UF MEN'S BASKETBALL
Gators have plenty to prove in tough road stretch
Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 11:31 p.m.
After a successful stretch at home, Florida coach Billy Donovan said he feels good about facing the grind of playing on the road.
Who: No. 3 Florida Gators (21-2, 10-0 SEC) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (15-8, 6-4 SEC)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
“I have confidence with our guys going on the road and playing,” Donovan said. “We've got some older guys who have been through it and understand it. They know what it takes.”
Florida, which stayed at No. 3 in this week's AP Top 25 rankings, will begin a tough road stretch Tuesday night at Tennessee. Florida will play four of its next five on the road, which includes a showdown Saturday at No. 14 Kentucky.
For now, though, the Gators are focused on the Vols (15-8, 6-4 SEC). And for good reason. Tennessee has been a house of horrors for the Gators in recent years. Florida has lost six of its last seven games at Thompson-Boling Arena, with the lone win coming in overtime in 2011 (81-75).
UF's back-to-back national title teams went 0-2 at Tennessee, which gives some perspective on how tough the environment can be on the Vols' homecourt. Donovan credited former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl for helping create UT's tough home atmosphere.
“They've been much improved since when I first got here,” Donovan said. “Bruce came in and did a really good job. They had (Chris) Lofton. C.J. Watson is in the NBA, Tyler Smith … And then when Bruce left, I think he left Cuonzo (Martin) a very, very good team, a talented team.”
With four senior starters, the Gators are 5-2 on the road this season and 4-0 on the road in the SEC. The Gators (21-2, 10-0 SEC) take a 15-game winning streak into Knoxville and remain the only unbeaten team in conference. That alone makes UF a target.
“Whenever you are playing a ranked team, you feel like you've got to rise to the level of competition,” Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “We know how it is, when we played Kansas, we played UConn, Memphis, you play that much harder.”
Playing as a target on the road can be even more challenging. Florida handled Tennessee 67-41 at the O'Connell Center last month, but the Vols shot just 1 of 19 from the 3-point line and leading scorer Jordan McRae was held to just five points. Part of that was a result of a strong UF defensive effort, but Donovan said Tennessee also missed its share of open looks.
“What they shot against us from the field I don't think was really 100-percent indicative of us defensively,” Donovan said. “Did I think we did a good job defensively? Yes. Do the numbers reflect that that's exactly because of us, probably not. But it's probably somewhere in the middle."
Florida players know it's unlikely Tennessee will shoot that coldly from the perimeter in Knoxville.
“I know McRae, he would've liked to have shot the ball better,” Wilbekin said. “Obviously he's a great player and is capable of going off for 30 points. I know he's going to come out looking to get something going in front of his own crowd.”
Florida is heading into the challenging road stretch fairly healthy. Senior forward Casey Prather (sprained ankle) was held out of practice on Sunday, but practiced Monday and should be available for the Vols tonight.
“Everybody else is fine,” Donovan said.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or email@example.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Frazier II 6-4 So. 12.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Sr. 12.6 ppg, 3.6 apg
F Casey Prather 6-6 Sr 15.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg
F Will Yeguete 6-7 Sr. 5.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Sr. 10.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg
TENNESSEE PROBABLE STARTERS
G Josh Richardson 6-6 Jr. 9.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg
G Darius Thompson 6-5 Fr. 3.0 ppg, 2.8 apg
G Jordan McRae 6-6 Jr. 19.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg
F Jarnell Stokes 6-8 Jr. 14.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg
F Jeronne Maymon 6-8 RSr. 11.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg
Notes: Florida coach Billy Donovan is 17-18 all-time against Tennessee and 5-12 at Thompson Boling-Arena. … Florida's 15-game winning streak is its fifth winning streak of 15 or more games under Donovan and longest in-season winning streak since winning 17 in a row to start the 2005-06 campaign. That winning streak ended with an 80-76 loss at Tennessee. … Florida's current 21-2 is its second-best all-time, behind just UF's 2006-07 national title team, which started 24-2. … The Gators enter the game with the Vols first in the SEC and sixth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 57.9 points per game. … Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin is averaging 17.5 ppg and 3.5 apg over his last two games. … Sophomore guard Michael Frazier ranks fourth in the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage at 42.5 percent. … Tennessee junior forward Jarnell Stokes leads the SEC in rebounding at 10.3 per game. Stokes has posted 13 double-doubles this season and 31 in his career.