Florida is off to another strong start in SEC play thanks in part to its improved showing in close games.
The sixth-ranked Gators will try to see if that translates into a better result against Tennessee, winners of three straight in the series, on Saturday.
Florida (16-2, 5-0) won its first eight conference games in 2012-13 by an average of 26.5 points but has needed a different style to remain atop the SEC this season. The Gators have won three of their last four league contests by seven points or fewer and are 8-2 in games decided by single digits after going 0-6 last season.
Florida had a 12-point lead with 8:57 remaining cut to six with 7:05 to go Thursday at Alabama before holding on for a 68-62 victory, its 10th in a row. The Gators have won six games by single digits during that streak.
Florida shot 37.7 percent – its second-worst performance of the season – but made 10 3-pointers and had 18 offensive rebounds, its most in SEC play. Michael Frazier II made five shots from beyond the arc and had 18 points after being held scoreless in a 68-61 win at Auburn last Saturday.
"Coach (Billy Donovan) was just telling us that we were going to have to grind. That’s what we did," Frazier said. "We found a way to get stops when we needed to get stops. We moved the ball to try to get good shots. Even though the ball wasn’t going in, we were able to get good looks. That’s all you can really do."
The Gators haven’t overcome subpar shooting in their last three games against Tennessee (12-6, 3-2), making a combined 40.0 percent of their attempts. They shot 37.9 percent in the second half of last season’s only matchup, a 64-58 road loss Feb. 26.
Jordan McRae was the only Tennessee player to score in double figures in that win with 27 points. The senior guard is third in the SEC with 19.2 points per game, just 0.1 behind Missouri’s Jabari Brown and Auburn’s KT Harrell.
McRae had a season-best 34 points in an 81-74 victory over Arkansas on Wednesday, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:46 to go. Senior forward Jeronne Maymon matched his season high with 17 points.
"The one thing I talked to our guys about is you’re going through a lot of things in league play – ups and downs. You’ll see teams get beat that didn’t expect to get beat. You’ll see stuff happen," coach Cuonzo Martin said. "That’s part of league play, but the key is to be consistent – get a W and keep moving – learn from it. The great thing about this is we got a W, now we can learn from it and keep moving."
Tennessee is 1-3 on the road with two of those losses coming in its only matchups with ranked teams. Before the win over Arkansas, the Volunteers fell 74-66 at then-No. 13 Kentucky last Saturday.
Tennessee has dropped four straight road games against ranked opponents since a 75-70 win at No. 8 Florida on Feb. 11, 2012. Maymon (15 points) and McRae (12) were among four Vols in double figures.
Tennessee is 18-16 against the Gators in Donovan’s 599-game tenure at the school. Florida, though, brings a school-record, 25-game home win streak into this matchup.