Tough on Gators

Bruce Pearl has an impressive 8-3 record against Florida heading into this evening's 6:05 tipoff at Gainesville but even that gaudy mark is misleading.

In one of the losses he didn't have his star player, Chris Lofton. In another he didn't have his seat on the bench.

With Lofton sidelined by a sprained ankle, Tennessee fell 94-78 at Gainesville in 2007. With Pearl suspended from game-day activities, the Vols bowed 81-75 in overtime on Jan. 11 in Knoxville.

If you discount those two games played under extreme circumstances, Pearl is an amazing 8-1 against the Gators. Still, he says his impact on tonight's meeting at the O'Connell Center may not be totally positive.

"We'll probably get a worse whistle with me being there," he quipped earlier this week.

Whether Tennessee would've won the Jan. 11 meeting with Pearl on the bench is debatable but this much is not: His presence should improve the Big Orange's chances of winning tonight's rematch.

"It's just one more helping hand, in the sense that, when I'm out, it's one less voice," the head man said. "Depth (even on the coaching staff) is an important factor in every team. I hope I can help."

The unranked Vols could use all the help they can get. At 15-9 overall and 5-4 in SEC play, they desperately need a strong regular-season finish to secure a decent seeding for the NCAA Tournament. No. 17 Florida, meanwhile, is cruising along at 19-5 overall and 8-2 in league action.

The Vols rallied from a 64-58 deficit in the final 5:30 of regulation to push the earlier meeting into overtime, and Gator head man Billy Donovan expects another nail-biter tonight.

"When you start getting into league play, there's an incredible familiarity among coaches and players (regarding) systems, styles and things like that," Donovan said. "Everybody knows each other so well.... There's definitely a much greater understanding of every team's strengths and weaknesses, and in conference play there's going to be those kind of (close) games. That's just the way it is."

GAME NOTES: This evening's tipoff is set for 6:05 with ESPN televising the game nationally.... Florida will start 6-10, 240-pound senior Vernon Macklin (11.3 points, 6.1 rebounds per game), 6-10, 215-pound senior Chandler Parsons (11.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists), 6-8, 220-pound senior Alex Tyus (8.7 points), 5-8, 171-pound junior Erving Walker (14.7 points, 3.4 assists) and 6-2, 183-pound sophomore Kenny Boynton (13.0 points).... Tyus scored 18 points, Boynton 17, Parsons 16, Walker 15 and Macklin 11 in the Jan. 11 meeting at Knoxville. Cameron Tatum scored 21, Scotty Hopson 20 and Tobias Harris 18 for Tennessee. The Gators hit a sizzling 8 of 16 shots from 3-point range in that contest.... The Vols and Gators are quite similar statistically. Tennessee averages 72 points per game, Florida 71.4. Tennessee limits foes to 41.2 percent field-goal shooting, Florida 41.4. Tennessee limits foes to 33.2 percent 3-point shooting, Florida 32.6. Tennessee has a plus-5.7 rebound margin per game, Florida a plus-6.6 margin. Tennessee averages 13.8 assists per game, Florida 14.1. Florida has advantages in field-goal percentage (45.7 to 43.4), 3-point percentage (34.0 to 32.5) and turnovers (12.7 to 13.8 per game). Tennessee is a little better from the foul line (68.5 percent to 65.8 percent).

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