BY: John Mamola

The Florida Gators struggled early but came out on top once again to win their 25th straight game in Atlanta over Tennessee 59-49 to advance to the SEC Championship Game on Sunday.  The Gators defense stepped up big in the second half against the Vols to advance to their third tournament final in the last four years.

The Gators were slow to get things started for the second straight day in the SEC Tourney as the Vols played above the rim and dominated in the paint on the glass.  Following the under 16 minutes media timeout, the Volunteers went on a quick 6-0 run to take the early lead from Florida led by the tandem seniors Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon.  The Vols defense held the Gators scoreless for five of the last six minutes of the first half.

Tennessee at one point led by as much as twelve points but a key three point basket to end the first half by Scottie Wilbekin turned the momentum for the beginning of the second half.  The Gators began the second half on a 10-2 run and regained the lead on a Kasey Hill lay in.

The Vols fought back immediately with a run of their own to take back the lead but Michael Frazier drained a huge three pointer to put the Gators up 45-43 with nine minutes to play in the game.  Then the defenses for both teams went to work as the Gators held the Vols to no field goals in a nine minute span, while the Vols defense held the Gators offense without a field goal in nearly a seven minute span. 

The Gators took a four point lead late in the game on a double foul (personal/technical) call on Jeronne Maymon who fouled out arguing the call by the refs.  The Gators pulled away in the last two and a half minutes of the game scoring the game’s final seven points and advance to the conference championship game in Atlanta tomorrow afternoon.

Scottie Wilbekin finished with 14 points but only scored a lone free throw in the second half.  Patric Youn led the team with 16 points and 8 rebounds.  The Gators outscored the Vols 28-14 in the second half as Florida’s defense held the Vols to only one field goal in the last 12 minutes of the game.

The Gators will face the winner of Kentucky Georgia game tomorrow afternoon on 1250am WHNZ at 3:00pm.