GAME NOTES: The third-ranked Florida Gators will try to keep their undefeated reign atop the SEC alive on Tuesday night when they venture to Thompson-Boling Arena to do battle with the Tennessee Volunteers.
Florida took care of business against Alabama on Saturday afternoon, 78-69, to improve to 10-0 in the SEC, good for a two-game lead over second-place Kentucky in the standings. The Gators have won 15 straight games for the fifth time in head coach Billy Donovan's tenure, and they are 21-2 for just the second time in school history, achieving the benchmark last during 2006-07 season, which ended in a national championship.
Tennessee has been impressive in its own right this season, going 15-8 overall with a 6-4 mark in the SEC. The Vols most recently blew out South Carolina at home on Saturday, 72-53, and they have now won 11 of 13 matchups at Thompson- Boling Arena.
In regards to the all-time series, Tennessee owns a 72-53 advantage. The Gators won the first meeting this season, 67-41 on Jan. 25 in Gainesville, but they haven't won in Knoxville since 2011.
The Gators suffered a bit of a scare over the weekend, and they found themselves down by two to Alabama early in the second half, but they erased all doubts by ripping off a 25-8 run to pull away. They shot a blistering 62 percent from the field in the triumph and all five starters scored in double figures, led by Scottie Wilbekin's 16 points. Casey Prather scored 15 and hauled in a team-best six rebounds, Michael Frazier netted 14 on 3-of-8 from 3-point range and Will Yeguete and Patric Young rounded out the balanced attack with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Florida has ascended to elite levels this season thanks to its outstanding defense, which allows its opponents to shoot just 39 percent from the field for 57.9 ppg, with the latter ranking fifth-best in the nation. Its offense has been stellar as well, scoring 71.4 ppg on 46.6 percent field goal shooting, although its free-throw percentage (.659) sticks out as one of its only weaknesses. Prather has connected on a sizzling 62.4 percent of his field goal tries for a team-best 15.6 ppg, while adding 5.2 rpg for good measure. Frazier (12.7 ppg) is the squad's most productive 3-point shooter (65-of-153), Wilbekin scores 12.6 ppg and Young (10.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.0 bpg) and Dorian Finney-Smith (9.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg) are both strong in the paint.
The Vols made easy work of last-place South Carolina in their most recent bout, opening up a 23-point halftime lead before putting the game on cruise control down the stretch, as they outshot the Gamecocks from the field, 52.8 percent to 35.7 percent. Jordan McRae was red-hot from 3-point range (6-of-8) on his way to a game-high 24 points, while Jarnell Stokes (17 points) and Jeronne Maymon (10) both collected eight rebounds.
Tennessee has grown accustomed to well-rounded efforts this season, as it not only shoots 44.6 percent from the field for 73.1 ppg but yields just 63.1 ppg on 41.9 percent shooting. It also consistently has an advantage in the frontcourt, where its +9.1 rebounding margin ranks sixth nationally. McRae is the SEC's fifth-leading scorer with 19.3 ppg, shooting 57-of-143 from beyond the arc (.399) and 108-of-137 at the free-throw line (.788). Stokes is a nightly double-double threat with 14.0 ppg and 10.3 rpg, and Maymon (11.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg) joins him for an imposing forward duo. Josh Richardson adds 9.0 ppg to the attack on just shy of 50 percent from the field.
The Vols have played very well at home, but the Gators are road-tested (5-2) and will ride an outstanding defensive effort to another strong SEC victory.
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