Gators use pressure defense to wear down the Vols in a 95-57 win, the largest margin of victory for Florida in the series.
GAINESVILLE - According to Florida players, the past few weeks of practice have consisted mostly of coach Billy Donovan preaching about the press, drilling them in practice and telling them it's their best chance at being successful.
Maybe now they understand what he's talking about.
Total domination and a 38-point victory.
Using an up-tempo offense and the type of pressure defense Donovan is demanding it perfect, No.14 Florida defeated Tennessee 95-57 Saturday afternoon in front of 12,098 at the O'Connell Center.
"I don't think there's any question these are the types of games you want to play," Donovan said.
" ... I never anticipated for us to win like this, beating them the way we did. I hope what it does is reinforce our style of play in their minds and what we're trying to do."
It was the worst loss for the Volunteers (9-2, 1-1 SEC) since Kentucky beat them 101-40 March 12, 1993, and the largest margin of victory in the series for the Gators (11-2, 2-0).
"I think it was a little surprising," said Florida guard Anthony Roberson, who had 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting. "In the SEC, you really don't expect to beat anybody by how much we beat them."
The Gators led 49-30 at halftime, using a press that forced 10 of Tennessee's 20 turnovers (compared to nine assists) and holding it to 42 percent shooting. Florida shot 64 percent in the half, 78 percent at one point. The Gators missed their first two shots, then hit nine of their next 10 to take a 22-7 lead.
"If we don't get stops, it's hard to get in our transition game," Vols coach Buzz Peterson said. "Their pressure caused us to make some poor decisions. Florida did a terrific job of getting to our guards and wearing down C.J. (Watson). We could never get into our tempo and get any shots.
"Florida is a very good team. I would say it's going to be tough for a lot of people to beat them at the O'Connell Center."
Watson entered leading the league in assists (6.7 per game), and teammate Scooter McFadgon is the SEC's top scorer, averaging 19.8. Watson had 11 points, four assists and six turnovers. The Gators held McFadgon to 10 points.
"They pressured us a lot and threw a lot of different traps at me and caused me to turn it over a lot," Watson said. "I really didn't have a lot of help, anyone rotating up the middle on the sidelines."
The Gators' defensive effort led to easy scoring opportunities - dunks off fastbreaks and wide-open 3-point shots from multiple passes.
"Any time we get a chance to run and score like that it's a fun way to play," said Florida guard Matt Walsh, who scored a game-high 20.
The Gators started the pressure from the opening tip. The Vols led just once (2-0), and Florida went on a 10-0 run to take a 17-5 lead with 14:08 left in the first half. The Gators led by as many as 23 in the half. Tennessee went on a 10-2 run late to pull within 40-24 but trailed by 19 at halftime.
The deficit took an emotional toll on the Vols. After John Winchester hit a layup with 12:37 left in the game, Tennessee hit just two more field goals.
"We tried to cut it down to 10 at the end of the first half, but in the second half it kept going up and up, and I think we gave up a little bit," Watson said.
Part of Florida's defensive effort was a stifling halfcourt defense that Watson said disrupted the Vols' effort to pass and find open men.
That was by design, Gators forward David Lee said.
"I think we did what we like to do as far as halfcourt defense," said Lee, who had 17 points and five rebounds. "We came out today playing the way we want to play and that's pressing, good halfcourt for 40 minutes. When they get it across halfcourt, the press doesn't stop. We're still denying passes and pressing the ball anywhere it is on the court, and that's the way we like to play. I think we did a decent job."
Tennessee forward Brandon Crump scored 11 and had a team-high eight rebounds. Florida's Christian Drejer had six points, seven rebounds and five assists. Three freshmen contributed for the Gators: Chris Richard scored a career-high 11, Lee Humphrey added seven points and four assists and Mohamed Abukar had nine points. Sophomore Adrian Moss had six points and two rebounds - prompting Donovan to laud his bench.