The Gators suffered their third home loss of the 2004-05 season Wednesday, dropping an 83-76 decision in overtime against Tennessee. The defeat was also Florida's first in Southeastern Conference play this year.
"There is a lot our team has to improve on," said Gators coach Billy Donovan. "We have some time before we play Georgia that we can practice."
Matt Walsh, Florida's leading scorer, surprisingly returned from a severely sprained left ankle and gave the Gators a brief boost against the Vols. But he also hurt them in the second half, committing two turnovers during Tennessee's 11-0 run that put the Vols ahead 55-45.
Walsh -- who sprained his ankle Dec. 30 and missed the last four games -- finished with six points, two assists and three turnovers in 13 minutes.
"He definitely won't start against Georgia," Donovan said. "This is going to be a slow process with Matt. It's going to be a while before Matt Walsh is Matt Walsh. He needs to work hard and fit into our team. I think it isn't fair taking him and putting him in the starting lineup after missing 4 games and practices, it's going to take time."
Florida (11-4, 3-1) is off this weekend before visiting Georgia next Wednesday.
The Bulldogs (6-8, 0-4) have been off since last Saturday, when they were handed a 76-55 loss at home against Kentucky. Up next for Georgia is a home date with Vanderbilt this Saturday at 3 p.m.
"Vanderbilt plays a smart style of basketball," Georgia coach Dennis Felton said. "They spread the ball a lot, and keep the rim wide open and get good spacing. They make it a challenge to guard them with the back cuts and screens. They shoot the three a lot, and they make a lot because they shoot it well.
"It's a good challenge for our team, to find out where we are at."
With a week to prepare for the Commodores, Felton said his young team has worked hard to improve.
"You do get a chance to focus on yourself (during an off week)," Felton said. "We took some time off, took two days off from practicing. It helped from the standpoint of healing a little bit, but on the other hand we have a lot of work to do to get better. Our practices are a challenge because it is tough to simulate that kind of competition, because we only have those six scholarship players. It's a real fight for us every day."
Freshman Rajon Rondo scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, and No. 8 Kentucky rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat Ole Miss, 53-50 in Oxford, on Wednesday night.
"I thought most of it was Ole Miss," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "They were pretty tough and pretty physical. We were flinching and not being strong, but it's hard for our players to understand. Chuck (Hayes) understood it, but they don't understand how tense and hard playing on the road is."
The Wildcats (13-2, 4-0) are now the only team left in the SEC with a perfect conference record. Kentucky returns home Saturday to play host to LSU at 12:30 p.m. on CBS.
"We escaped a tough one last night in Oxford and we are happy to be 4-0 right now," Smith said. "We know facing LSU we have a unique challenge on our hands. They have won two games in overtime, and they are playing with a lot of confidence. It will be a challenge to defend two outstanding players in Glen Davis and Brandon Bass. It will be a real test for us."
The Gamecocks (10-5, 2-2) did not play a midweek game and haven't seen live action since last Saturday's 66-63 home win against Tennessee.
"We had Wednesday night off, and it was a much needed time for us," South Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "We tried to get as much rest and get back into our classes as much as we can. Hopefully we had a chance to get any injuries we had ongoing closer to being healed. When you take time off in the long run it is good for you, but in the short run it can hurt you a little bit."
South Carolina visits Mississippi State at 4 p.m., still looking for its first road win of the season.
"I think everything is situational. Mississippi State is tough anytime, because they have good players and they are well coached," said Odom. "You play them as they come. It will be an emotional start for everybody. If we can make it through the first 15 minutes I think we will have a chance. We have to score points early and calm the waters defensively."
Behind Scooter McFadgon's 23 points, including the final five in overtime, Tennessee pulled out a surprising, 83-76 overtime win at Florida on Wednesday.
Chris Lofton hit six 3-pointers and added 22 points for the Volunteers, who avenged an embarrassing 38-point loss in Gainesville last year and handed the Gators their first Southeastern Conference loss.
Tennessee (10-7, 3-2) goes out of the conference loop Saturday with a trip to Louisville. The game is being televised at 3 p.m. on ESPN.
"Stepping out of the conference, it is always a tough challenge to play a team like Louisville," said Vols coach Buzz Peterson. "At home, ever since the Kentucky game, they have won their last 7 games by an average of 34 points. Tough challenge for us and it has been a great series. I know our guys are excited about it."
The Commodores (11-6, 2-2) take to the road Saturday to play Georgia after having Wednesday night off.
"The bye week came at a good time for us, and we needed the opportunity to get on the practice floor," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. "It's been a week trying to solidify things offensively and defensively."
Vandy enters Saturday's matchup riding a two-game losing streak.
"I think anytime you suffer some setbacks it's important to have something positive happen so you can regain some momentum," said Stallings. "This trip to Georgia is a big trip and big game for us. All we can do is prepare as hard as we can, and hope that preparation pays off."
Everything went right for Alabama and everything went wrong for Mississippi State as the 22nd-ranked Crimson Tide pelted the No. 17-ranked Bulldogs, 98-49 in Tuscaloosa, on Tuesday.
Earnest Shelton scored a career-high 34 points and Alabama held Mississippi State without a field goal for nearly 15 minutes of the first half, handing the Bulldogs their worst loss in 50 years.
"Sometimes it is hard (following up a big win)," Alabama coach Mark Gottfreid said. "I think you just have to realize that it was Tuesday night and that Saturday night is a different day. We know that that won't happen every night."
The Crimson Tide (14-3, 3-1) visit Ole Miss at 3 p.m. on Saturday in a game being televised by Jefferson Pilot Sports.
"We have our hands full. They have seven seniors and we haven't played well (there) in the past," Gottfreid said. "We hope to change our mindset a little bit and Ole Miss is playing well, well enough to beat Kentucky last night."
The Razorbacks and their coach Stan Heath were still having a hard time accepting Wednesday night's 66-63 overtime loss at LSU on Thursday. Arkansas thought it had won the game in regulation on a Mike Jones 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds to play. But Jones' trifecta was ruled a two-pointer after officials checked the replay, sending the game into an extra period where the Tigers prevailed.
With that one behind them, though, all the Hogs can do now is look ahead. And up next for Arkansas (13-5, 1-4) is a home date with Auburn at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The game will be shown live on Jefferson Pilot Sports.
"Our team is really looking to bounce back after a tough loss to swallow last night," Heath said. "Auburn is unorthodox in the way they play, and it is going to be a challenge for some of our bigger guys to move their feet and defend."
The Tigers have been off for nearly a week, with their last game being a 79-72 loss at home against Ole Miss last Saturday.
Auburn (9-7, 0-3) hits the road this Saturday to take on Arkansas.
"We had a week off and prep time for Arkansas," Tigers coach Jeff Lebo said. "They have played some close games that they could have won. I know they are excited to get back home and are tough to beat at home. We will have our work cut out for us with their size. We will have a hard time trying to match Arkansas size."
Lebo said he sees Arkansas being a team which could turn the corner very soon.
"They are very young and that's one thing that they will struggle with at times," Lebo said. "They have been right there and all they need is to get one or two in a row. They are athletic and very talented."
After catching a break at the end of regulation, LSU pulled out a 66-63 overtime win against Arkansas on Wednesday.
The Tigers thought for a brief moment they had lost the game, but when Razorbacks' senior Mike Jones' 3-pointer was ruled a two-pointer just before the buzzer, LSU had another chance.
"I was proud of our team for finding a way to win," said LSU coach John Brady. "I have to complement Arkansas. Stan (Heath) and his team knew what they wanted to do and they did that.
"We couldn't have won this game a month ago, because we weren't defending as well or rebounding the ball as well. We rebounded the ball well, especially from the offensive end. We have to get better guard play if we are going to have a chance to beat Kentucky on their home floor."
The Tigers (9-5, 2-1) visit Kentucky on Saturday. LSU is 0-3 in road games this season.
Following Tuesday's embarrassing, 98-49 loss at Alabama, Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury put things into perspective.
"Naturally we didn't play very well at all and they played great," Stansbury said. "It's only one win and one loss. It's a 16 game season now and you have to put it behind you as quick as you can."
The No. 17 Bulldogs (15-4, 3-2) are back home Saturday against South Carolina.
"We have to get up back off the floor a little bit and get ready to play a very good South Carolina team," said Stansbury. "They are very versatile and we will have our hands full Saturday afternoon."
The Rebels (11-7, 2-3) nearly pulled out the upset Wednesday before falling at home to No. 8 Kentucky, 53-50. Ole Miss let a 15-point first-half lead slip away as Kentucky opened the second half with 10 straight points and pulled to within 31-29 with 14:02 remaining.
"We are coming off a disappointing loss last night," Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes said. "I think our kids know the challenge we have against us with Alabama coming in. We have our work cut out for us. The point guard has been a key to their success, and they depend on him and he does a great job. We will have to give the same type of effort we gave against Kentucky."
Ole Miss hosts Alabama on Saturday.
"The expectations have definitely changed for us," Barnes said. "That's the thing I told our team. Let's understand who we are. We have a bunch of new guys, and the only way we will be successful is to pull together. I felt like we could win the game (Wednesday) night. I didn't feel it was a fluke. We have got a job to do, to get this team ready to play Alabama."
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