The firing of Bruce Pearl is seen by many fans as the downfall of Tennessee basketball, but it's just what the Vols needed to start dominating a key rival.
Third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin is a perfect 3-0 all-time against Florida, all of which came against ranked Gators teams. Pearl went 0-3 against Billy Donovan in his last year alone and lost four of his last five in the series.
Martin's fourth win in as many games against the Gators may be his toughest yet, as the Vols travel to Gainesville, Fla., to face No. 6-ranked Florida for a 4 p.m. Saturday tipoff.
Donovan's crew is solely atop the SEC with a perfect 4-0 record, winning nine straight, including wins over Kansas and Memphis. If it weren't for a buzzer beater from Connecticut on Dec. 2, the Gators would be riding a 14-game win streak into Saturday's contest.
Many Gator players are battling through injury problems. Leading scorer Casey Prather (knee) returned from a two-game absence to score 21 in Florida's 68-61 win over Auburn, while starters Patric Young (knee) and Scottie Wilbekin (ankle) have seen reduced minutes in recent weeks from their lingering problems.
Short rest could compound those issues as the Gators traveled Tuscaloosa and knocked off Alabama, 68-62, Thursday night.
The Vols can't boast a hot streak similar to that of Florida's, but did get back in the win column with a 81-74 victory over Arkansas on Wednesday night behind 34 points from Jordan McRae.
The Vols welcomed the win over a pesky Arkansas squad, even when it didn't come in the most comfortable of circumstances.
"(Arkansas) makes you do a lot of things you don't want to do," forward Jeronne Maymon said following Wednesday's win. "We played out of our comfort zone, but we made it happen tonight." Sitting at 3-2 in league play with a couple of shaky performances can't be ideal for Tennessee, who has traded wins and losses since the start of the SEC slate. If the Vols had simply held on against Texas A&M, they could tie themselves atop the conference with a win over Florida.
But Martin has warned his team about the ups and downs and how consistency alone can lead UT to success.
"The one thing I talk to our guys about is that you'll go through a lot of things in league play," Martin said. "Ups and downs. You'll see teams get beat you didn't expect to get beat. You'll see stuff happen. That's part of league play.
"But the key is to be consistent, get a 'W' and keep moving. Learn from it."