Vols get chance to back motto and 'Make a Statement' against Florida

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin talks with his players during the first half against Georgia at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin talks with his players during the first half against Georgia at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Skylar McBee talks about the Florida matchup

Cuonzo Martin previews Tennessee vs. Florida

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For a team that touted its intentions to “Make a Statement” as its season motto, the day has arrived.

That statement? Now would be a good time to make it.

Lugging around an 11-10 record and a 3-6 SEC mark three weeks ago, Tennessee men’s basketball has reeled off five straight league wins. Suddenly the Vols (16-10, 8-6) are hot. Suddenly the Vols are drawing the gaze of national pundits.

Suddenly the showdown Tuesday (TV: ESPN, 9 p.m.) with No. 8 Florida at Thompson-Boling Arena is certifiably a big game.

“This is the most important ballgame on our schedule at this point,” UT coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday. “After this, we’ll look forward to the next game. I’ve never been a guy (to say) it’s a must-win game, but you’ve got to win the game.”

Various theories have explained Tennessee’s resurgence — deft point guard play from junior Trae Golden, sophomore Jarnell Stokes playing like the NBA prospect he was touted to be, a switch to four-guard sets enabling more up-tempo play and better offensive spacing.

According to multiple members of the team, though, there is an additional, unquantifiable cause.

“We’re more of a brotherhood, definitely,” sophomore guard Josh Richardson said Monday.

“We’ve been holding each other accountable,” added fellow guard Jordan McRae, a junior.

There was no lack of criticism for the Vols’ early season woes. Twitter spouted off. Message boards spewed. They heard it. Even if they say they didn’t.

As the losses mounted, including five by six points or less, relations grew strained. Richardson explained that through the troubles, “There were some guys that really couldn’t take criticism from other guys on the team.”

No details were offered, but those strifes are “not a problem anymore,” according to Richardson.

Martin has taken notice. Standing on a Reed Arena court covered with four overtimes worth of sweat following last Saturday’s 93-85 win at Texas A&M, he was asked about the growing family atmosphere his players claim to be experiencing.

“I see it,” Martin said. “You can’t control the other stuff. All you do is lock-in on those other guys in the locker room. Those are the ones you’re doing battle with. That’s what my program is built on.”

Brothers, teammates, whatever — the Vols will need to play as one to beat the eighth-ranked Gators. Sitting atop the SEC at 12-2 and 22-4 overall, Florida averages 74.0 points in league games while allowing just 53.4.

But it’s not all sunny. The Gators will be without freshman guard Michael Frazier II (concussion) and junior forward Will Yeguete (knee), coach Billy Donovan confirmed Monday. The lineup is still bolstered by such names as Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy, Patric Young and Mike Rosario, but Donovan will need some reserves, likely Braxton Ogbueze and Dillon Graham, to step into a rotation that’s been whittled to six regulars.

“Six guys is not enough to go to Knoxville with,” Donovan told The Gainesville Sun.

Martin made it clear, however, that even with a shortened bench, Florida is still Florida.

“You’re talking about a potential Final Four team coming in — a team that you feel like you can beat and you have a great opportunity to continue to add to your NCAA profile as an NCAA tournament team,”

In an updated ranking provided to the News Sentinel by ESPN resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi, Tennessee is the No. 13 team resting outside the current projected tournament field.

Given where they’ve been, that alone, is an accomplishment.

“(Not giving up) is a hard thing to do when you’re struggling,” Martin said. “You can have different kinds of emotion in the locker room, with some guys going this way, other guys going the other way. But these guys stuck together and I give them the utmost credit for that.”

At the conclusion of every UT practice since his hiring, Martin blares his whistle and hollers, “Stack it up!” The team convenes at midcourt for a final message. After, all hands converge in the huddle and a different motto — “Together we attack!” — fills the air.

Over the past three weeks, the message has resonated.

“For a while, we were just saying it because he told us to,” McRae said. “But now we’re starting to realize what it means. We don’t have a LeBron or a Kobe on this team. If we want to win games, we have to do it together.”

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.

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Comments » 35

AllVols16 writes:

Vols keep the streak going and beat the Gators! AGAIN

iowavol writes:

very good report. They have a chance.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

McBee sounds like a future coach.

golfman1975 writes:

It is going to be a great game. If we play to our capability we can win the game.

TNVol71 writes:

This team has the capabiiity to win against the Gators. We need to play like we did against KY and in the 4th OT against A&M--fully focused as a team. GBO!

SouthPaVol writes:

another good article, looking inside the team, explaining why this or that is happening. We fans see the game, but we don't see the practices; we don't see the locker room. While wins and losses measure the success of a team, what happens behind the scenes defines the reason for success or failure. Team is looking good from my viewpoint. I, for one, appreciate in-depth reporting. Go Vols!

signalcorps writes:

win or lose Tn must look good playing good sound ball both halfs...........................players and coaches only

brod writes:

it's all about match-ups. must shoot the ball well. 9:00 start times make it rough on out of towners to come to the game, but it should be a lively crowd.

BrassMonkey writes:

I can't wait till Martin decides to actually coach a team in November, December, and January. We could really have a special program.

Troll_Here writes:

Troll Here. Pains me to say it, but we're catching you guys at a good time for you and a bad time for us. I think my Gators fight hard for 30 minutes or so, but whither down the stretch. Hope I'm wrong, but you guys are hot right now and we are way too short handed to win a high intensity, fast paced game like this one will be on the road. Just hope no one else get injured (for both teams). Go Gators!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to Troll_Here:

Troll Here. Pains me to say it, but we're catching you guys at a good time for you and a bad time for us. I think my Gators fight hard for 30 minutes or so, but whither down the stretch. Hope I'm wrong, but you guys are hot right now and we are way too short handed to win a high intensity, fast paced game like this one will be on the road. Just hope no one else get injured (for both teams). Go Gators!

You may be right. But I sincerely hope that we're both at our best. It's the only way to really enjoy the game for me.
Donovan has under-coached this game in the past...or maybe we were just really good in last year's games...or maybe the gators were really bad? I can't figure out how we did it then. BUT I am looking forward to a great game tonight. win or lose.
I'm hoping for some kinda home court advantage...not refs tho. Lot's of fans would be nice.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

I can't wait till Martin decides to actually coach a team in November, December, and January. We could really have a special program.

I have actually enjoyed your posts more lately.
I'm not a big believer in bashing coaches or the team on here. I can't say I never have but even so I don't believe in it as a rule.

I DID however see the humor in your post...or lack of...I guess it depends on your temperament.

SevenT writes:

"It is clear Tennessee can't hang with Florida schools in any sport."

Signed,
Jay Graham

kman29 writes:

conference record of last 5 teams Tennessee has played....31-39. Not exactly flexing their muscles against the greatest quality of teams in a horrible conference this year.

murrayvol writes:

The Vols are easily playing their best basketball at a very good time. Even a shorthanded FU won't be a pushover but they are vulnerable. GBO

murrayvol writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

McBee sounds like a future coach.

Are you talking about McRae?

murrayvol writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

McBee sounds like a future coach.

My bad. Didn't watch the video. You're right.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SouthPaVol:

another good article, looking inside the team, explaining why this or that is happening. We fans see the game, but we don't see the practices; we don't see the locker room. While wins and losses measure the success of a team, what happens behind the scenes defines the reason for success or failure. Team is looking good from my viewpoint. I, for one, appreciate in-depth reporting. Go Vols!

Yeah, I think Brendan has done a great job reporting on Vol basketball. He goes beyond the stats and records to the people involved better than anyone else on the staff. However, this time he got the name of Patric YOUNG wrong, and didn't mention Casey Prather as a player who has stepped up big-time in the absence of Yeguete. Otherwise, another fine inside look at this exciting, ever-evolving team.

LiveFaith writes:

Wed AM update:
conference record of the last 6 teams Tennessee has played ... 43-42. Not too shabby.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Troll_Here:

Troll Here. Pains me to say it, but we're catching you guys at a good time for you and a bad time for us. I think my Gators fight hard for 30 minutes or so, but whither down the stretch. Hope I'm wrong, but you guys are hot right now and we are way too short handed to win a high intensity, fast paced game like this one will be on the road. Just hope no one else get injured (for both teams). Go Gators!

Nice comment, not nearly as trollish as some we get on here. You may be right that the Gators short rotation may catch up with them, but the Vols might start feeling the effects of that 4-OT marathon a few days ago at about the same time. The winner will be the team that has the resolve to push through fatigue and pressure to deliver a poised performance in the clutch. It should be a great one even if it isn't especially beautiful. May the better team win! GO VOLS!!!

tennrich1 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

McBee sounds like a future coach.

I think you nailed it exactly...his basketball IQ is apparent on and off the floor...you'll see him stalking the sidelines one day, I promise you that!!!

jamgod writes:

in response to SevenT:

"It is clear Tennessee can't hang with Florida schools in any sport."

Signed,
Jay Graham

You really are just a piece of S*#t you know that. Your time is coming and man am I going to goad you every chance I get. Why don't you go away and just stay on your own site...is it because you secretly wish you were a part of the Vol nation who's history and tradition wipes the floor with lizzard scum? To bad, we don't want you but you can always go play on the interstate...that might work!

tobytyler writes:

in response to SevenT:

"It is clear Tennessee can't hang with Florida schools in any sport."

Signed,
Jay Graham

But, it is clear that ut is 30 points better than uk.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Troll_Here:

Troll Here. Pains me to say it, but we're catching you guys at a good time for you and a bad time for us. I think my Gators fight hard for 30 minutes or so, but whither down the stretch. Hope I'm wrong, but you guys are hot right now and we are way too short handed to win a high intensity, fast paced game like this one will be on the road. Just hope no one else get injured (for both teams). Go Gators!

Good troll.

1Volunteer writes:

in response to tobytyler:

But, it is clear that ut is 30 points better than uk.

Has UK beaten a Florida team "in any sport" this year?

josharelli writes:

Any justin.tv broadcasts for this game?

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to murrayvol:

My bad. Didn't watch the video. You're right.

Lol For a second there I thought I'd messed up. But it was from the video of McBee and I should have stated that.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Boys, we may or may not win...
but this is a great game from an entertainment standpoint.

Well done, UF, UT, and fans (about 6 minutes left in game).

redskinvol1 writes:

The Vols are playing hard tonight.Keep the fight going.

VolGrad writes:

Sweet win. Sweet.

Keep 'em rollin! Go Vols!!!

jt45 writes:

Statement indeed, one more time !
Its great to be a Tennessee Vol.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

In your face Gaturds! In your face! Who day? Who day? Who day say gonna beat dim VOLS....WHO DAY?!

Fight on you mighty Vols!!!!!!!

vol98champ writes:

Both teams ran out of gas, but the toughest came out the winner. Would not have even imagined that two months ago.

terrytennessee writes:

in response to SevenT:

"It is clear Tennessee can't hang with Florida schools in any sport."

Signed,
Jay Graham

It's clear you're an idiot.
Go Vols!

Volunatic writes:

in response to kman29:

conference record of last 5 teams Tennessee has played....31-39. Not exactly flexing their muscles against the greatest quality of teams in a horrible conference this year.

If those teams had beaten the Vols, the conference record of the last 5 teams would have been 36-34. However, Tennessee beat them all.
Now the conference record of the last 6 teams Tennessee has played is 53-43.
No, wait, make that 53-44-- the Gators suffered ANOTHER loss to the Vols.
Nelson Munce: "Ha ha."

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