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Tennessee challenges No. 1 Florida in SEC semifinals

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Updated: 3/15 11:28 am

Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-seeded Florida Gators will continue their quest towards their first SEC Tournament championship since 2007 on Saturday afternoon when they take on the fourth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers at the Georgia Dome.

The winner moves on to Sunday's championship bout to take on either Kentucky or Georgia.

Tennessee (21-11) earned the final double-bye into the quarterfinals with the No. 4 seed and recorded an easy win over tournament surprise 13th-seeded South Carolina, 59-44, to advance to the semifinals of this event for the first time since 2010, while winning its season-high fifth consecutive game. It set the tone early by taking a 10-point lead into intermission and never looked back from there, as it shot 48.8 percent from the field, while holding South Carolina to a mere 27.1 percent. Jarnell Stokes was the catalyst down low with 22 points and 15 rebounds, while Jordan McRae pitched in 14 points.

Florida, the No. 1 team in the nation, extended its program-record winning streak to 24 games on Friday afternoon by defeating eighth-seeded Missouri in the quarterfinals, 72-49, to remain on the fast track for the No. 1 overall seed in next week's NCAA Tournament. The squad appeared as though it was going to have its hands full with the Tigers as it went into halftime tied up at 29, but it pulled away for the blowout victory by outscoring Mizzou over the final 10:04, 34-13. Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier paced the effort with 15 points apiece, with the duo combining to shoot a lights-out 10-of-13 from 3- point range. Dorian Finney-Smith was also solid with 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

Florida defeated Tennessee twice during the regular season, most recently in Knoxville on Feb. 11, 67-58, although the Vols still lead the all-time series, 72-54.

As they displayed in the win over South Carolina, the Vols' best asset this season has been their defense, as they give up only 61.2 ppg on less than 41 percent field goal shooting, and their offensive production (72.1 ppg) has been more than good enough in support. McRae pours in a team-high 18.6 ppg but has scored less than that average in four straight games. Stokes (14.7 ppg, 10.4 rpg) and Jeronne Maymon (10.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg) make up an imposing duo in the frontcourt.

The Gators' offensive output this season has been impressive on the campaign, as they score 71.5 ppg on greater than 46 percent field-goal shooting, but the primary reason they sit as the nation's top team is due to their relentless defensive pressure, yielding a mere 58.2 ppg on 40 percent shooting. Casey Prather (14.4 ppg) is the top scoring option and shoots a lofty 61.5 percent from the field. Wilbekin (13.0 ppg, 3.8 apg, 1.4 spg) won the SEC Player of the Year, Frazier (13.0 ppg) has drained 102 3-pointers at 44.9 percent efficiency and Patric Young (10.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Dorian Finney-Smith (9.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg) are stout in the paint.

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