For the second night in a row, Tennessee played a faster pace than anything we've seen in the last two months. Florida is a better basketball team than Arkansas, and at a faster pace it especially showed: the Gators shot 58.7% on the night, and an absurd 82% in the second half. Tennessee completely shut them down in the final six minutes of the first half, but Florida wasted no time getting the lead back after trailing 34-29 at the break.
While the Gators were setting the nets on fire, they were also getting to the free throw line: 27 fouls were called on the Vols to 16 on Florida. Against a team as good as Florida, that's not a situation Tennessee or anybody can overcome. As was the case in our Knoxville meeting, Tennessee couldn't find any consistency because we couldn't stop Florida on consecutive possessions. And so while several Vols were good tonight, the Gators were simply better.
Tennessee goes home and Florida goes on - this is the first time since 2007 that the Vols failed to make Saturday in the SEC Tournament, but drawing the conference champion on Friday tends to get in your way. The Vols head to selection Sunday at 19-14 - UT's RPI and SOS will not be negatively affected by what happened tonight - and now we wait. It seems like that Tennessee will draw an 8/9 or 7/10 matchup based on most projections, but we'll find out for sure in less than 48 hours.
The Vols did get a more complete team effort in the two Georgia Dome games - though Tobias Harris certainly led the way tonight with 25 points and 8 rebounds, and Scotty Hopson finished with 19 (and 7 turnovers), Tennessee also got great individual games from Josh Bone on Thursday and Skylar McBee tonight, and Brian Williams played through pain to grab 21 rebounds in two games.
Our best basketball is so far away back in Pittsburgh. But while what we saw in Atlanta certainly wasn't perfect, it did feel more complete - other than Cameron Tatum's disappearing act, for which he finally saw the bench tonight - several Vols playing their best basketball at the same time gives us hope that this team can go deeper than however far Hopson and Harris could take them. We'll see.
Also, congrats to the Gators - Billy Donovan has bought back the Gainesville property that once belonged to Bruce Pearl, as Florida has now won four straight in this series. Florida is a veteran team that just beat Vanderbilt in Nashville and Tennessee on a neutral floor by double digits. They're what peaking at the right time looks like.
Tennessee returns to Knoxville and awaits their fate - the road in front of us will certainly not be easy, but then again nothing with this team is.