JOE BIDDLE: Vols skin Gators to extend win streak to six - WKRN News 2

JOE BIDDLE: Vols skin Gators to extend win streak to six

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -

Don't look now, but Tennessee's basketball team is much like the old Tina Turner song.

The Vols are "rolling … rolling … rolling on the river.''

The men in Orange just knocked off their sixth straight opponent Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. This time it was the Florida Gators, a team that is trying to secure a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Granted, the Gators were playing without their top 3-point shooter as freshman Michael Frazier II was suffering from a concussion caused by a blow in a previous game that knocked him out cold.

Yes, the Gators were down to six players who had survived these late season wars of attrition. No one was feeling sorry for Florida. Least of all, their coach, Billy Donovan.

"I'm a believer in you lace them up and you go out there and play,'' Donovan said on the eve of the game. "You have to deal with the hand you've been dealt.''

Like Vols Coach Cuonzo Martin, Billy Donovan is a scrapper. He took on all comers playing for Rick Pitino at Providence. Battlin' Billy willed his team into the Final Four.

So there was little surprise that the game turned into a physical battle. Tennessee native Casey Prather came out late in the second half for the Gators, blood streaming down his forehead after fighting to get a rebound. These Vols are trying to recover from an early season knockdown, when they all but played their way out of any NCAA Tournament consideration.

With the win Tuesday night, the Vols are solidly in the conversation. But words don't produce at-large invitations. Actions do and this Vols edition is proving to be a tough out.

They weathered an early Florida lead and the two swapped body shots for 40 minutes. The Vols were the last team standing at the end.

It seems during this six-game streak that someone different steps up big every night for Martin's team. Tuesday night it was Jerald McRae, who took advantage of a height edge to get the Vols cranked up.

At one point in the first half, McRae had 17 points and the rest of the team had 14. They played much of the game without the man in the middle, Jarnell Stokes, who was in early foul trouble.

"Deal the hand your dealt.'' It also applied to Cuonzo Martin's philosophy he used to fight his way out of the mean streets of East St. Louis.

Martin was forced to go with a small lineup and the Vols responded to take a 3-point lead at halftime and went on to secure another resume builder. They held Florida to a season low 23.5 percent from beyond the arc – one of 10 in the second half.

What did the win over the previous No. 5-ranked Gators do for the Vols' NCAA Tournament resume?

It certainly caught the bracketologists' attention. They are aware of this Tennessee team streaking across the basketball sky. ESPN Joe Lunardi does not have Tennessee in his current bracket, but in an on-line chat Wednesday, Lunardi said when all is said and done, the Vols will be one of the 68 teams.

They have to keep pushing forward. They can't afford to slip in Athens, or let their guard down before they arrive in Nashville for the SEC Tournament. They will likely have more work to do in the Music City.

"When you look at this team and you say, "Is this one of the 68 teams?' Without a doubt, but you have to do your job,'' Martin cautioned. "For us, I say we have to keep it out of someone else's hands. Let's control the situation.''

There will be more back alley brawls ahead.

Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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