St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

College basketball

Volunteers smoke out the lackluster Gators

TENNESSEE 66, FLORIDA 59: Using a defense called ''Smokey,'' the Vols win 6th straight.

©Associated Press

February 16, 2003


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's offense is named Ron Slay. The Volunteers call their defense "Smokey."

No. 4 Florida couldn't handle both.

Slay, the leading scorer in the SEC, had 20 points and 11 rebounds Saturday as Tennessee beat the Gators 66-59 to extend its winning streak to six.

Brandon Crump added a career-high 19 points for the Vols (15-6, 7-3), who ended their five-game losing streak to the Gators and made another push toward returning to the NCAA basketball tournament.

Florida (20-4, 9-2) beat Tennessee 77-64 in Gainesville last month.

The Gators led most of the game but gave up the lead for good with five minutes left. They got as close as 59-57 with two minutes to go, and that's when Tennessee's defense took over.

Matt Bonner's basket in the lane with 38.8 seconds left were Florida's only points in the final minutes.

"I told the team we're going to have to win the game with defense, not offense," Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said.

"It's called Smokey. We try to get after you. We gave it a name just because we take pride in it. We want to get stops on the defensive end."

Peterson didn't divulge the details behind Smokey, which is the name of Tennessee's blue-tick hound mascot, but apparently it worked.

"It's tough to overcome when our three shooters, Brett Nelson, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh, go a combined 3-for-22," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "We have too much firepower to have scored just 59 points."

Tennessee trailed by as much as eight in the second half, but tied it at 48 with 5:42 left on Crump's two free throws.

Bonner hit a jumper at the free-throw line to put Florida back in front, but Jon Higgins made a 3-pointer at the other end to give Tennessee the lead for good.

The Vols ran their lead to five, but Bonner hit a 3 with 2:17 to go to close the gap to two.

Justin Hamilton fouled Higgins shooting a 3 and made him miss, but Higgins made the free throws to put Tennessee up 62-57 with 1:46 left.

Bonner scored Florida's final basket to cut the lead to 62-59. Tennessee then scored the final four on free throws.

"When it's two minutes left in the game and it's a close game, it's time to suck it up. You can give it all you got because the last two minutes of the game is just two minutes. It's not like you have to play 20 more minutes after that," Crump said.

The Gators had chances to score but they either missed the shot or turned over the ball.

When the buzzer sounded, students and fans raced onto the court and jumped in the circle at midcourt to celebrate arguably the biggest win for Peterson, who is in his second year as coach.

The Vols beat a Top 5 opponent for the first time since a 78-77 win over then-No. 2 Kentucky in February 1993.

Bonner scored 19 and David Lee added 14 and Hamilton had 11 for Florida, which had won two since losing at Kentucky after reaching No. 1.

The Gators came into the game shooting a league-best 77.4 percent on free throws in conference games, but made just 5-of-10 against Tennessee.

The Vols, meanwhile, were 17-of-21 from the free-throw line after going 1-for-1 in the first half.

Tennessee tied it three times in the first half but didn't lead until Crump's three-point play with 40.9 left put the Vols up 28-26. But the Gators regained the lead when Nelson hit a 3 with seven seconds to go, and C.J. Watson missed a jumper at the halftime buzzer.

Florida started the second half strong. After the Vols went ahead by one, the Gators had a 9-0 run. Lee hit three straight baskets and Christian Drejer finished it with a 3 for a 43-35 lead with 14:59 left.

Florida looked like it was going to run away at the beginning. The Gators made four of their five 3-point attempts and led 14-5.

Tennessee slowly trimmed the lead, finally putting together a 12-2 run in which Slay scored eight straight. Crump scored inside to tie it at 21 with 6:24 remaining before halftime.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.