No. 6 Florida dominates Tennessee for 26th straight at home
Published: Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 5:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 10:48 p.m.
On a short turnaround and facing the third-leading scorer in the SEC, Florida kicked its defensive intensity up a notch Saturday against Tennessee.
No. 6 UF’s 67-41 win over the Volunteers at the O’Connell Center was the full 40-minute defensive effort Florida coach Billy Donovan has been seeking from the Gators throughout the season. Even walk-on guard Billy Donovan got into the act at the end, drawing a charge against Tennessee guard D’Montre Edwards in the closing seconds.
“You can’t control the offense, you can’t control the ball going in, but you can control being disciplined, being in the right area, rebounding the ball,” Florida senior center Patric Young said. “If we keep improving, going in the right direction … I can’t see an offense that we can’t stop.”
Florida limited Tennessee to just 26.8 percent shooting from floor, forced 13 turnovers and held its own on the boards against one of the top rebounding teams in the country. Tennessee outrebounded Florida 40-35, but wound up with just 11 second-chance points. The Vols came into the game with a rebounding margin of plus-9.2, second in the SEC and tied for seventh in the nation.
“We were all locked in and focused and doing whatever it took to win and hold them down,” Young said.
That started with Florida blanketing Tennessee senior shooting guard Jordan McRae. The veteran UT guard came into the game as the third-leading scorer in the SEC at 19.2 points per game and scored 27 points against the Gators in a 64-58 win over UF in Knoxville last year.
Coming off a 34-point game Wednesday against Arkansas, McRae was held to just five points against the Gators on 1-of-15 shooting from floor. McRae’s lone field goal came on an open 3-pointer on a missed defensive assignment by sophomore guard DeVon Walker. Other than that, Florida kept McRae off balance the entire game.
“Most of the shots we made him take were difficult,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He didn’t have a lot of wide-open looks. Most of the shots were challenged. I just think we were there on the catch and provided some help.”
Offensively, Florida won with balance. Sophomore guard Michael Frazier II led four scorers in double figures with 17 points. Scottie Wilbekin added 13 points, senior forward Casey Prather scored 12 points and Young had 10 points and five rebounds. Prather battled foul trouble throughout the game, but scored enough late to keep his string alive of 17 straight double-figure games this season.
Florida (17-2, 6-0 SEC) won its 11th straight overall and extended its school-record home winning streak to 26 straight games.
“We came out with great energy and played with passion the whole game,” Frazier said.
Playing less than 48 hours after a 68-62 win at Alabama on Thursday, Donovan challenged his team to play better defense to snap a three-game losing streak against the Vols (12-7, 3-3). Florida had allowed an average of 61.5 points in back-to-back road games with Auburn and Alabama.
“Coach had a recurring theme of being desperate — desperate as if this was the national championship game,” Young said. “Every possession was a championship possession.”
Said Donovan: “I told our guys coming out of Auburn and coming out of Alabama we won the battle and lost the war. We didn’t play to the level or expectations I thought we could play at defensively. ...
“Our breakdowns proved that out. There were times when we were just very mediocre.”
Florida led just 26-19 at halftime, unable to pull away because of a 3:43 scoreless drought to end the first half. But Florida picked up the tempo in the second half. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill went coast-to-coast, and though he missed the layup, a trailing Dorian Finney-Smith was able get a basket to put Florida up 38-23. Another Finney-Smith putback on a Wilbekin missed coast-to-coast drive extended UF’s lead to 40-23. Hill capped the 8-0 run with a jumper to put Florida up 42-23.
From there, Florida extended its lead to as many as 32 points in the second half.
“As the game went on, they wore down a little bit,” Frazier said. “We just kept our foot to the gas and it showed.”
Tennessee finished just 1-of-19 from 3-point range for the game, throwing up a few air balls along the way. The Vols missed some open looks, but Florida also did a good job of closing out on Tennessee’s shooters. Junior center Jarnell Stokes led Tennessee with 16 points and 10 rebounds for his 28th career double-double. But no other Tennessee player finished in double figures.
“They trapped us, they basically said we will not let you score inside,” Stokes said. “They forced us to hit shots.”
FREE THROWS: Freshman forward Chris Walker sat out his 10th straight game since joining the Gators at practice on Dec. 14. Walker has not been cleared by the NCAA for competition. … Young had a highlight-reel slam on a pretty alley-oop play from Frazier. Asked if he felt it would make ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays, Young said: “I used to get on SportsCenter a lot for blocks and dunks and all that stuff. I don’t know if ESPN likes putting the Gators in Top Ten sometimes. But we’ll see.” … The announced crowd of 12,475 at the O’Connell Center was a sellout. There were a few no-shows, but the arena was pretty much packed. … Florida improved to 17-1 since 2010 in Thursday-Saturday turnarounds. The Gators will face another Thursday-Saturday turnaround next week, playing at Mississippi State on Thursday night before returning home to face Texas A&M on Feb. 1. … Donovan improved to 1-3 against Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.