Gators Ready for their Nemesis

Billy Donovan has built one of the nation's top programs in Gainesville. The Gators have posted 11 straight 20-win seasons and of course brought home a pair of NCAA Tournament titles. But lately the Gators' biggest problem has been dealing with the Tennessee Volunteers. The boys from Rocky Top have won four straight over Florida and six of the last seven meetings.

The Gators will try to put an end to that trend Sunday afternoon when they host the Vols in a game that is critical to both teams' NCAA Tournament hopes. Both teams have 8-5 SEC records and the loser will have a lot of work to do to earn one of the 65 spots in the big dance.

Florida coach Billy Donovan examined Florida's less than sparkling recent history against Tennessee.

"I thought the first two years we had a couple of great games against them," Donovan said. "They really were kind of 'come down to the wire' games. Then I think we played them one year down here and (Chris) Lofton maybe didn't play. He had an ankle injury and then they beat us pretty good up there. Last year they were clearly the best team in the league. I think they've been a match up problem in recent years for everybody. They've had very good teams and good personnel and they've played us very well."

It's interesting that the teams met on the last day of January and will meet again on the first day of March. That first meeting wasn't the least bit interesting for Gator Nation. Nick Calathes picked up two early fouls and spent more of the half on the bench and Tennessee took full advantage. The Vols made eight three-point baskets in the first half and raced out to a 39-22 lead at the break. The Gators tried to rally, but 18 turnovers kept Florida from sustaining any momentum and the score was never closer than 10 the rest of the way. Tennessee ended up with a 79-63 win the 63 points Florida scored matched the lowest either team had put on the board since 2003.

Freshman Scotty Hopson led the Vols with 20 points while Tyler Smith (16/9) and Wayne Chism (12/9) had solid games as well. The Vols ended up with 12 three-pointers on the night, but Donovan said the Gators had the right idea defensively.

"One of the things going into our game against Tennessee had been struggling shooting the basketball, and Hopson shot the ball very well (4-for-6 3pt.) and Tyler Smith (3-for-8 3 pt.) made some shots," he said. "In looking at them offensively they have long, athletic wings (that are) able to get the ball to the rim and rebound. With those three guys across the front line Tyler Smith, (Wayne) Chism and (J.P.) Prince you sit there and say the strength of their team is at the basket and we got to force these guys to make some shots over top. And to their credit they did make some shots in the first half."

Tennessee was the consensus pick to win the SEC, but now is more likely to have to play on the first day of the conference tournament. After winning nine of their first 11 games the Vols have split their last 16 times out. While they shot it well against the Gators, the Vols are making just 31 percent from beyond the arc this season. They are led by their front court juniors Smith (17.0/5.8) and Chism (13.1/8.2).

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