Let’s all take a deep breath together. 1, 2, 3, ______ ahhhh, now that feels better. Coming off three tough losses and with what the next two games entail, that win was needed BADLY! Despite the losses, we have been playing much better but walking around the office you could just feel the stress level mounting. Honestly, our preparation for South Carolina was just OK. I felt like that loss to Florida took a lot out of our guys. But, most importantly, adjustments were made after that game; guys stuck together and we did what was necessary to control the majority of that game last night.
South Carolina is a scary team because of its pesty up-tempo defense and 3-point-launching offense. You should never relax but you definitely can’t relax against that team. A few times we stretched our lead to double digits but South Carolina quickly got back into the game by making a few 3s and forcing us into a few turnovers. For the most part though, I thought we did a good job keeping our poise in attempt to control tempo because of our veteran’s experience.
After the game, Coach Perl discussed many things but none more important than letting them know that if we want to continue winning we must commit fully to something greater than ourselves. He discussed guy’s roles and told them the story about Dane Bradshaw’s senior year. As the only senior surrounded by a highly touted freshman class, other talented veteran’s and a junior Chris Lofton with NBA aspirations, the ultra competitive winner Dane pleaded to his teammates after a late season loss to treat the last few games of the season as though it was their senior year, too. See, Dane knew his career in the Tennessee uniform was winding down and he knew that if they didn’t commit to something greater than their own personal agendas than we would continue to lose and he would be remembered as a member of a losing team or not remembered at all. After this postgame speech, this inexperienced but now motivated team rallied and went on to the Sweet 16 and fell just short of the Elite 8.
We discussed this in depth after the game. It’s time for our players to play for their boy next to them. The message was sent loud and clear once again. Melvin, Brian, Josh, Steven and John, this is your senior year. This is your team. How do you want to be remembered? It’s time to be accountable and hold your teammates accountable. As we head down the home stretch, the trust, effort, execution and energy we emphasize daily is needed more than ever. I know many people like to harp on Coach Pearl about our rotations and the amount of guys we play, but as a guy that played in the system I know firsthand that this is the time of year where our depth begins to pay off. Since we are not a pressing team this year, we may not be wearing teams down with our tempo, but I can promise you that the time and experience many of our guys have gotten in previous games will pay off. Sure, we all want our best players on the floor as much as possible but we feel it is very important to get our other guys experience throughout the season, game plan for match ups and at times go to the hot hand. It may not always work out how we envisioned but more times than not, Coach Pearl’s track record shows it does. With that said, we aren’t completely dumb (although some may refute that), I think if you look at the amount of minutes our “best players” play in post-season games, you’ll find that generally the bigger the game, the more minutes they play as long as they do the effort things Coach Pearl requires.
Meeting those demands will be a necessity for us to get a win vs. Georgia on Saturday. Coming off of a tough loss to Vandy last night and with revenge of their heartbreaking loss against us earlier in the season, they are going to come in here and play their best game of the year. It will be vital to not only meet their level of urgency but exceed it. We must be the aggressor. When we are the aggressor we are pretty good! Ask Scotty Hopson. When he plays the game low and in attack mode like he did in the 2nd half last night, he is one of the top players in the country, capable of making Sportscenter’s Top 10 every night. If he isn’t, if he’s passive, not in a stance and floating like he was the first 10 minutes last night, he’s a Sportscenter “Not so Top 10” waiting to happen.
Rebounding and offensive efficiency will be two of the primary keys for Saturday’s game but honestly there is one more HUGE key. That key is YOU VOL NATION! We need you to make Thompson-Boling Arena the most hostile environment in the country this weekend. Your energy and intensity fuels our players and is intimidating to our opponent so please, please, please, get to the game early, put on that OUTLIVE t-shirt and let’s get that place rockin’ as we continue to try and play better basketball down the home stretch.