On the road again

Winning on the road in the Southeastern Conference is a tall order (1) because the crowd generally spurs the home team and (2) because the crowd usually intimidates the visiting team.

Coach Bruce Pearl, whose Tennessee Vols play their fourth SEC road game in the last five outings tonight at Florida, accepts premise No. 1 but he isn't buying into premise No 2.

"There's nothing wrong with Florida or Alabama having their crowd elevate their play," the first-year Vol coach said. "But it shouldn't affect OUR play. We are experienced, and we should learn from our successes and failures in hostile environments."

Environments don't get much more hostile than the O'Connell Center, sight of tonight's showdown with Florida. The Gators' talent is even more intimidating than their home-floor advantage, however. Coach Billy Donovan's roster is loaded with former prep All-Americans.

In fact, between Alabama (last Saturday), Florida (tonight), Arkansas (this Saturday) and Kentucky (next Wednesday) Tennessee is playing four of the SEC's most talented teams in succession.

"This run of teams we're playing down the stretch is good for us," Pearl said. "Obviously, it won't be as easy to win but these games are going to make us step up. We did not step up against Alabama (in a 92-79 loss) and if you don't step up you're not going to win.

"All of these games are going to help us step up, as it relates to playing our best basketball down the stretch. That's what you try to get every team to do."

The Vols (19-4 overall, 10-2 SEC) will need to step up tonight. The Gators (22-4, 8-4) are 15-1 this season on their home floor. They feature a nice blend of size, athleticism and outside shooting.

Florida will start 6-11 Joakim Noah (13.0 points, 6.2 rebounds) and 6-8, 235-pound Al Horford (11.6 points, 7.5 rebounds) on the inside. Talented Tennessean Corey Brewer, a 6-8, 185-pound sophomore, averages 12.4 points and 5.0 rebounds as the starting small forward. Taurean Green (14.2 points, 5.2 assists per game) is the point guard. Walter Hodge, a 6-foot freshman, is scheduled to start at shooting guard in place of Maryville native Lee Humphrey, who leads the SEC in 3-point percentage but has been slowed by injury.

Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. with television coverage provided by JP Sports.

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