published Saturday, January 25th, 2014

Tennessee Vols try to continue success against Florida

Tennessee's Jordan McRae tries to score against Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon, left, and London Perrantes during their game in Knoxville in this file photo.
Tennessee's Jordan McRae tries to score against Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon, left, and London Perrantes during their game in Knoxville in this file photo.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Florida's men's basketball program boasts quite an impressive list of recent accomplishments.

The Gators won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. In the past seven years, they have won the Southeastern Conference regular season three times, and they won three consecutive SEC tournaments from 2005 to 2007.

The Gators reached the Elite Eight in each of the last three NCAA tournaments.

Strangely, though, Tennessee has had Florida's number in recent seasons.

Entering this afternoon's meeting in Gainesville, the Volunteers have won three straight and 11 of 16 games against the Gators, who again appear to be the SEC's best team and a solid bet to reach at least the NCAA tournament's second weekend.

"I think Florida's just a good matchup for us," Tennessee leading scorer Jordan McRae said Friday evening as the Vols loaded a bus to the airport. "I don't know what else to really say about that. We've played good the times that we've played them, I know that much."

Florida is on the verge of its 16th straight season of at least 20 wins in its 18th season under coach Billy Donovan, but the Vols are 11-5 against the Gators in the past eight seasons, beginning in former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl's first season, 2005-06.

Pearl was 8-5 against Florida and won eight of his first 10 games against the Gators, who are just 16-18 against the Vols under the highly successful Donovan.

Cuonzo Martin is 3-0 against Florida as Tennessee's coach.

"I think everybody's involved with it," he said. "I think as players, Florida's players -- the current players -- they understand the last three games we've played them, but for the new guys, it's just a basketball game. I think it's the same thing for our guys.

"You're trying to beat a very talented opponent, and more importantly a league opponent, to try to stay in this race."

The Vols stunned 13th-ranked Florida in Martin's first SEC game two years ago and again upset the Gators, ranked eighth at the time, later that season.

"We just played our game," said Vols guard Josh Richardson, who was a freshman that year. "We didn't do anything special. No gimmicks or anything. We just went down there and played hard, and we came out with a win."

Tennessee boosted its NCAA tournament hopes, albeit ultimately in vain, with a 64-58 win against the eighth-ranked Gators in Knoxville last season.

"I don't really have an answer for you," Richardson said. "I just think we've played harder than them the past couple of years."

This year's Florida team appears as good as all the recent ones. The Gators are on a 10-game winning streak and have a 25-win home streak.

After scoring 34 points in a win against Arkansas on Wednesday, McRae watched on television as sixth-ranked Florida beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Thursday night.

"Florida's a real good team," he said. "I think Florida's one of the best teams that play as a team. I feel like they know each other really well, and all those guys have been playing with each other for a while."

Added Richardson: "They've been playing great basketball so far. Everybody's beatable, but they've definitely been playing very well."

Asked if they thought Florida was the SEC's best team, both Martin and McRae were largely noncommittal.

"I think everybody in this league can get beat by anybody," McRae said. "I think Georgia's proven that by beating Missouri at Missouri. Florida hasn't lost yet, but we'll see if they're the best team tomorrow, I guess."

"They're a very talented team, without a doubt," Martin added, "but I think after 18 games we'll find out if they're the best team in the league."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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