Crowd could be decisive

Tennessee's basketball team has lost decisively just once this season -- bowing 77-64 to Florida Jan. 15 at Gainesville. The Vols (14-6 overall, 6-3 SEC) have improved considerably since then and ride a five-game winning streak heading into Saturday's rematch. Of course, Florida (20-3, 9-1) has improved, too, rising to No. 1 in the polls last week before slipping back to No. 4 this week.

The Vols actually played fairly well in the Gainesville game, committing just 11 turnovers and winning the backboards 31-28. The problem was, Tennessee's shot selection left a lot to be desired. That resulted in a 41.7 percent shooting percentage. Worse, it gave Florida opportunities to get its transition offense untracked, which resulted in a 52.2 percent shooting percentage and a whopping 52.6 mark from 3-point range.

Kentucky shut down Florida's outside shooting Feb. 4 in Lexington and romped 70-55. If Tennessee is to do the same, the Vols may need some help from their sixth man ... the crowd.

''That's one of the top three keys to this game -- our fans being behind the team, voicing their opinion, being loud when we're playing defense,'' UT head man Buzz Peterson said. ''Everybody needs to realize that those guys on the floor are human beings just like anybody else. When they hear people cheering, that gives them a lift ... makes them a little quicker, makes them jump a little higher. That helps out so much when they hear the crowd behind them, supporting them. It gives you that rush, that momentum you need.''

Florida coach Billy Donovan is a disciple of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, and his Gators play much the same style as Pitino's Cardinals -- a lot of fullcourt pressure on defense that leads to a lot of transition scoring on offense.

''The biggest thing about Florida is that you don't turn the ball over against their press,'' Peterson said. ''They feed off of that. You take good shots in your offense, play good transition defense and, more importantly, you've got to defend their ball screens. If you don't, they're tough to handle. They've got some shooters who can come off those screens and hurt you.''

Florida is an outstanding team but Kentucky proved 10 days ago that the Gators can be beaten if your defense and your crowd can rattle them a bit. A visit from Florida -- in football OR basketball -- tends to get UT fans fired up, so the crowd could be a major factor in Saturday afternnoon's showdown.

My pick: Tennessee 67, Florida 65.


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