It took 54 points from the Volunteers offense in the second half on February 3rd to make the final outcome between the Vols and Gators look respectable.
On Tuesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena, the roles were reversed.
The Gators needed a 45-36 advantage in the second frame to make the final score 86-76, a ten point loss in a game in which they were down by 27 at one point. While the Gators did show fight in the second half by chipping away at the large Volunteers' lead, it was too little, and extremely too late. In the end it was just another double-digit loss to a conference opponent on the road, their third defeat in four games.
The win gave the Volunteers a 16-0 record at home this season, the first time they had done that since the 1976 season.
Fighting for the #1 seed, a position that seemed like a foregone conclusion a couple of weeks ago, the Gators came out with what looked to be a fire in their eyes in the early-going. As it turned out the fire quickly died, and a mixture of poor offensive rythm, lacadaisical team defense and costly turnovers proved to be too strong to overcome. Now it looks as if it would take a strong showing in the upcoming conference tournament to take the top spot in one of the four regions of March Madness.
"We have to get that ball back hopping, doing what we do best. Right now, it's just not there."
"It's just that unity, the way we were playing on offense. We're not in sync right now."
While the Gators did struggle for a majority of the game, a 21-4 run late in the second half cut the deficit to as little as eight -- unfortunately the Gators could not get any closer, as Tennessee hit their late free throws with pretty good consistency to win the game.
The Gators now have a 25-5 overall record, including a 12-3 mark in the SEC -- numbers good enough to win the SEC championship, but a record which has Gator fans worrying as of late in regards to repeat National Championship hopes.
AP Photo/Wade Payne
Here are some more in-depth thoughts from the loss on Rocky Top:
I said coming into this game that the Gators would need to protect the ball and keep the pace of the game down. Tennessee had a very high pace average (according to Ken Pomeroy) at around 74 possessions per game, while the Gators had an average pace of around 67. The Vols play a quick paced game and have forced a lot of turnovers this season (18.1 to be exact coming into Tuesday night's game), so the Gators would need to counteract that by playing a patient, unselfish basketball game.
Unfortunately, none of that worked out for the Gators, as they committed 20 turnovers on the evening. The Volunteers took those 20 Gators mishaps and turned them into 28 points. This played right into Tennessee's gameplan.
Corey Brewer and Taurean Green combined for 12 turnovers.
Now, turnovers are usually a problem when one of two things are happening. A team is usually trying too little, or they are trying too hard.
And this is where I think Corey Brewer is trying to do just a little too much with the basketball right now. Last night it seemed like he thought he could make any pass he wanted to, no matter how slim the chances were, and this distracted him from what the Vols were doing on defense. All it took was a little anticipation by the opposing defenders, and the Gators had yet another turnover on the board. This is a mental thing that will need to be overcome. And it's not just Corey Brewer; Taurean Green has been making some pretty bad decisions with his passes and dribble drives as well.
When you commit 10 more turnovers than your opposition, you will more than likely lose.
Tennessee outscored the Gators 44-42 in the paint last night. While that score was pretty close, I think that the way Tennessee was able to score inside in the first half really set the tone for the game.
The Vols got several uncontested shots in the paint in the first half last night, and I think that it had a lot to do with extremely poor Gators team defense. Many times I saw Gator defenders get beat off the dribble, only to watch no one provide any kind of help in the paint. When no one helps defend underneath, you will see easy layups and dunks -- which is exactly what the Vols were able to do last night.
And this was against a pretty undersized team in Tennessee. The Gators big men should have owned the paint last night, and they clearly did not. This is something that they were doing early in the season, and now all of a sudden laziness has taken over on defense for the team as a whole. This must improve, or these Gators will suffer the same fate as the teams riddle with this problem a few seasons back.
Tennessee shot 58% in this game, including 67% in the first half, and I think that a lot of the credit for that high percentage should be attributed to them finding ways to get open, easy baskets against a lackadaisical Gators defense.
I think Tennessee deserves a lot of credit for seeing this early and continually exploiting it.
It looks to me as if Taurean Green has hit a wall physically, something that seemed to occur in small part last regular season as well. When Green is not effective, the rest of the Gators follow suit. The PG is an important player on the court at all times, especially when that guy can be as explosive as Green.
Hubert Mizell of the Sun had this to say:
In a slide that began at Vanderbilt, accelerated at LSU and stumbled further in Knoxville, the No. 1 factor has been a throttling of Taurean. His playmaking has slumped, his shooting gone awry. Lee Humphrey, famous for 3s, also went into a misfiring funk, unable to lighten the load on Green.
Remember, in December, when Taurean broke apart Ohio State with artistic drives, going fearlessly at 7-foot wonder freshman Greg Oden? Triggering a 26-point demolition of today's No. 1-ranked team. But, lately, on Green sprints for the basket, he has been repeatedly derailed; lots of layups blocked.
Will he rally in March?
He rallied last March.
Joakim Noah won the Final Four MVP of the winning Gators team, but I do think that Green was the most responsible for all of the success last season with his masterful performance in running this offense. Right now we are seeing him fail at this task, and with that comes a total lack of focus and rythm by the offensive unit.
Hopefully Taurean is in a mini-slump, just like some of his teammates. He needs to be more effective come tourney time.
Joakim Noah is in a mental funk right now, and it's painfully obvious. However, he did show some signs of life late -- when, unfortunately, the game was close to out of reach.
Noah scored six late during the Florida run that made the game closer, including a few very good shots underneath and a slam dunk. It looked as if he had a little more energy in him at that point than the last three games combined. He also grabbed double digit rebounds following the disastrous effort on the glass against LSU.
Maybe Joakim will come out with a little more fire against the Wildcats next Sunday.
Losing three of four is never fun, but in no way am I losing hope for this season. The Gators are 25-5, regular season Conference champs and they are on their way to at least a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament. This team is tournament tested, and have proven to be worthy.
They had a similar streak last season, and I really do think that at some point they will wake up.
I still think they're one of the favorites to cut down the nets once again when it's all said and done. I hope that they show me something against Kentucky on Sunday and in the SEC tournament, though. I want to see that Gators team that I came to love during their winning streak this regular season once again.
Is this stretch fun? No way. Is there any positive about it? Not really. Do I think they'll get through it fine? Yes, and that's the only thing that preventing me from pulling my hair out over it.
This team is better than the way they are playing. It's up to them, as well as the coaching staff, to get back to that level they know they are capable of.