GAINESVILLE — Each year, it seems, weather or another travel issue has a way of getting in sixth-ranked Florida’s way on the path to a good season. It happened again Thursday night after a 68-62 win at Alabama. Mechanical problems led to the Gators — after their 10th straight win — heading back to the team hotel for the night rather than home to prepare for today’s game against Tennessee.
Gators coach Billy Donovan said the team got back around noon Friday and shook it off as any kind of problem. But it was a sleepy, road-weary team that prepared Friday for the game. Florida (16-2 overall, 5-0 SEC) has struggled with the Volunteers (12-6, 3-2) over the years. Donovan is just 16-18 in the series.
The team had to wait in the lobby for a while since their hotel rooms had been given away Thursday night. Donovan said he just “set up shop” in his room and started studying tape after everyone got in a room by about 11 p.m.
“In this league, when you play Thursday-Saturday, you are dealing with some of that,” Donovan said of a situation almost like the NCAA Tournament with only a day to prepare. “So instead of watching tape on the flight home and coming in here (Friday) morning, it was a little bit different. We were able to stay there, get some work done last night and get some work done on the flight coming in.”
With just one day in between games, Donovan said there wasn’t much physically the team could do to prepare for Tennessee anyway.
“I don’t think it’s really that big of a deal or an issue or a problem for us,” Donovan said. “By the time we would have gotten back here, with class and everything else, they would have been up early anyway.”
An unranked Tennessee team has knocked off a ranked Florida club 11 times over the years. Eight different times, Tennessee has beaten Florida when the Gators were ranked in the top 10. The last time the Vols faced Florida in Gainesville. on Jan. 11, 2012, Tennessee upset the No. 8 Gators to end a 19-game home winning streak.
Florida has won 25 straight home games going into this matchup, but Tennessee owns three straight wins against the Gators.
This Volunteers team lacks depth, which could impact the game. But Tennesse’s Jarnell Stokes (13.4 points, 9.7 rebounds) ranks among the league’s best big men. Guard Jordan McRae (19.2 points) is second on the SEC’s active career scoring list with 1,175 points.
“McRae is really as good a scorer as I think there is in this league,” Donovan said. “He really, I thought last year as a junior, kind of came into his own.”
Tennessee played Wednesday and has had three days to get ready for the Gators.
“It’s a quick turnaround, so we have to take advantage of scouting and get ready for the game,” Donovan said. “We’ve got a great coaching staff and they do a great job scouting, so I feel like that’s an advantage for us.”