tennessee, Florida lost by 16 and 22 points.
"I don't even think a year or two ago, we were even capable of beating high quality teams which was evident by what our record was against RPI Top 50," Donovan said. "It was 3-12 in two years."
Of the last eight losses against Tennessee, five have been in games decided by five points or less. Florida has proven its ability to pull out close games, going 6-3 in games decided by five points or less this season. Against Ole Miss, Florida made a big defensive play late, a steal by Tyus which led to a breakaway layup by freshman Kenny Boynton with 58 seconds left. From there, sophomore point guard Erving Walker made six straight free throws to allow the Gators to hold on for a 64-61 win.
"I think there's a little more direction for our guys in terms of what they need to be doing in these situations, that they have a better understanding," Donovan said. "That doesn't mean it's going to always go in our favor, but I think collectively they are trying to move that way, which makes you feel better."
In its first meeting against Tennessee, Florida squandered a six-point halftime lead. The Vols harassed Walker throughout, forcing him into six turnovers. Also, Tennessee dominated on the glass in the second half, out-rebounding the Gators 27-12 in the second half and 41-32 for the game.
"We're going to have to do a much, much better job as it relates to loose basketballs, block-out situations," Donovan said. "I thought in the first half we did a fairly decent job on the glass, but I thought the second half, clearly on the backboard, that was a problem for us. Hopefully that was a game we can learn from and have gotten better, and I think our guys know the importance of rebounding."
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or at email@example.com.