Gators Go For a "Two-fer" in Knoxville

The Gators will take to the floor in Thompson-Boling Arena Sunday afternoon look to beat the Tennessee Volunteers in one of those games I call a two-fer.

By that, I mean a win in Knoxville is like two "regular" wins like the recent ones the Gators have enjoyed. Tennessee is a ranked team, and wins over ranked teams away from home are doubly valuable when decisions are made with regards to postseason play.

Although the Vols are the higher ranked team, they come into this contest on a two-game losing streak, having fallen to Georgia (73-58) and Vanderbilt (85-76) after winning their first three SEC games. The Vols are led by sharp shooting guard Scotty Hopson (13.8) and versatile forward Wayne Chism (11.6/6.9). Additionally J.P. Prince is coming off a great game against Vanderbilt. The senior guard hit 9-of-10 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, and scored 22 points with three steals

Tennessee is not as good as expected this year for obvious reasons. The Vols lost four players to an arrest involving marijuana. Two of the players have returned, but the two best ones involved, Tyler Smith and Brian Williams have not. Smith is out of the year while Williams' status remains unsettled for the long term.

The Gators will be trying to end four years of difficulty against Bruce Pearl's Vols. Tennessee has won seven of eight games in that time including the last five in a row. Last year Hopson scored 20 and Chism added 12/9 in a 79-63 win in Knoxville. The rematch saw the Vols shoot out to a 16-point lead and hold on against a furious Florida rally for a 79-75 win. Erving Walker scored 16 off the bench, but Hopson blocked his attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer in the final minute.

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Florida coach Billy Donovan said while the Gators may be tired of losing to the Vols, they aren't the only ones with added motivation in this one.

"I think there's always emotion that goes into any game. This is a game where they are coming off two losses so I'm sure in their minds it's like how our basketball team felt coming after the Vanderbilt and Kentucky week. They are a team that's probably going to feel like their backs are against the wall and this is a must win for them. I think our guys are aware of that and (know that) we need to focus on the things we need to do to put ourselves in a position to win."

I asked Donovan what some of those things are.

"If you look at the last two years on the average they've made 11 three point shots against us. In years past that has really opened up Chism and Tyler Smith inside. Respecting the 3-point line with their entire team is going to be important. I think keeping our turnovers down when we're on the road is always critical. I also think inbound situations when they are pressing or picking up the defense trying to get steals is also going to be important. I also think the ability to be efficient on offense and get good shots is going to be important."

Donovan also talked about what makes Chism so tough to handle.

"He's an imposing guy up front. He's got a very good touch from the perimeter which is unique for a guy his size (6-9, 245). The advantage he has against most people is being a senior and being in the league for years, and just the overall physical size of him. He's a very smart player and he's one of the better guys in our league that, from the low post can score before he ever catches the ball and he does it with his body."

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Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl has one thing on his mind with regards to his team and that's improving the defense. Tennessee allowed 78 and 85 points in the losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt.

"We cannot live with and cannot win when we give up 51 percent shooting," Pearl said after the 85-76 home defeat against Vanderbilt. "That's the common denominator in all our losses."

Both teams face an SEC schedule that has them playing six of their last 10 league games on the road. Thus there's added urgency for both squad, but even more for Tennessee since this one is on their home court.


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