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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Talk about coming full circle.

It was only two years ago that Tennessee stopped an upstart UF team from running its record to 18-0 and ascending to the top of the national polls.

I still vividly remember seeing that sea of pukey orange spill out onto the floor of Knoxville's Thompson-Boling Arena like a newly opened and violently shaken bottle of Sunkist.

Two national titles later, only Walter Hodge remains from that UF team, but the Gators are still having all sorts of problems with the Volunteers. In fact, Tennessee has won four of the last five games between the two schools.

And when the SEC rivals square off in the O'Connell Center tonight, it will be a complete role reversal for the two teams.

No. 4 Tennessee will enter a hostile road environment flexing its muscles, while the Gators will try to prove that they, too, are still relevant in the college basketball landscape.

So if the Gators pull off the upset tonight, should Gators fans storm the court?

Jeremy Foley and Billy Donovan would certainly prefer the fans cheer from a distance, and the SEC offers UF 25,000 good reasons to do just that.

My guess is storming the court probably won't be a viable option for Gators fans, as uniformed officers will likely make it quite an obstacle. Let's hope we can avoid a repeat of the Tasergate scandal.

But given the right situation, would Gators fans engage in that kind of display, anyway, or are they too proud for that?

Regardless, whether UF fans storm the court or even whether the Gators win tonight isn't the point. What is significant is that the fans would even have a reason to rush the court in the first place.

When was the last time any Gators fan with a blood alcohol level less than three times the legal limit even thought about storming the court? UF has been such a proud program lately that being even a slight underdog at the O-Dome has been extremely rare.

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The only case in recent history where fans might have had a reason to consider leaving their seats was at a 2005 game against Kentucky. The Wildcats, similar to what Tennessee has done to the Gators lately, seemed to have UF's number until that point, claiming eight straight victories against the orange and blue.

The Gators won that game - which essentially served as a changing of the guard in the SEC - and senior David Lee finally got his first win against the Wildcats.

But the fans didn't storm the court.

Judging by what I heard from a reporter who was sitting on press row at the time, it's a good thing they didn't. Let's just say the police were very determined to keep fans off the floor.

But while that truly was a marquee win for UF, a victory tonight would be more than just a symbolic achievement.

The Gators desperately need a win to avoid the NIT, and this is their best opportunity to make an impression on the NCAA selection committee.

A late-season victory against a top-five team would be the perfect lead note on the Gators' postseason resume.

That would be something that could be appreciated from the comfort of your seat.

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