for this game

Tennessee holds on to continue struggles for Florida

Feb 28, 2007 - 7:00 AM KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Dane Bradshaw made his final appearance at Thompson-Boling Arena a memorable run by extending a troubling trend for Florida.

Bradshaw scored eight of his 10 points in the second half and came up with a crucial steal as Tennessee held on for an 86-76 victory over the fourth-ranked Gators in a Southeastern Conference clash.

While Bradshaw is in the process of putting the finishing touches on a senior season, defending champion Florida (25-5, 12-3 SEC East) is left scratching its head over a troubling stretch where it has lost three of its last four games on the heels of a 17-game winning streak.

Just how the Gators have lost those games has been a problem, too, as Florida has looked disinterested in falling behind by huge deficits early.

Although the Gators were able to rally from an 18-point deficit to beat Alabama on February 14, they could not recover from 12 points down at Vanderbilt on February 17 and faced an even bigger deficit against the Volunteers.

Instead of motivation problems, Florida coach Billy Donovan believes that Florida's issues have more to do with players stepping outside of their normal roles, leading to a high number of turnovers. The Gators had 20 turnovers on Tuesday, and a total of 57 in their last three losses.

"I see guys maybe trying to do too much and not sharing the ball very well," he said. "I think we have guys trying to take too much upon themselves, trying to help the team and do too much. Tonight, you could see that by the number of our turnovers.

"We always have been a team that has had great ball movement and really played off each other very well."

Needing to improve its standing for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, Tennessee (21-9, 9-6 East) came out and turned the tables on Florida, outscoring the Gators, 26-6, in the paint en route to grabbing a 37-19 lead with less than six minutes remaining in the first half.

"I do not understand why Tennessee does not get credit," Donovan said. "They are an NCAA tournament team. Vanderbilt is an NCAA tournament team. These are good teams we are playing against. Our team has won so much - an SEC tournament championship, a SEC regular-season championship and a national championship.

"I think people are really being naive if they do not think these teams are going to come out with great commitment and focus to want to win the game."

Shockingly, that cushion ballooned to 58-31 on a 3-pointer by Bradshaw before Florida finally came alive.

Using a full-court press to speed up the tempo, the Gators went on a 21-4 run, closing within 69-61 on two free throws by Walter Hodge with 6:07 left.

However, Chris Lofton, who scored 21 points, answered back with a jumper for the Vols, starting a 6-0 run.

Despite being the team's top player, Lofton had some struggles in the closing moments when he missed two free throws trying to add to a 79-69 advantage with 1:42 left.

Sensing a possible change in momentum, Florida raced down the court for a shot, but Bradshaw burst into a passing lane and was fouled collecting one of his two steals.

"Dane Bradshaw studies film, just like I do, and he reached out and got a big steal," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "Tonight was not, 'Goodbye, Dane, and thanks for the memories.'"

The 6-4 senior then sank both of his free throws for an 81-69 advantage that just about wrapped up Tennessee's first undefeated home season since 1975-76.

The big win put the wrap on a star-studded evening for the Vols, who were addressed by Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning before the game and saw women's coach Pat Summitt sing "Rocky Top" while donning a cheerleader outfit during a timeout in the first half in front of a crowd of 24,047, the seventh-largest in the history of Thompson-Boling Arena.

"This was a very significant night because we added to the history of this arena," Pearl said. "Very few crowds have been larger than this, and with remodeling coming up, there will not be any crowds larger than tonight's attendance.

"Peyton Manning talked to the team before the game. Some do the talk, and some do the walk. Manning does it as an alumnus and supporter of UT. For him to attend this game is significant."

Since absorbing a 94-78 loss at Florida on February 3, Tennessee has reeled off six wins in its last seven games.

"We are playing well after being dominated at Florida," Pearl said. "Everybody on this team is growing up. Our team is fresh and hungry."

Al Horford had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Corey Brewer and Chris Richard had 12 points apiece for the Gators, whose 20 turnovers led to 28 points for the Vols.

Joakim Noah, the Most Outstanding Player of last year's Final Four, overcame a slow start to finish with eight points and 11 rebounds. It was the third straight game where Noah, the team's fourth-leading scorer at 12.0 points, failed to crack double digits.

After managing just four shots in the loss at Louisiana State on Saturday, the 6-11 junior attempted just one shot through the first 28 minutes until his jumper with 11:42 remaining in the second half cut his team's deficit to 65-42.