A superior team can beat a rival three times in one season


Published: Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 11:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 11:31 p.m.

ATLANTA — The crowd was into it, Arkansas and Kentucky joining together for Hands Across The Georgia Dome. The Razorbacks had scored 16 straight points to tie the game against Tennessee and had the ball.

Then Arkansas went back to being Arkansas. Two turnovers and three badly missed 3-point attempts later, it was over. Tennessee had escaped to face the mighty Florida Gators Friday night in the second round of the SEC Tournament.

It was hardly an inspiring performance by the Vols, who probably punched their NCAA ticket in the Kodak Bowl (both coaches in trouble with NCAA because of incriminating pictures. Get it?).

They will need more to beat Florida Friday night. The Gators, of course, won a pair of tight games against Tennessee this year — overtime on the road and by one at home in the game in which Chandler Parsons was injured.

So let's get past the cliche that it's tough to beat a team three times in a season.

No, it's not. Not if you are the better team.

And Florida is.

That also doesn't mean the Gators will win Friday night.

So much depends on the attitude UF brings into the game, into the tournament. To win for the third time this against a nemesis will mean more than simply moving to the semifinals.

And vice versa.

“The prize is big because they're going to be seeded well in the (NCAA) tournament,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “And they're a rival.”

The Vols can take comfort in knowing they were a shot here or a stop there away from winning either or both of their games against the SEC's best team.

Or not.

“We played as well as we played all year at Florida,” Pearl said. “And it wasn't enough.”

But it was close. For the Gators to make it a three-peat, they will have to stop Tennessee from scoring transition points and hitting the offensive boards. The Volunteers had 16 Thursday night.

“Those are their strengths,” Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said.

Tennessee, on the other hand, has plenty to deal with against UF. Alex Tyus scored 28 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in the two games. Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton combined for 60 points in the two wins.

“We need to contain Walker and keep (Chandler) Parsons off the boards and we'll be OK,” said Tennessee guard Melvin Goins.

For a Tennessee team that won only half of its league games and went through so much off the court during the season, a win for Team Turmoil would be huge.

“They're superior in the SEC,” center Brian Williams said. “A win would mean a lot in the SEC and it would make a statement across the nation.”

I don't know if I'd go that far because this is tournament time where nothing is like it was. There are no more home and away rims or crowds, and no players are sleeping in their own beds.

And there was nothing I saw in Tennessee on Thursday night that told me Pearl's team was ready to beat the hottest team in the conference.

Arkansas was lifeless for much of the game and received little from Marshawn Powell, who said after the game that he took the passing of his grandmother last week “pretty hard.” His line for the game — four points, one rebound, four turnovers.

That Tennessee took advantage of poor shot selection and turnovers was less of an eye-opener than was Arkansas going on its 16-0 run and having a chance to win a game Tennessee could not afford to lose.

But the Razorbacks gagged in the last 1:10 to set up a matchup that will leave the Kentucky fans who have taken over the Georgia Dome conflicted.

They hate Tennessee. But they're not real big fans of Florida either.

Maybe the thought of Pearl losing three in a row to a team he used to own will bring the Big Blue over to the Gators side.

That's the thing about the well-worn cliche — for it to be tough for a team to beat another three times, it has to happen twice first.

“When I was on the side of having to beat a team three times, I was a believer in that cliche,” Pearl said. “Not that I'm on this side, I'm not a believer in that cliche.”

Either way, does it really matter?

Those two UF wins over Tennessee were part of a great regular season.

But they have nothing to do with Friday night.

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