No. 2 Tennessee has emerged as a legitimate Final Four contender this season.
The Volunteers have won nine of their last 10 games and will take a four-game winning streak into their Wednesday night meeting with Florida in Gainesville, Fla.
"Right now, I love this team," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "We've got a chance to be as good as we want to be."
Defense has fueled Tennessee's consistent play, as the Vols (18-3, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing 54.5 points per game, and have allowed opponents to shoot just 34.5 percent against them -- the lowest opponent field goal percentage in the country.
On offense, Tennessee has been balanced, led by guard Santiago Vescovi, who is averaging 12.2 points while shooting 35.4 percent from 3-point range.
"We've got an unselfish team," Barnes said.
Lately, Tennessee has been sparked by guard Zakai Zeigler, who has averaged 16.5 points, 8.5 assists, 3.0 steals and 2.5 rebounds over his last two games to earn SEC Player of the Week honors.
Zeigler had 22 points and 10 assists in Tennessee's 81-72 win over No. 10 Texas on Saturday.
"We're big on playing like grown men," Zeigler said. "That's what's going around the locker room a lot -- that we've just gotta be out there and be grown men. We can't let anyone out-physical us. That was one of the key points for us to win this game (against Texas)."
The Gators (12-9, 5-3) are coming off a 64-50 loss at then-No. 5 Kansas State. Florida's 50 points was a season low as the Gators once again struggled from the perimeter on the road, shooting just 4 of 22 from 3-point range (18.2 percent).
"We got some looks," Florida coach Todd Golden said. "I thought we should've shot the ball a little better than we did. It's been a little bit of an Achilles heel for us on the road, whether it be Auburn, (Texas) AM, tonight."
Florida will try to lean on its defense, which ranks eighth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. Colin Castleton leads the SEC in blocks per game at 3.2 and with four more blocks, will pass Joakim Noah (186) for fourth on Florida's all-time shot block list.
To upset the Vols, though, the Gators will likely need to find a way to get hot from 3-point range. Florida is shooting 32.3 percent from 3-point range on the season, which ranks eighth in the SEC.
"You don't win basketball games when you miss shots, and that feels like something that has happened throughout the year," Castleton said. "But we have to make shots. When it comes down to it, when you get open looks you have to be confident and believe in yourself, and that's what we have to do as a team, we have to be confident and know when we are open to let it fly and just knock it down."
Tennessee has won seven of its last eight meetings with Florida. The Gators' lone win in that span came at home, when Florida beat Tennessee 75-49 on January 19, 2021.
--Field Level Media