18-13 (7-9 SEC)
28-2 (16-0 SEC)
* - ESPN3 will be blacked out in any area that gets FSN SportSouth. This includes Knoxville. The game will be available on ESPN3 on replay.
The Lady Vols take on Florida in their third overall matchup this season. All signs point to Tennessee, who held Florida to their two lowest point totals of the year in the previous meetings. If Tennessee is going to show any signs of immaturity, it will be in this game, where they know they are supposed to win big. Do the Lady Vols take the game seriously, or are they listless, giving a much-improved Florida team a chance?
In the Thursday game against Arkansas, Florida started an all-junior lineup and came out of the gate red-hot, hitting 8-8 on their first field goals and grabbing nearly all the rebounds in the first 5 to 10 minutes. The game was marked by wild swings of momentum, as Florida raced to a 26-9 lead and saw Arkansas score 19-2 to tie it. The cat-and-mouse scoreboard game continued all the way to the final minute, with Florida eventually winning 68-59 over an Arkansas team that fouled too often and jacked up far too many threes.
On the home side of the court, Tennessee may yet have every player available for the game. Lauren Avant practiced with the team on Thursday after having concussion symptoms last week. I wouldn't expect too many minutes for her quite yet, but having the option at all is great news for the Lady Vols. The other question will be Kelley Cain, who has been held out of the last few games to try to recover her health. The 6'-6" center can be an absolute game-changer in the interior, but her body is susceptible to breaking down over the course of the year. If possible, Pat Summitt and Jenny Moshak will keep her playing time to an utter minimum during the SEC tournament so that she can have maximum health for the NCAA tourney. If Tennessee can enter NCAA play with a fully healthy and prepared quartet of Cain, Brewer, Baugh, and Johnson at the post, they will be able to run a terrifyingly aggressive interior rotation on both offense and defense.
Florida is playing their best basketball of the year right now, and their confidence is rightly as high as it's ever been. If you listen to their postgame press conference, you can hear the anticipation from the players for the Tennessee game. You hear much of this rhetoric from every SEC team about to face Tennessee, but they have a bit more focus on the particulars than most do, which is why I think they'll give a better game than people expect.
Florida Postgame Presser with Coach Butler, Ndidi Madu, and Jordan Jones
The opening minutes should tell us most of what we need to know about this game. If Tennessee comes out of the gate like they have in the last couple of weeks, we'll know that they're taking Florida seriously and they're here to win. If Tennessee has a slow, sloppy start and allows Florida to hang around, it might be a sign of boredom from a team that has already drubbed their opponent by 22 and 43 this year. Florida's only real chance of winning comes in that latter condition. Lastly, if Tennessee starts sharp, aggressive, and out for blood, then I'll finally be convinced this team is peaking in time for the NCAA tournament.
I'm expecting to be convinced: Tennessee 81 - Florida 55
BassWatch™: 5 minutes left in the second.