Tennessee 86, No. 5 Florida 76

Wednesday, February 28th 2007, 5:59 am
By: News On 6

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Tennessee had Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt belting out ``Rocky Top,'' and Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning offering motivation in a pregame talk.

Thompson-Boling Arena was near capacity for Senior Night, the Volunteers on the verge of going undefeated at home for the first time in 31 years.

In walked fifth-ranked Florida, the defending national champions who already wrapped up the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, but have struggled lately.

The Gators had no chance.

Tennessee stunned Florida with a 17-0 run in the first half and went on to win 86-76 Tuesday night to finish 16-0 at home.

``We pulled everything out for this one,'' coach Bruce Pearl said.

Chris Lofton scored 21 points, while JaJuan Smith added 16 points for Tennessee (21-9, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) and Ramar Smith and Dane Bradshaw each had 10 points.

The Gators (25-5, 12-3) have lost three of four after a 17-game winning streak. With each loss, their chances for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament slip away.

``When we play at home, we're hard to beat,'' Lofton said. ``It's the crowd. You're at your home gym, and everybody is with you. I feel like we come out and play hard at home.''

In other Top 25 games Tuesday night, No. 12 Pittsburgh beat West Virginia 80-66 and BYU edged No. 25 Air Force 62-58.

Summitt nearly stole the show from the Vols and Gators. She walked onto the court during a timeout in the first half wearing an orange cheerleaders uniform. She started singing ``Rocky Top,'' and fans joined in. Then Summitt stood atop a short human pyramid formed by two of her assistant coaches.

Summitt was paying back Pearl, who painted himself orange and cheered in the student section at a Lady Vols game last month.

``She didn't disappoint,'' Pearl said.

Manning told the Vols to trust their teammates.

``He talked to us before the game about how your whole team has to win a championship, not by yourself,'' Lofton said.

Florida beat Tennessee in Gainesville earlier this season when Lofton was out with a sprained right ankle.

Al Horford led Florida with 17 points, while Chris Richard and Corey Brewer had 12 apiece. Joakim Noah added 11 rebounds and Horford had 10.

``I think our team is in a no-win situation,'' Florida coach Billy Donovan said. ``If we had won every game, the questions would have been do you think a loss is good for this team? Do you think you have won too many games? Can they handle this?''

Tennessee was ahead by 19 points at halftime and as many as 27 in the second half.

But the lead wasn't safe. The Gators had come back from 18 points down to beat Alabama this season.

Florida tried to get back in it with a 14-2 run that included eight points by Noah. His dunk with 9:22 remaining cut it to 67-54.

Tennessee scored again, but the Gators answered with a 7-0 run to pull to 69-61 with 6:08 to go. A drive by Lofton started a 6-0 run for the Vols, and the Gators couldn't get any closer.

``I think it was our best first half of the season. Everybody was clicking and everybody was hitting shots, just playing good defense,'' Lofton said.

Bradshaw, Tennessee's lone senior, was honored before the final home game. Bradshaw made go-ahead layups in each of the Vols' wins last year over Florida.

Bradshaw had a steal with 1:33 to go and was fouled by Lee Humphrey. Bradshaw made both free throws. He had gone 12 games without scoring in double digits.

The Vols finished undefeated at home for the first time since 1975-76, and a near-capacity crowd of 24,047 saw the home finale.

Three conference tournaments also began Tuesday.

In the Horizon League, Illinois-Chicago beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee 83-77; Wisconsin-Green Bay defeated Cleveland State 78-59; and Younstown State edged Detroit 82-80.

In the Big South, it was High Point 90, Radford 73; UNC Asheville 77, Coastal Carolina 64; VMI 79, Liberty 78; and Winthrop 72, Charleston Southern 42.

In the Ohio Valley Conference, it was Austin Peay 89, Tennessee State 84 in overtime; Eastern Kentucky 63, Morehead State 45; Samford 70, Murray State 60; and Tennessee Tech 88, Southeast Missouri 60.

No. 12 Pittsburgh 80, West Virginia 66

Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall wore down West Virginia with their inside scoring and rebounding and host Pittsburgh (25-5, 12-3 Big East) remained in contention for the conference's regular-season title.

Gray keyed a 9-0 run at the start of the second half that reversed a three-point halftime deficit and made it 38-32. Gray scored the first four points of a run finished off by Levance Fields' 3-pointer.

West Virginia (20-8, 8-7) got to within three points at 54-51, but another 9-0 run gave Pitt its first double-digit lead.

BYU 62, No. 25 Air Force 58

Austin Ainge scored 14 points and Keena Young added 12, including eight straight in a pivotal second-half run, as Brigham Young assured itself at least a share of the Mountain West title.

The Cougars also ended the Falcons' 30-game winning streak at Clune Arena, where Air Force (23-7, 10-6) had won 54 of 55.

Jimmy Balderson had 11 points and Trent Plaisted 10 as the Cougars (22-7, 12-3) won for the ninth time in 10 games.