Vols vs. Gators, part II

Both Tennessee and Florida have changed substantially since the Vols dumped the Gators 79-63 Jan. 31 in Knoxville. Thus, Sunday's rematch in Gainesville could have a much different look.

Tennessee (17-10 overall, 8-5 SEC) has toughened its defense considerably since the earlier meeting, allowing just 63.7 points per game over the past seven outings. That's nine points better than the Vols' season-average yield of 72.7 points per game.

Another positive is the improved play of Scotty Hopson. The heralded freshman seems to be hitting his stride, producing 14 points at Kentucky and a career-high 21 vs. Mississippi State in his last two outings.

On the minus side, Tennessee's record since the earlier game with Florida is just 4-3, including three consecutive road losses. That does not bode well for the Vols heading into the noisy and hostile environment of the O'Connell Center.

The Gators (21-7 overall, 8-5 SEC) have changed significantly since Jan. 31, as well. They're just 3-3 since then, including tough losses at Kentucky (68-65) and Georgia (88-86).

"They've had some heartbreaking road losses ... and yet that team did not pout and kept working," UT coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "I believe they're putting themselves in position for good things to happen to this team."

Florida's other loss since the earlier meeting with Tennessee came at Baton Rouge last Tuesday. The Gators gave SEC leader LSU fits before bowing 81-75.

"I think they've gotten tougher as the season has progressed," Pearl said. "To go down to LSU and go toe-to-toe with them in my mind was impressive."

Florida coach Billy Donovan concedes that his team has evolved quite a bit since the last time it faced the Vols.

"I think we've defended better than maybe we have in the past," he said. "I think we've gotten a little bit more out of our freshmen. Kenny Kadji (6-10, 245-pound post) has come in and been a good addition. And Ray Shipman (6-4, 212-pound wing) has given us some good minutes, as well."

Donovan said the Gators have shot the ball better since leaving Knoxville on Jan. 31. That's reflected in their 48.6 field-goal percentage and their 37.3 mark from beyond the arc.

"The biggest thing for us," the Gator boss added, "is continuing to develop in our chemistry and getting better in those areas. As you get to this time of year, the growth and development of a chemistry and a bond inside your team can be just as important as (growth and development) on the floor."

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