Keys to the game

Most observers figure Tennessee (15-7 overall, 3-4 SEC) has little chance of upsetting top-ranked Florida (20-2, 7-0) at 3 p.m. today in Gainesville. Whatever chance the Vols have, it will hinge on the following factors:

- Neutralizing Gator post men Joakim Noah and Al Horford

- Getting another big game from JaJuan Smith

- Keeping Lee Humphrey in check

- Avoiding the kind of second-half lull that produced losses in five of UT's last seven games

Juniors Noah (6-11, 230) and Horford (6-10, 245) are the most imposing post duo Tennessee has faced since Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright led North Carolina to a 101-87 romp way back on Nov. 24.

Noah averages 12.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, Horford 12.1 and 8.7. For Tennessee to contain them, freshmen Wayne Chism and Duke Crews must play well. Chism fouled out in 15 minutes Wednesday night against Georgia after producing just 8 points and 4 rebounds.

Crews snapped out of an awful slump with 10 points and 10 rebounds vs. the Dawgs. After scoring 80 points in Games 11-16, an average of 13.3 per game, he produced just 17 points in Games 17-21, a mere 3.7 per outing. Moreover, he made just 6 of 21 field-goal tries during that stretch.

Both Chism and Crews tend to struggle defensively when they are playing poorly offensively, so it is vital that they produce at both ends of the court today.

With SEC scoring leader Chris Lofton "doubtful" due to a sprained ankle, JaJuan Smith must pick up the offensive slack for Tennessee. He has done a bang-up job to date, scoring 21, 22, 25 and 22 points in the four games Lofton has missed in whole or in part. Smith is shooting 55.4 percent from the field during this span and has made 17 of 38 shots from 3-point range.

Humphrey leads the SEC in 3-point success at 48.3 percent. Like all long-range bombers, however, he is a streak shooter. He hit 10 of 12 shots in an 84-50 romp Jan. 13 at South Carolina. The Vols cannot hang with the Gators if Humphrey has that kind of success this afternoon.

Probably the biggest key to today's game, however, is for the Vols to maintain their defensive intensity for 40 minutes. In losing five of its previous seven games, Tennessee routinely suffered a second-half lapse that proved decisive. Invariably, this lapse could be traced to a defensive meltdown … usually at the start of the second half.

That was not the case vs. Georgia, however. The Vols limited the Dawgs to 13 points during the game's first 11 minutes, then held Georgia to 7 points the first seven minutes of the second half.

"We got off to another good start defensively, made some plays," head coach Bruce Pearl recalled. "That was real positive"

Junior guard Jordan Howell believes UT's defensive work – especially at the start of the second half – was the key in its 82-71 defeat of Georgia.

"You have to make a commitment for 40 minutes to play defense," he said. "I think in the second half we were able to set the tone right from the beginning. JaJuan hit a 3 and he got a steal – right from the get-go – and I think that kind of set the intensity level where we wanted it to be. We want to be the aggressor the second half."

The quick-handed Smith is Tennessee's defensive key, as well as its offensive key against Florida. He must spearhead UT's defensive effort today in Gainesville.

"I take pride in that, and I'm trying to make that our identity," he said. "Last year defense was our main thing. I think we started slipping away from that a little bit. Against Georgia, I think we took a step in gaining it back."

The Vols had better take another step – a big step – today in Gainesville.


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