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Pressure? What Pressure?
The No. 2-ranked Tennessee men's basketball team isn't showing any sign of concern heading into Saturday's 9 p.m. game at No. 1 Memphis (26-0) after topping Auburn 89-70 Wednesday night.
The Vols (24-2) likely will take over the top spot in the nation if they can end the Tigers' homecourt win streak, which at 47 stands as the longest in the nation.
"Is there any pressure on us?'' UT sophomore forward Tyler Smith asked rhetorically. "I don't think so. I think the pressure would be on them.
"They're undefeated, and they are trying to keep that zero on the right side of the won-loss column.''
J.P. Prince agreed.
"I don't think the pressure is on us,'' said Prince, who attended Memphis White Station High School before going to Arizona and transferring to Tennessee. "The pressure would have to be on them. Number one is supposed to beat number two.''
Las Vegas oddsmakers agree; The Tigers have opened as six-point favorites.
"As far as pressure on me, I don't even think about that,'' Prince said. "I've played in front of those people thousands of times, and they've seen me grow up my whole life through high school.''
Vols coach Bruce Pearl said that despite the hoopla surrounding the ESPN-televised event, he's approaching the game as he would any other.
"There's more hype, there's more media, the kids know the game will be watched by more people, but that doesn't make this game more important,'' Pearl said. "If this game was to go to the Final Four, like last year, if we'd have beaten Ohio State in the Sweet 16, we'd have seen Memphis (in the Elite Eight).
"You talk about pressure - the winner goes, loser doesn't? That's pressure. But both teams will move on from this game, win or lose, and have bigger and bigger things to accomplish.''
UT All-American Chris Lofton said he sees a challenge for the Vols.
"I don't think there's any pressure to it,'' Lofton said. "They're number one, we're number two. It's going to be a test for both of us to see where we stand.
"Being on the road, we're not expected to do great. Anytime you're at home you're expected to win, especially when you're number one in the nation.''
Senior JaJuan Smith said the Vols are just enjoying their status near the top of the rankings.
"Just to see we're in the same category with North Carolina, and get up here and know how they do things on a day-to-day basis,'' JaJuan Smith said. "We're still climbing the ladder, though. We can't say we've jumped into the same category because they have national championships, and we don't, yet.''
UT point guard Ramar Smith said the Vols' opportunity speaks for itself.
"I think it's just fun playing against Memphis, the No. 1 team,'' Smith said. "It's a big game, what more can I say? I'm tired of talking about Memphis. I'm ready to play.''