Jordan McRae made no bones about it.
"We got whipped," he said of Tennessee's dismal 67-41 defeat at Florida on Jan. 25.
McRae and the Vols will get a chance at revenge against the No. 3 Gators on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena for what is likely the last opportunity UT will get to beat a ranked team before turning in its NCAA Tournament resume.
Billy Donovan's Florida squad, now winners of 15 straight games, ran the Vols out of Gainesville in the first meeting this season between the rivals. What was a seven-point deficit at half for UT turned into a 26-point drubbing as the Vols' starting guards shot a combined 2-for-29.
The Gators' (21-2, 10-0 SEC) defense ranks atop the SEC while holding opponents to a mere 57.9 points per game. McRae's take, though, is that the Vols (15-8, 6-4) can expose their opponent simply by taking the lid off the basket.
"We made their defense look really, really good when myself was 1-for-15, Josh was 0-for-7," McRae said after UT's win over South Carolina on Saturday. "I mean, other people on the wing didn't make shots, too. So we made their defense look excellent."
Florida's unselfish demeanor was also a key in beating the Vols, which Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin noticed as the Gators' most crucial asset.
"In my opinion, their biggest strength is they look like they don't care who gets the accolades, the glory, that sort of thing," Martin said Monday at his weekly press conference. "They just win ball games. When you have a team like that with talented ball players, you have a chance to be very successful."
Though flying under the radar, two players couldn't help but stand out as Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin have emerged as the SEC's best backcourt.Prather leads the team with 15.6 points per game and Wilbekin isn't far behind, adding 12.6 each contest. But they both play a huge role in the Gators' press that has been suffocating opponents all season, and their high energy helped force 13 UT turnovers the last time around.
But UT's handling of the press has improved since, and Vol junior forward Jarnell Stokes admitted he is coming into this one as he usually does – confidently.
"I think we will do a better job against the press," Stokes said. "We somewhat handled Alabama's press and that's a team that killed us in previous years. Florida runs a similar style offense and defense, too.
"I think this time around will be better for us."
There's no doubt the stakes are high going into this week of Tennessee basketball, as the Vols host a top-five team and travel to face Missouri on Saturday. Winning both – or either, even – could end up boosting the Vols' iffy NCAA Tournament chances tremendously.
Having a tough week ahead isn't anything new to Martin, who has seen an up-and-down SEC season thus far. But even though he takes the same approach to every game, he admitted this week is a bit bigger than usual.
"As always," Martin said. "It's one game at a time, and they are all big. But yeah, you could say that."Of course, having the national spotlight doesn't hurt.
The Vols and Gators will play on ESPN's Super Tuesday broadcast, which highlights a pair of marquee games each week.
The magnitude of that big stage doesn't go unnoticed by players. If McRae's words are any indication, it's going to get the Vols even more fired up.
"It's always exciting for games like that," McRae said. "They're big games, and our crowd is going to be here, they're going to be into it.
"Super Tuesday; everybody knows what it is. Games like that are what players live for."