Gators-Vols play for sole possession of third in SEC East tonight
With four games remaining in the regular season, conventional wisdom says Florida needs to win at least one of its remaining games against the three best teams in the SEC East - Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee - to remain off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
The Gators will get their opportunity against the Vols tonight in a nationally televised, prime time game at the O'Connell Center.
Tennessee has become a pain in Florida's side the past few years. Even during the national championship years, the Vols seemed to have Florida's number. Tennessee has won 11 of the last 14 meetings between the two, including six straight - including that one-point heartbreaker in Knoxville earlier this season where Alex Tyus' shot rolled off the rim at the buzzer.
But Florida coach Billy Donovan doesn't want his Gators viewing this game as a chance at avenging losses or making it out to be anything other than what it is: an opportunity to earn their 20th win this season and further bolster the tournament resume.
And sole possession of third place in the SEC East.
“I think it’s a tough series in the SEC – the last several games in the past couple of years Tennessee has won,'' Donovan said. "We were right there and it was a great game in Knoxville. I don’t think a year ago we were capable of beating high quality teams, which was evident by what our record was against RPI top-50. We were 3-12 in two years. In this game right now, our guys understand what goes into winning. What’s in the past is in the past. Certainly you can learn from tape, but I think it’s another game that’s a tough team on our side in the East that we’ve got to go out and battle. They’ve been ranked all year long and they’ve gone through their share of adversity. I’m sure for them, emotionally, it’s been one of those years as well. For our team, it’s about going in there and putting ourselves in a great position and committing to winning. We’ve just to focus on the things that we can control and our minds have to be in the game for 40 minutes.”
With Vols' center Wayne Chism leading Tennessee with 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, Florida center Vernon Macklin needs a performance similar to the dominating one he had in the Ole Miss game.
"You see when he comes like he did against Ole Miss, it changes our whole team,'' UF forward Chandler Parsons said. "When he's playing with energy and he's tough, blocking out, finishing at the rim, it makes our team a lot different.''
The UF-UT game will tipoff at 9 p.m. on ESPN.