Florida Looking for Revenge on Tennessee

The Gators remember what happened when they opened SEC play in Knoxville last month. Florida dropped an 11-point decision against the Volunteers while opening conference play with a flat, emotionless effort. The loss woke the Gators up as they ripped off a seven-game winning streak that came to an end on Tuesday. They have an opportunity for revenge against Tennessee on Saturday at 4 p.m.

"That's in the back of our mind," Florida freshman guard Brad Beal said on Thursday. "We have to come out a lot more aggressive than we did. Tennessee put the throttle on us and hurt us down the stretch. We have to defend early. We left wide-open guys and our defensive principles were terrible."

The loss would be tough for Florida to forget. Tennessee came out of the gates as the aggressor on both sides of the floor. Their tough defensive approach, which has been preached by first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, caught Florida off guard.

The Gators turned the ball over 15 times against the Volunteers in their first meeting, and that problem has plagued Florida in road games all season. With Saturday's game being played in Gainesville, the defensive approach for Tennessee won't change. It's a pressure-driven scheme that gave Florida fits last month.

Florida has to match that aggressiveness, which they didn't do last month. Donovan was upset at his team's passive approach to going at the defense. With three days to prepare for this matchup, the Gators know the difference has to come in their mindset and ways they attack Tennessee.

There is also a benefit for Florida that they've already seen most of what Tennessee will do. The Gators will try to make it a fast game with both teams running up and down the floor. The Volunteers will try to slow the game down and run shot clock.

"There's some familiarity because we played them the first game. They're a very physical and good defensive team. It's a different style of play. There are some things going into this that our guys are accustomed to, but there are some different things with (Jarnell) Stokes on the floor since we did play them."

Florida hasn't been great on the road this season with a 2-5 record on the road and 2-2 in conference on the road. That could have played into the bad game at Tennessee, but the Volunteers are plagued by the same problem.

Tennessee is 0-4 in SEC road games. In games away from Thompson-Boling Arena this season, the Volunteers have lost nine of ten, including seven in a row. Tennessee's one win outside of Knoxville came with an 86-60 score over Chaminade in the Maui Invitational.

The Volunteers have received a recent boost from freshman Jarnell Stokes. He committed to Tennessee and enrolled in January, becoming immediately eligible. Stokes was on the bench during the Florida game and made an impact soon after.

Stokes has played in seven games, starting five of those, and has averaged 8.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. Donovan recruited Stokes to Florida and watched him play multiple times in high school.

"He's a unique player because of his size and strength," Donovan said. "You're not going to see a lot of high school seniors that look like him physically. Jarnell is a big, strong guy with good feet. Outside of the mental side and learning a new system, I didn't think the physical side of college would be an adjustment for him."


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