Vols, Dawgs collide today

The Tennessee and Georgia squads who collide this afternoon at 4 in Stegman Coliseum bear little resemblance to the teams they were in the previous meeting Jan. 31 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Dawgs have lost second-leading scorer Mike Mercer (13.6 points per game) to a season-ending knee injury, while the Vols have regained leading scorer Chris Lofton (20.8 points per game) from an ankle injury.

Since a Lofton-less Vol squad beat a Mercer-full Bulldog team 82-71 in the earlier meeting, that bodes well for Tennessee. Georgia also has some factors in its favor, however.

The Dawgs (17-11 overall, 8-7 SEC) have a decided home-floor advantage for one thing. Georgia is 13-3 at home this season. The Dawgs are 6-1 in SEC home games, losing only to Florida.

Georgia also has more incentive to win today. The Bulldogs are still trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament, while the Vols (21-9, 9-6) are already in.

In addition, Georgia ranks No. 1 among SEC teams in offensive rebounding (14.07 per game), while the Vols rank 10th in defensive rebounding (20.9 per game).

Finally, the Bulldogs have a significant size advantage. They start 6-8, 250-pound Takais Brown (14.0 points, 5.4 rebounds per game), 6-9, 235-pound Steve Newman (5.7, 2.9) and 6-10, 255-pound Dave Bliss (4.1, 3.3) across the front line. Tennessee counters with 6-9 freshman Wayne Chism, 6-4 senior Dane Bradshaw and 6-2 junior JaJuan Smith.

The key to victory may be 3-point shooting. It certainly was crucial in Tennessee's win at Knoxville. The Vols made 11 of 23 from beyond the arc, while the Dawgs managed just 6 of 26. That was a 15-point differential in a game decided by 11 points.

Should the Vols lead late in the game it will be interesting to see if they attempt to milk the clock. Leading Florida 65-40 with 16 minutes remaining Tuesday night, Tennessee tried to slow the tempo and burn some clock with near-disastrous results. Florida quickly seized the momentum and went on a 21-4 run, narrowing the gap to 69-61.

"That's not our style of play, just holding it," junior guard Chris Lofton said. "We like to get up and down. We're not good in the half court."

Another interesting aspect of today's game will be how well JaJuan Smith can contain Georgia point guard Sundiata Gaines. He leads the Dawgs in rebounds (5.6), assists (4.6) and steals (2.2), and burned UT for 21 points in the earlier meeting at Knoxville.

Smith, however, is coming off a brilliant defensive performance against Florida, limiting Gator point guard Taurean Green to 2-of-11 shooting and forcing him into 5 turnovers.

Today's game will be televised by Lincoln Financial Sports.

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