The Thompson-Boling experience
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There were few smiles at Tennessee's practice Friday afternoon.
Vols' coach Bruce Pearl was his usual self, barking out orders and reviewing his scouting report notes while conducting the two-hour walk-through session.
The players, however, were a picture of concentration, their game faces already on for tonight's 9 o'clock tip-off against No. 1 Memphis (26-0).
The No. 2-ranked Vols (24-2) bring a modest eight-game win streak into the ESPN-televised event at FedEx Forum against a Tigers team that has not only won 47 consecutive games at home, but also, 45 consecutive regular-season games.
"I could use a little more time to get ready for this game,'' Pearl said. "We'll just have to see what we've got.''
Both Memphis and Tennessee have vowed not to back off their frantic, fast-breaking, full-court styles of play.
But at some point, half-court defense will be played.
"Building a wall,'' has been Pearl's catchphrase this week, with the Vols emphasizing the need to limit the Tigers' productivity near the basket.
"You have to stop them from penetrating,'' Pearl said. "They find gaps, and they turn corners, and then they go get what they miss and put it back up. We have to build a wall and try to keep them out of there.''
The playfulness exhibited by the UT players this week was replaced by serious answers when asked about the strategical approach to the game.
"They are athletic and long, and they can get to the rim,'' Vols All-American Chris Lofton said. "We just have to have great team defense.''
Sophomore Wayne Chism said he knows the Tigers will apply pressure on him via 6-foot-9, 265-pound post Joey Dorsey.
"They'll think we're soft inside, and they'll come at me,'' said Chism, who's 6-9, 242. "Dorsey is a beast on the boards, and you have to keep an eye on him on the lob and rebounds.
"They get off on runs off his dunks. He really throws it down. But there's more than one big matchup.''
In 6-7 wing Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis has one of the most talented and hottest players in the country.
"Douglas-Roberts, to me, is as good as there is in college basketball right now,'' said Pearl, noting that Douglas-Roberts has averaged 27.7 points over the past three games. "He's the college version of Kobe Bryant with the things he can do.''
UT wing JaJuan Smith most likely will be the primary defender on Douglas-Roberts, just as he was asked to guard Vanderbilt standout Shan Foster and Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo earlier this season.
Smith said checking Douglas-Roberts will be similar to stopping Foster and Pargo in some respects.
"I've got to get up into him, like Foster, and keep him out of his shooting rhythm,'' Smith said. "I played against him (Douglas-Roberts) at LeBron James Camp (last summer). I picked up on some of his game.''
Pargo was at that camp, too, and the 6-3 Smith learned enough to limit the Gonzaga star to eight points in the Vols' win over the Bulldogs earlier this season.
Another key is at point guard, where UT sophomore Ramar Smith will be asked to match-up with Memphis' freshman sensation Derrick Rose.
"He's really about the hype, a great player, a McDonald's All-American,'' Smith said. "So you've got Derrick Rose, big name, and then Ramar Smith, with my name not so big. Let's just play.''
Build A Wall II: ESPN producers called UT earlier this week encouraging the school to send students to today's GameDay set.
"They wanted a 50-50 mix of fans,'' Vols basketball sports information director Craig Pinkerton said. "Apparently, that's not going to happen.''
Pinkerton said he got word from Memphis that only 3,500 fans will be permitted around the ESPN set, with Memphis students getting first dibs and the remainder of the seats going to fans who have tickets for the game.
Pearl was not pleased.
"We don't control the game operations,'' Pearl said, "but if we had GameDay here, I'd try to get 20,000 to fill our place up.''
Pat's Take: Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt sat courtside during the Vols' practice Friday afternoon, chatting with Pearl between drills.
"Anytime we've been in that (No. 1 vs. No. 2) situation, it has a postseason feel and it is great preparation for the (NCAA) tournament,'' Summitt said. "It is a valuable learning experience.
"But it's important to not make it bigger or more important than it is.''
New Shoes: The Vols will break out a new adidas model of shoe tonight, the "Piranha 3.0.''
Lofton has been wearing the two-year-old original model of the shoe, which features a crossover strap, but like most all of his teammates was wearing the new version on Friday.
Shoot-Around: UT deviated from its normal practice of holding a shoot-around in the road arena the night before the game because the Memphis Grizzlies have a home game. The Vols will shoot in FedEx Forum this morning before returning to the team hotel to eat, meet, rest and watch other college basketball games.