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D-DEFICIENT UF HAS NO TIME TO LICK WOUNDS

After the beating the Florida men's basketball team suffered at Arkansas on Saturday, it would be understandable if the Gators needed a few days to reflect and regroup. Coming off their worst loss of the season, they might need a moment to pick themselves up and dust off.

But it's not going to happen. There just isn't any time for that.

Three days after their 80-61 loss at Arkansas, the Gators are back on the road tonight where they'll face the best team in the SEC and 25,000 Gator-haters at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.

So instead of focusing on the recent humiliation, the Gators are hoping to quickly forget and move on in an effort to prove they are a much better team than it seemed in Fayetteville.

"We've got a chance to redeem ourselves against Tennessee," said freshman guard Nick Calathes, averaging 17.9 points and 6.9 assists in SEC play. "They are one of the top teams in the country, so I think if we get that one, I think we'll be all right."

Ordinarily, when the Gators hit the practice court after a game, they focus on offense and defense. Usually once a day.

But on Sunday, coach Billy Donovan had two two-hour practice sessions with his Gators. And after allowing Arkansas to shoot 54 percent from the field and outrebound the Gators 38-27, the focus was defense. Period.

"We played awful defense in the game, so we had to come back and fix what was wrong," junior guard Walter Hodge said.

"Coaches were definitely not happy with us, and (Sunday's) practice wasn't fun," freshman Adam Allen added. "It was a lot of defense, all defense. We usually do a lot of offense and stuff, but this was all sitting down and guarding. It was real physical. We've been getting after it, and we're looking forward to (tonight) so we can bounce back. Tennessee's a real good team, and if we can go into their place and beat them, that'll be a real good win for us."

The Gators are facing a Tennessee team led by Chris Lofton, the SEC's all-time 3-point shooter. The Vols lead the league in scoring, assists, steals and 3-point field goals made.

"We'll have our hands full, and it will be a great challenge to see the way we can come back from (Arkansas)," Donovan said.

For his part, Donovan is trying to take it all in stride. In reality, this isn't all that surprising to him. For weeks he has pointed out areas where the Gators are deficient despite their 18-4 record, particularly in allowing opponents a high shooting percentage. And with two freshmen and two sophomores in his starting lineup and nine total players, he knew adversity would come eventually. Now he's just trying to sort out what it all means.

"I think losses get distorted, and I think wins get distorted," Donovan said Monday morning. "I'm looking for the truth."

The truth Saturday was that the Gators couldn't buy a basket, and subsequently their defense wavered. Donovan has stressed to this team that shooting poorly doesn't mean you can't play good defense.

The Gators will face likely their most hostile crowd to date in a game that during the past few years has grown into a bitter rivalry. And though most of the players have no idea what they're in for, Hodge knows all too well.

"I think they don't like us," Hodge said. "They are proud of what they're doing, and they don't respect anybody, so you have to go in with that same mentality. ... They are good, so they come with that mentality, and I think that works for them. Last year, we had that same attitude."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

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