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Vols G Lofton works to make opponents wary

It should have been his day off, but that wouldn't have been typical Chris Lofton.

The Tennessee basketball team suffered a tough loss to Alabama on Saturday, and Lofton and his teammates had a 6:45 a.m. weight session scheduled for Monday.

Lofton didn't wait.

"The football players were working out in there and they were all asking, "Why are you here?,' " Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. "He was in there getting extra work. That's just Chris Lofton. He's a gym rat and he doesn't apologize for it. If I ever need to find him, there's no need to call his cell phone. I can find him in the gym."

As long as he can remember, the Maysville, Ky., native has spent his spare time honing his skills in the gym.

"I've always been like that since I was little," Lofton said.. "Every day I would go in and shoot."

It's now paying big dividends for the former Kentucky Mr. Basketball.

A sophomore, Lofton leads the SEC in 3-point field goal accuracy (47 percent) and is fourth in scoring (18.0 ppg) and field goal percentage (49 percent).

When Florida and Tennessee play tonight, the Gators will be acutely aware of what Lofton can do. It was Lofton's 29 points and a key steal in the waning seconds that helped the unranked Vols defeat then-No. 2 Florida in January.

"Chris Lofton is a great shooter," UF forward Corey Brewer said. "You have to contain him, because if you let him get it off it's going in, more than likely."

That's part of what makes him so tough to defend. Even double-covered, it's tough to keep Lofton, 19, from getting his shots off. Yet everyone is trying.

"It's hard for him to get a (good) look because teams are pretty much draped all over him," Pearl said. "But once he gets it, he's pretty good at scoring."

"I go into the game knowing I'm going to get everybody's best shot, but I just try to do what I can do best," Lofton added. "It's the freedom we get to play our game. Coach Pearl is giving us freedom and everybody the option to do what they do best."

The Vols were picked to finish fifth in the SEC East in the preseason polls, but currently sit atop the standings with a two-game lead over the Gators. Lofton isn't surprised.

"I had high expectations for our team because we had everybody back from last year and we were a real good team, we just didn't show it last year," Lofton said. "Having a new coach and this system, we knew it would work good for us. We caught a lot of people by surprise."

They know now.

And the Gators know they'll have their hands full tonight - again.

"He has the ability to take difficult shots: one, to get them off, and two, to be able to make them at a high percentage," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "He has a special gift and there is nothing you can do about it. It is almost like if it goes in or not, it's not based on you, it's based on whether or not he is having one of those nights.

"The fact that he is shooting nearly 50 percent in our league from the 3-point line when everyone is trying to take that away from him is pretty impressive."