Florida defense suffocates the Volunteers

The Gators came back to Gainesville with road wins at Auburn and Alabama, but Florida coach Billy Donovan wanted more. The warned the team that they got away with playing relaxed on the defensive end. No one would have thought that after watching Saturday's effort. No. 6 Florida shut down Tennessee from the beginning to cruise to a 67-41 win, moving to 6-0 in SEC play.

"The level of consistency wasn't good," Billy Donovan said of the last two games on defense. "Tonight, we played closer to our identity and potential on the defensive end of the floor. The last two games, we didn't do that."

The Florida players called it their best defensive performance of the season, and it's hard to argue with. The Gators held Tennessee 34 points short of their season average and 15 points short of their previous low in points this season.

Florida was active in the paint, double teaming Tennessee big men Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon and forcing them to pass. The goal of the defense was to force Tennessee to hit jump shots. When given the opportunity, the Volunteers missed. And then missed again.

Tennessee leading scorer Jordan McRae came into the game averaging 19.2 points. He left Gainesville after going 1-15 from the field and 1-6 from behind the three-point line. Only four Tennessee players scored more than five points and only two scored more than six.

"I'm not surprised at all," said Michael Frazier, who led Florida with 17 points. "This is what we want every game. It's a mindset to guard every possession and not lose focus. We did a great job of staying focused."

Florida felt disrespected by Tennessee coming into the game but most of it was by their doing. The Gators were riding a three-game losing streak to the Volunteers, done in by Tennessee's physical style of play in recent years. The Florida coaches were sure to remind the players that they lost those three games because they weren't physical enough.

Message received.

"They've been throwing it in our face that these last three games that they beat us that they out-toughed us and were more physical," Florida center Patric Young said. "They punched us, and we didn't respond well the last three years. Tonight, we were so ready for whatever they had to throw at us. We actually threw a better first punch than they could. They couldn't take it."

The defense was supposed to be an issue for this year's Florida team. Donovan opened his media day press conference with an extended rant about how far this year's team had to come after losing a strong perimeter defender in Kenny Boynton and experienced players like Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario.

Suspensions and injuries kept this year's team from gelling on both sides of the floor early, but now past those hurdles, this year's defense is making a run at the one that led Florida to the Elite Eight last season.

"Last year was the best defensive team I've been on," Young said. "It took us a while to get to where we are now because we thought we had the same guys coming back pretty much so it would just happen. Coach told us we would have to put in the same effort as last year to get back into that level. We finally got that message. Tonight shows what we can do as a team."


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