KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — That thorn in Florida's side just keeps on being a pain.
Freshman guard Scotty Hopson scored a career-high 20 and led Tennessee to a 79-63 victory over Florida on Saturday night before 20,984 at Thompson-Boling Arena and an ESPN television audience.
Fourth-year UT coach Bruce Pearl improved to 6-1 against the Gators. UF's only win against Pearl while at Tennessee was Feb. 3, 2007, in Gainesville.
"They're well-coached, they're a tough team," said sophomore guard Nick Calathes, who led Florida (18-4, 5-2 SEC) with 21 points. "Obviously, I don't think they've been better than us the past couple of years, but they're a good team."
Sophomore forward Chris Parsons had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Gators. Tyler Smith scored 16, Wayne Chism 12 and Bobby Maze 11 for Tennessee (13-7, 4-2).
It was an ominous start for Florida when Calathes, the team's leading scorer (17.8 ppg), picked up two early fouls. He went to the bench after his second foul, a charging call less than three minutes into the game, and didn't return until late in the half.
"I didn't think it was a charge on the second foul, but the refs are going to call that sometimes," Calathes said.
Tennessee led 6-3 when Calathes went to the bench and stretched the lead to 11 on Hopson's 3-pointer midway through the first half. UF closed within 24-17 on Parsons' baseline shot with 6:52 left in the half. The Vols then outscored the Gators 15-5 for a 39-22 halftime lead.
"It was very important to our victory that Calathes collected two fouls …," Pearl said. "Without him, Florida could not get its rhythm going in the first half."
Tennessee, shooting 30.6 percent from 3-point range entering the game, was 8-of-19 from beyond the arc in the first half, often getting open looks against UF's matchup zone. The Vols shot 46.9 percent from the floor in the first half.
"Give them credit; they stepped up and knocked down some 3s," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "That was big. … But they did a good job defensively, and we made some poor decisions on the break."
Florida made 4 of 11 3-pointers in the first half, shot 36 percent from the floor and committed 12 turnovers to go with four assists.
Parsons had nine points at halftime. Calathes had six in nine minutes, hitting 2 of 3 3-pointers.
Smith, a junior forward and the Vols' leading scorer (17.2), had 11 at halftime while going 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
Tennessee stretched the lead to 20 on Hopson's 3-pointer with 17:04 left, and a minute later Hopson hit another 3 for a 49-26 lead with 16 minutes left. It was the Vols' biggest lead.
Trailing by 20 with 11 minutes to play, the Gators went on a 13-2 run and trailed 61-50 after Erving Walker's 3-pointer with 7:06 to play. Florida cut the deficit to 10 on Calathes' layup with 4:41 left but got no closer.