Originally created 02/11/00

Gators confident there will be no letdown vs. Vols



In early February of 1999, Florida pulled off a huge home victory over Kentucky. Two days later, the Gators came out flat and were upset by Ole Miss at home, 79-68.

Though similarities are apparent -- Florida is fresh off Tuesday's thorough 90-73 pasting of Kentucky -- coach Billy Donovan said he isn't worried that last year's fate will befall his team when it travels to No. 8 Tennessee for Saturday's 3 p.m. showdown.

"I'm not concerned about that at all," Donovan said. "We had some personal things (last year). One of our assistant coaches had a personal tragedy the day of the game. (Forward) Brent Wright had a relative pass away. Just a lot of extenuating circumstances going into Ole Miss."

The Volunteers (20-3, 8-2) lead the SEC East by a half game. Close behind are No. 12 Florida (18-4, 7-2) and No. 11 Kentucky (17-6, 7-2), which are tied for second.

All the more reason for the Gators to be ready is what happened in their last meeting with Tennessee -- a double-overtime Vols victory in Gainesville on Jan. 18.

"I would hope that when you play against a team like Tennessee, that's incentive enough for our guys to certainly be excited, motivated and ready to play," Donovan said.

SHON TARGET:

Matters might be bleak for Georgia (9-14, 2-8) this season, but coach Jim Harrick knows a jewel when he sees it.

And Bulldogs center Shon Coleman, Harrick said, certainly is a jewel.

"Coleman is the ultimate, fiercest competitor that I've probably ever had on any team," said Harrick, whose team plays host to Mississippi on Saturday at 4 p.m.

The junior-college transfer entered the week averaging 13 points and almost nine rebounds per game. He put up 25 points and hauled in 15 boards in Wednesday's 110-83 loss at Tennessee.

But Coleman's dedication impresses Harrick the most.

"He wants to win," Harrick said. "He cries after games sometimes ... he leaves it on the floor. As a coach, you have nothing but utmost respect for a guy who leaves it on the floor every night."

CLOSE CALLING CARD:

Last season, Vanderbilt suffered several close losses on the way to a disappointing 14-15 mark.

This season, it's a different story. The No. 22 Commodores (16-4, 6-3) have won the brunt of their tight struggles -- most notably 65-64 over Mississippi State, 61-60 over South Carolina, 65-62 over LSU, and 76-73 over Tennessee.

"We find a way to win, but it's not pretty," Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said.

HOG TIED:

By Arkansas standards, reaching the NCAA Tournament is something of an afterthought. But the Razorbacks (12-10, 4-5) will be hard pressed to get there this season.

Six of their last opponents happen to be the six conference teams ranked in the Top 25. After Saturday's game at Mississippi State, Arkansas plays No. 12 Florida (home), No. 25 LSU (home), No. 22 Vanderbilt (home), No. 11 Kentucky (road), No. 8 Tennessee (road) and No. 9 Auburn (home).

The Razorbacks have made the NCAA Tournament in 11 of the past 12 years, their lone absence coming in 1997.

BAYOU BALL:

Wednesday's 83-68 win over Auburn gave LSU its third win this season against a ranked team.

The Tigers (18-4, 5-4), one of the nation's biggest surprises, will get a chance for a fourth Sunday when Kentucky travels to Baton Rouge, La., for a 1 p.m. meeting.

FREE THROWS:

Thanks to injury, Alabama is down to six scholarship players, and only eight players re in uniform. ... Coleman, Anthony Evans and D.A. Layne combined for 53 of Georgia's first 55 points in the Bulldogs' loss at Tennessee. ... South Carolina entered the week with the worst free-throw shooting numbers in the league (57 percent), but has done better from the charity stripe of late; the Gamecocks hit 38 of 54 tries the past three games.

THE LAST WORD:

"He'd look great in a Bulls' uniform next year."

-- Alabama coach Mark Gottfried on Arkansas guard Joe Johnson, after the freshman put up 25 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals in the Razorbacks' 81-66 win over the Crimson Tide Wednesday night.

The freshman has combined to score 45 points in two games against Gottfried's troops this season.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.