Kevarrius Hayes

Florida center Kevarrius Hayes scored 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting on Tuesday against Auburn.

 

The Florida men’s basketball team hasn’t lost three-straight games this season. But it’ll have to pull off a major upset if it wants to keep it that way.

Next up is No. 1 Tennessee on Saturday, and UF will have to take on the nation’s top team on the road.

The Gators hit perhaps their rock bottom in conference play when they were dominated by Auburn on Tuesday night. Florida led in the first minute of that game and not a minute afterward. The Tigers leapt ahead by as much as 18 points in a 76-62 win, snapping an 11-game losing streak to the Gators. UF committed 17 turnovers in the defeat.

Senior center Kevarrius Hayes knew that wasn’t enough of an effort to compete in the SEC.

“We weren’t very poised taking care of the ball,” he said in a release after the game. “We knew that part of their game plan is to play fast and try to turn us over. That gives them a chance to get out in transition — and they’re a very good team in transition.”

Florida (12-10, 4-5 SEC) limited the turnovers in their first matchup against the Volunteers, a 78-67 loss on Jan. 12 in the O’Connell Center. The Gators hung around until the end of that game, but 34 combined points from Vols stars Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield allowed UT to pull away late.

Tennessee (21-1, 9-0 SEC) is still unbeaten in the SEC, and its lone loss of the season came in overtime against Kansas on Nov. 23. If Florida wants to be the first team to down the Vols in Knoxville, Tennessee, it’ll have to play much tighter than it did against Auburn.

KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke scored 18 points and 16 points, respectively, in the first game against the Vols. Florida shot 41.3 percent in the first half and led by three at the break. But if the Gators want to win this time, especially playing on the road, they will have to avoid another second-half collapse. Florida will need a consistent offensive performance throughout to keep pace with the Volunteers, who boast the sixth-best scoring offense in Division I basketball.

UF’s 18th-ranked scoring defense will have its hands full against Schofield and Williams, who both cracked the Late Season Top 20 Watch List for the Wooden Award. Hayes and forward Dontay Bassett face the tough task of defending Williams on the interior. He’s one of the most dynamic players in the country and can hurt his opposition in multiple ways, whether it be from the mid-range or driving to the basket.

If he can take over the game the way he did the first time around, it could be a long afternoon for the Gators.

After playing the Volunteers, Florida has a stretch of winnable games, and how it performs in those games will determine its tournament fate. But unless UF puts together an uncharacteristically strong performance against Tennessee, it will likely have to dig itself out of an eleven-loss hole.

Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno and contact him at [email protected]

Tyler Nettuno is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida men's basketball team. He has previously covered UF golf and lacrosse. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.