- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee often saves its best performances of the season for Florida.

The Volunteers want to make sure the trend continues Saturday.

Tennessee (12-6, 3-2 SEC) has won all three of its meetings with Florida since Cuonzo Martin started coaching the Volunteers in the 2011-12 season. Tennessee has dominated this series lately even though Florida has reached an NCAA tournament regional final and the Vols have landed in the NIT each of the last two years.

The Vols will put that streak on the line while trying to end the sixth-ranked Gators’ 25-game home winning streak Saturday at Gainesville. The only Division I programs with longer active home winning streaks than Florida are No. 18 Duke with 27 and Stephen F. Austin with 26.

“I think the most important thing for us is not going into Florida and looking at what we’ve done to them in the past couple of years,” Tennessee guard Jordan McRae said. “We’ve got to go in knowing they’re a top-10 team for a reason. We’ve got to go out there with our hard hats and (be) ready to play.”

Florida (16-2, 5-0) has won its last 10 games and is the only SEC team unbeaten in conference play. Then again, Tennessee has a favorable history against Florida that began long before Martin’s arrival.

Eleven different times in this rivalry, an unranked Tennessee team has beaten a Florida squad that was in the Top 25. Florida coach Billy Donovan has gone 16-18 against Tennessee during his 18-year tenure.

The Vols went 8-1 against Florida in a stretch that ran from January 2006 to January 2010. Florida won the next four games in the series, but Tennessee has answered with those three straight victories under Martin.

Tennessee beat Florida 64-58 at Knoxville in their only meeting last season. McRae scored 27 points in last year’s win over Florida and is coming off a 34-point performance Wednesday in an 81-74 triumph over Arkansas.

“He’s a very, very efficient scorer because he can do it a lot of different ways,” Donovan said. “He’s terrific in transition, he shoots 3’s, he can make mid-range jump shots, he can post up some. There’s really not an area of the floor where he has the ball where he’s not a threat to score.”

This game features two of the SEC’s most experienced teams. Florida typically starts four seniors and one sophomore. Tennessee’s usual lineup includes three seniors and two juniors. Those Tennessee upperclassmen struggle to explain why they’ve been so successful against Florida.

“I don’t really have an answer for it,” Tennessee guard Josh Richardson said. “I just think we just played harder than them the last couple of years.”

Tennessee will have to be at the top of its game to keep that streak alive.

Florida is one of the nation’s hottest teams and has demonstrated a knack for winning close games. After going 0-6 in games with single-digit margins last season, Florida is 8-2 in those situations this year. The Gators are 3-1 in games decided by one or two points.

The Gators won’t have much rest after grinding out a 68-62 victory at Alabama on Thursday. Donovan said airplane mechanical trouble prevented the Gators from returning to campus until about noon Friday. The Gators downplayed the impact the travel difficulty might have on them Saturday. In recent seasons, Florida has fared well when it’s had to play on Thursday and Saturday in the same week.

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