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Wednesday February 27, 2013Depleted Gators Come up Short at Tennessee

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The lack of depth clearly was a problem.

But not as much as the lack of shot-making. 

The bodies the eighth-ranked Florida Gators were able to put on the floor Tuesday night against Tennessee struggled to put the ball in the basket, while Volunteers guard Jordan McRae had no such problems, pouring in 27 points to lead UT to a 64-58 victory to the delight of 19,567 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The loss was costly for the Gators (22-5, 12-3), whose lead atop the Southeastern Conference whittled to just one game by the time second-place Alabama (19-9, 11-4), which defeated Auburn and Tuesday and comes to the O'Connell Center this weekend.

"We've got to learn from this a move on," junior center Patric Young said.

Ideally, they will grow from it, too. Literally.

As in getting forward Will Yeguete, who missed his sixth straight game since knee surgery, and sharp-shooting freshman guard Michael Frazier II, who missed his first with a concussion, back in time to bolster the roster.

Both could be available Saturday against the Crimson Tide. Minus them Tuesday night, the Gators looked tired coming down the stretch -- and even lost forward Casey Prather to a nasty, bloody gash to the face late in the game. His status was uncertain as of early Wednesday morning.

"We don't have any excuses. When we line up to play, we play," Coach Billy Donovan said. "Was there fatigue? Sure. Were we small sometimes and got hurt with that lineup? Yes. But I always believe if there's a will there's a way and there are things you ought to be able to overcome. We went to battle with what we had."
 
Playing mostly with a six-man rotation -- plus cameos from little-used freshmen Braxton Ogbueze and DeVon Walker -- the Gators equaled their lowest scoring output of the season, shot just 42.1 percent from the floor, went a woeful 1-for-10 from 3-point range in the second half (4-for-17 for the game) and got pounded 41-31 on the boards.

Tennessee (17-10, 9-6) did not play a great game, actually falling behind by seven early on the way to shooting along near-identical lines to Florida (42.1 overall, 27.8 from 3). The Vols used a 12-3 spurt down the final 4:40 of the first half to seize momentum and a 3-point halftime lead.

Florida scored the first five points after the break to go up 37-35, but eight straight points -- four from Richardson, who started the spurt by blocking guard Mike Rosario's 3-point shot and turning it into a run-out dunk -- put the Vols back in front.

To stay, as it turned out.

"Those guys executed when they needed to and made shots. That was the difference in the game," Rosario said. "We didn't get stops when we were supposed to get stops on the defensive end or make shots when we needed to make shots. ... Give them credit. They made it count when it counted."

In more ways than one.

It was Tennessee's sixth straight win -- not to mention its 11th defeat of Florida in the last 16 games, including seven of eight at home -- and gave the Vols a big chip to push into the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee ante.

"We made enough plays to win the game," UT coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We got enough stops to win the game."

The Gators got enough of neither.

McRae went 9-for-20 from the floor and stuffed the box score with seven rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and a pair of steals. He was the lone Vol to finish in double figures, but 6-foot-8, 270-pound forward Jarnell Stokes muscled his way to eight points and 14 rebounds, including six of UT's 13 on the offensive end.

UF was led by Rosario's 16 points and Young's 15 points and five rebounds, but seniors Erik Murphy and Kenny Boynton combined to go 4-for-17 from the floor (just 1-for-9 from the arc) for nine points.

"We got looks at the basket," Rosario said. "They just didn't go down."

Or were disallowed.

Though the UT led by eight with four minutes to go, the Gators twice cut the lead to four and each time had a chance to trim it further.

The first came after Scottie Wilbekin (8 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) grabbed a board and drove the length of the floor, collapsing the defense, then kicked the ball to a wide-open Boynton in the corner. No one was within 10 feet of him.

The shot went long and the Vols rebounded with just over a minute remaining.

After the two teams traded baskets, Wilbekin got a steal, pitched the ball up the floor to Rosario, who attacked the rim, but was called for an offensive foul as the ball fell through the basket.

"I just tried to be aggressive," he said.

On a night when the shots weren't falling, it was hard to blame him.

The loss was the Gators' second in three games and dropped them to 7-5 on the road this season, still the best record away from home in the SEC.

The league, though, got tighter Tuesday. Assuming Kentucky defeats Mississippi State at home Wednesday, both the Tide and Wildcats will be one game behind the Gators with three to play -- and both with games against UF.

"We've just got to get back to playing the right way," Young said. "We don't want to let Tennessee beat us twice [by taking this] into the next game."

After another frustrating road loss, that next one can't come soon enough. Though the next three days could be pivotal in determining the state of the UF roster.

The Gators will gladly wait a few days if it means a few more players.

 

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