Tennessee put up a much tougher fight against Florida this time.
It just wasn't quite enough to give the Volunteers the signature victory they needed to boost their NCAA tournament hopes.
Scottie Wilbekin had 21 points and six assists Tuesday night as the third-ranked Gators rallied from a one-point halftime deficit to beat Tennessee 67-58 for their 16th consecutive victory. Florida (22-2, 11-0 SEC) beat Tennessee (15-9, 6-5) in Knoxville for just the second time in its last nine attempts.
"I thought they did a great job keeping their composure and making their plays in a timely fashion," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I thought Wilbekin really controlled the tempo down the stretch of the game. Give those guys credit. They did a great job winning the game."
When the teams last met, Florida routed Tennessee 67-41 in Gainesville on Jan. 25 to hand the Volunteers their most lopsided loss in Martin's three-year tenure. Tennessee shot 26.8 percent (15 of 56) overall and 1 of 19 from 3-point range in that game.
After shooting 62.5 percent (15 of 24) in the first half of Tuesday's rematch, the Volunteers made only 29.2 percent (7 of 24) of their shots after halftime.
"We knew we were a better team than that first game anyway, (even) while it was going on," Tennessee guard Josh Richardson said. "We came out and played as well as we could today, and they just outplayed us."
Richardson scored 13 points for Tennessee. Jarnell Stokes led the Vols with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Jordan McRae had 17 points.
Tennessee had reason to feel confident about its chances.
Twelve previous times in this series, an unranked Tennessee team had faced a Florida team ranked 10th or higher. Tennessee entered the night with a 7-5 record in those games.
Tennessee fired up the crowd by having the players walk through a walkway in the Thompson-Boling Arena stands to get to the floor, allowing fans to greet them on their way. The student section behind one basket waved orange glow sticks as Tennessee's starting lineup was introduced.
"We felt like we were ready to win the game," Martin said. "We felt like we did everything to prepare to win the game."
That atmosphere might have caused the Vols to get a little too amped up early on. After a basket by Stokes gave the Vols an early 2-0 lead, Florida went on a 10-0 run by scoring seven points off five Tennessee turnovers in the first 4½ minutes.
But once the Vols settled down, they capitalized on their strong shooting to pull ahead. Tennessee outshot Florida in the first half but only led 34-33 at halftime because of Florida's ability to force turnovers and grab offensive rebounds.
"I was really encouraged coming into the half, just for the fact we'd shot 36 percent from the field and they shot 62 and we're down by one," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "That's generally a recipe where you're down by 12 to 15."
The shots Tennessee was making in the first half stopped falling after halftime as Florida grabbed a seven-point lead.
The Vols got back into the game by stepping up the intensity on defense even as their own shots weren't falling. Tennessee cut the lead to 55-54 on Stokes' three-point play with 4:32 left and had the ball with a chance to take the lead after McRae blocked Wilbekin's shot.
It was the type of scenario that could have caused the Gators to start thinking about their recent history of frustration in this building. Instead, they created a different finish this time.
Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon committed his eighth turnover of the night, leading to Michael Frazier II's 3-pointer that extended Florida's lead to 58-54 with 3:32 remaining. Wilbekin, who had missed his first five attempts from behind the arc, also drained a 3 just more than a minute later to pretty much seal the victory.
"I think it has a little bit to do with experience," Wilbekin said. "Four seniors (in the starting lineup). It's been a while since we've had four seniors on the team. Just stepping up, making big plays on the offensive side and on the defensive side especially, staying locked in and not letting up in the last moments of the game."