Now they can talk about it.
After dispensing with Auburn in style Wednesday night, Tennessee is free to turn its undivided attention to Saturday's showdown with No. 1 Memphis at the FedEx Forum, the first No. 2-vs.-No. 1 duel in school history.
"No, I never thought of it, that I'd be in a one-versus-two game at Tennessee,'' senior JaJuan Smith said following the Vols' 89-70 romp at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"It's a dream come true and we're just going to try to make the most out of it.''
That they'd ever play in college basketball's game of the year didn't seem likely when Smith and fellow senior Chris Lofton reported to campus in the fall of 2004.
"Tennessee men's basketball has changed a lot,'' said Lofton, who Wednesday became the seventh player in NCAA history to notch 400 career 3-point baskets. "Were just trying to make history.''
The Vols (24-2, 11-1 SEC) already made history this week, moving up to a school-high No. 2 in the rankings.
Just in time for Memphis, which stayed unbeaten Wednesday with a 97-71 road win at Tulane.
"We knew from the start of the season Memphis was going to be a big game,'' said Smith.
"We've been blocking it out so we could take it one game at a time all season. So now, it's Memphis.''
No more blocking it out.
"This weekend is a celebration for Tennessee basketball,'' said UT coach Bruce Pearl.
"If I'm a high school basketball player or a high school coach in Tennessee, I'm proud of what's going to take place in Memphis on Saturday. Those things are reserved for Indiana and Kentucky and North Carolina.''
Saturday is a rematch of the game UT won 76-58 last year in Knoxville.
This winter, the Vols couldn't help but be aware of Memphis' accomplishments. The Tigers are TV highlight favorites.
"We know they're number one in America for a reason,'' said Lofton.
"It's going to be exciting. I think the atmosphere is going to be something we've never played in before. With the (ESPN) College GameDay and all, it's going to be fun.''
Added Smith, "It's going to be a good match-up for us. They play the same style of ball and that's going to be an advantage for us.
"We're going to play our style of ball. Let the better team win.''
The Vols insist their primary goal is still to win the school's first outright SEC regular-season title since 1967.
Beating Auburn was a step in that direction. Coupled with Mississippi State's loss at Ole Miss, Tennessee (11-1) has a 2 1/2-game lead over both State (8-3) and Kentucky (8-3).
"Memphis,'' said Smith, "is a big challenge but it's not going to make us or break us because it's not in our conference.''
Late Run: Auburn made a late 15-0 rally against UT's subs. After watching a 29-point lead dwindle to 83-69 with 2:06 to play, Pearl sent the starters back on the floor.
Ramar Smith made a three-point play and Lofton nailed a 3-point shot to restore the lead to 89-69.
"When it got down to 14 with two to go, I had no choice,'' said Pearl. "I'm not worried about hurting feelings. I'm worried about securing a victory.''
Muscial Night: While both teams were warming up before the game, a video of senior Jordan Howell playing piano and singing the Marvin Gaye classic "Let's Get It On'' played on the scoreboard.
At halftime, a local band, The Sons of Bruce, took the floor to perform "Bruce Is Loose,'' a rock tribute to Pearl.
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6275.