This is how I had envisioned the day going: We continued to play better and got a huge win over our rival Kentucky that catapulted us to 2 nd place in the SEC East. Our six seniors walked off the Thompson-Boling Arena floor for the last time as winners. Our fans left the arena with their chests puffed out, smiling as they walked by every person wearing blue. Allan Houston, whose number was retired, came into the locker room after the game and celebrated with us as we jumped up and down singing victoriously “It’s GREAT, to be, a Tennessee Vol! I said its great, to be, a Tennessee Vol!”
Instead, we’re all left miserably licking our wounds….again.
The first half couldn’t have gone much better. Our defensive intensity was really, really good as we held them to 29% shooting and 20 points total. We were the aggressor and it enabled us to get out in transition for easy baskets to help our struggling half court offense. With that said, silly mistakes, such as the last play of the half, kept Kentucky closer than they should have been. But if you had told me before the game we would have been up 7 at the half, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.
Our inconsistency reared its ugly head again in the second half as we went from up seven to down as much as eight. It’s so frustrating talking about the same things over and over again but unfortunately, rebounding, 50/50 balls and our lack of offensive flow got us beat. You can’t beat a very good team like Kentucky if your opponent gets the last seven rebounds of the game and every guy on your roster isn’t willing to get on the floor for a loose ball.
As Kentucky made seven 2nd half three’s and scored 16 points off of 14 offensive rebounds, we more than doubled our turnovers from the first half and continued to get few open looks and miss numerous contested shots. We, coaches included, are all accountable for these struggles. In a post game coaches meeting, our coaches were verbally distraught over our lack of offensive efficiency. We are all accountable for our performance.
After the game, with multiple players crying, Coach Pearl addressed the team. In this post game speech he told our players he thought our effort was good enough to win that game. However, to win this time of year we need more than that. Every team this time of year is gong to play hard. Effort is expected; it shouldn’t have to be demanded. As he went on we could all sense him heading down the same “loose ball, rebounding, smart decisions lost us this game” road, but he stopped before he could finish it as he took the words right out of my mouth by saying “I’m so sick of this same old talk after a loss.”
This team, these seniors, this coaching staff’s legacy is not finalized yet. The 2010-11 Tennessee basketball team still has an opportunity to etch a positive place in this program’s history. We could blame our inability to do so thus far this season on one excuse or another but that’s a losing, cowardly, gutless attitude. We won’t do that. I won’t and members of this program won’t be associated with that losing mentality. We will fight throughout the remainder of this season. Those seniors, alumni like Allan Houston and our fans, whom I thought we would be celebrating with after our win Sunday, deserve nothing but our very best for the remainder of this season. With just one game definitely left on our schedule and participation in the NCAA tournament not yet guaranteed, it’s now or never.