Gators Look to Overcome Vexing Vols

It hasn't been a pleasant experience for the Florida Gator basketball team to go up against the Tennessee Vols in recent years. Florida has just one win in nine tries against the Vols since Bruce Pearl took over the Tennessee program. Even Florida's back-to-back NCAA Champs only won one of four game against the boys from Rocky Top.

In fact, the only player on Florida's roster who has experienced a win over Tennessee is Dan Werner. The senior forward was a freshman when the Gators ripped Tennessee 94-78 in the O'Dome, but he scored just one point in the contest.

Despite that history, the Gators have to be able to push it aside tonight. This is clearly the most important game against the Vols in the last five seasons. Florida is trying to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since that 2007 title, and a win over Tennessee (RPI No. 15) would go long way towards making that happen. Not only that, but a win over Tennessee would move Florida into third place in the SEC East, a game better than the Vols with three games left in the regular season.

First Meeting Almost Ended Streak

The two teams met up in Knoxville on January 31 and the Gators came excruciatingly close to ended their slide against the Vols. Florida grabbed an early lead and enjoyed a 34-28 advantage at intermission.

Tennessee got hot in the second half and led the Gators 55-50 with 4:30 to play but Florida wouldn't give in. Chandler Parsons tied the game at 57 with a minute to play and after Wayne Chism knocked down two free throws Parsons connected on a three point basket to put Florida up 60-59 with just 34 seconds left on the clock.

Scottie Hopson made a tough 18-foot jumper to put the Vols back on top and when Alex Tyus' 8-footer bounced off the rim Tennessee had its sixth straight over the Gators. Tyus (18/7) and Parsons (14/8) led the way for the Gators, but it was a difficult night for the Gator guards. Erving Walker (1-6) and Kenny Boynton (0-5) struggled from three point range and combined for almost as many turnovers (10) as points (13).

Chism posted a double-double (16/11) for the Vols while J.P. Prince (12/7) and Hopson (10/4) had solid games. Tennessee also got a big lift from reserve Cameron Tatum (8/5) who matched the production of the entire Florida bench.

Keys to Getting a Win

Tennessee is a deeper team than the one Florida almost beat at Thompson Boling Arena. The return of burly 6-9 forward Brian Williams (5.0/4.6) gives a strong Vols front line even more depth. It will be a challenge for Vernon Macklin to play against Williams and Chism the way he did in Florida's key wins over Mississippi State (20/6) and Ole Miss (22/7) and not the way he did in Knoxville (7/5, 4 fouls).

The Florida backcourt must battle the Vols on more even terms than they did four weeks ago. Boynton and Walker cannot go 5-for-20 from the field and 1-for-11 from the arc and expect the Gators to win. They also have to take better care of the ball. Neither player has had more turnovers in any game this year than he had that night.

One more thing that would really boost the Gators would be for Dan Werner to continue his surge of last week. After suffering through a miserable stretch of games Werner scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the wins over Auburn and Ole Miss.

As a team, Florida was minus-nine rebounds and minus-three turnovers in the first meeting and still only lost by a single point. The three elements that have keyed this team most of the season are likely to be the elements to watch in this late night affair: defensive rebounding, ball protection and 3-point shooting. If the Gators are good in those three areas, they'll put an end to Tennessee's winning ways and take a huge step towards the Big Dance.

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