Florida must wait until next month for a chance to avenge this week’s blowout loss to the nation’s No. 1 team. Its shot at revenge against a lesser regarded foe has arrived.
The eighth-ranked Gators look to bounce back Saturday as they try to keep Tennessee winless on the road and avoid a regular-season sweep to their SEC rival.
Florida (19-5, 7-2) saw its season-best seven-game winning streak come to an end in disappointing fashion with Tuesday’s 78-58 loss at top-ranked Kentucky. The Gators, who have made 247 3-pointers to lead the nation, shot 22.2 percent (6 of 27) from beyond the arc and 34.9 percent overall - both season worsts.
“They know that we are a 3-point shooting team and they took our best strength away from us,” said freshman Bradley Beal, who scored 14 points but was 1 of 8 from 3-point range. “We have to find other ways to be able to put the ball in the basket.”
Kenny Boynton, third in the conference with 17.6 points per game, scored 18 but fellow guard Erving Walker went scoreless as he missed seven field-goal attempts. Walker had scored in double figures in six straight games.
“We just have to get better,” Boynton said. “We’ve got time before we play (Kentucky) again. We just have to come out and work.”
The rematch with Kentucky is March 4 at the O’Connell Center, where the Gators have won 19 in a row, but first they’ll look to avenge an earlier road loss to the Volunteers (12-12, 4-5).
Tennessee snapped a four-game losing streak in this series and held Florida to its lowest scoring output of the season in a 67-56 win Jan. 7. Boynton and Beal each went 4 for 12 from the field as the Gators shot 35.7 percent.
The Volunteers, though, have lost all seven of their true road games this season. They haven’t had a longer road losing streak since 2004.
They enter this matchup winners of three of four, with the only loss coming 69-44 at Kentucky on Jan. 31.
Tennessee most recently defeated South Carolina 69-57 on Wednesday behind a career-high 18 points from Skylar McBee. The junior guard, averaging 6.7 points, made 4 of 7 from beyond the arc in his second consecutive start after coming off the bench for his first 86 games with the Vols.
“Little bit of the nerves were gone, but, like I said, it’s not about starting or finishing, it’s about our five guys working as a unit when we’re out there, no matter whether those minutes come early or late,” McBee said.
Tennessee was 10 of 20 from 3-point range and shot 50.0 percent from the floor, the first time it reached that mark since the win over Florida (51.0).
“We did a good job really shooting the ball around the perimeter,” said coach Cuonzo Martin, whose team improved to 8-2 when making at least eight 3s. ” … You’ve got a chance to win a lot of ball games when you play that way.”
Tennessee has dropped consecutive games in Gainesville but more than held its own in its most recent visit, losing 61-60 to then-No. 17 Florida last Feb. 12 on Erving’s driving layup with 14 seconds left.
The Volunteers have lost eight of their last nine road games versus Top 25 foes. They hold a 70-52 edge in this all-time series.