Winning the SEC regular season title might be satisfactory
enough for most teams, but Florida is eying another prize. The
Gators can get closer by beating Tennessee again.
They’d like to make it a bit easier this time.
No. 12 Florida begins its quest for its first conference
tournament championship in three years when it faces the
inconsistent Volunteers at the Georgia Dome on Friday night.
A pair of stunning non-conference defeats to Central Florida and
Jacksonville appeared to have the Gators (24-6) reeling early in
the season. They recovered in impressive fashion, and finished 13-3
for the best record in the SEC.
They capped the regular season by winning eight of nine,
including a 61-60 home victory over Tennessee (19-13) on Feb. 12 as
Erving Walker hit a driving, go-ahead layup with 14 seconds to
Florida beat the Volunteers 81-75 in overtime on Jan. 11, and a
third consecutive win would put the team in the SEC semifinals for
the first time since winning the tournament for a third consecutive
year in 2007. The Gators wrapped up that season winning the second
of their back-to-back NCAA tournament titles.
“We’re pretty hungry,” center Vernon Macklin told the team’s
official website. “At the beginning of the season, coach (Billy)
Donovan sat us down and put a list of things on the board that we
want to accomplish as a team and as a whole, and the first one was
winning the conference and also winning the tournament.”
The Gators might be excused for looking ahead to the NCAA
tournament, but their seeding could improve greatly with another
“You go in with an understanding that you can’t get to Saturday
without taking care of Friday,” Donovan said. “Winning has been
important to these guys. When you win at a high level, it opens up
a tremendous amount of doors for opportunity.”
Florida is benefiting from having four players averaging in
double figures, giving the team impressive depth as Donovan
stresses chemistry and sharing the ball.
“We’ve gotten more connected as it’s gone on,” he said. “We’ve
got great guys that understand the importance of us being a
Kenny Boynton is emerging as a major offensive threat, averaging
17.4 points while sinking 17 of 38 3-pointers over the last four
games. The sophomore guard wasn’t nearly as effective against the
Volunteers last month, making 1 of 4 from beyond the arc to finish
with 12 points.
While Florida is all but assured of an at-large berth to the
NCAAs, Tennessee could further bolster its case by reaching the
semifinals of this tournament for the fourth straight year.
The Volunteers’ entered this tournament losing six of nine, but
created some momentum with Thursday’s 74-68 win over Arkansas in
the opening round.
“I know the more we win the better chances we have to be seeded
and the better chances we have to advance in this championship,”
said coach Bruce Pearl.
Tobias Harris could be in for another big performance after
leading Tennessee with 20 points against the Razorbacks, giving him
an average of 21.0 over the last three games. The freshman forward
totaled 27 points in two meetings with Florida.
Scotty Hopson is averaging 20.7 points in his last three games
against the Gators, getting 22 on 9-for-14 shooting in the latest
matchup. The junior guard is coming off an eight-point effort
The winner will face either Mississippi State or Vanderbilt on