Most coaches are reluctant to throw out the "must-win'' term, and some avoid it completely.
But Tennessee men 's basketball coach Bruce Pearl's style has been to tell it like it is, even when it means adding pressure to himself and his players.
"These are must-win games at home,'' Pearl said, referring to tonight's 8 o'clock tipoff at Thompson-Boling Arena against LSU (TV: WVLT) and Saturday night's battle with Florida.
"You don't have to be either a mathematician or brain surgeon to figure out how important this week is.''
Nor do UT fans need to be historians to remember how difficult a time the Vols (12-6, 3-1 SEC) have had with LSU (15-4, 3-1) in Pearl's 3 1/2-year tenure.
The Tigers are 2-2 against Pearl's Tennessee teams, and this year's purple-and-gold edition is just as long and athletic as the past three that have held the Vols to an average of 64 points a game.
"This will be a tremendous clash of two teams that are competing for the (SEC) championship,'' Pearl said. "They make points in the paint more challenging because of their length and size, so we have to figure out a way to get more points on the perimeter.''
The Vols will have to defend on the perimeter, too, as the Tigers boast one of the most dangerous scorers in the league in shooting guard Marcus Thornton (18.9 points per game).
"He's somebody you need to cover and identify, like (Kentucky's) Jodie Meeks,'' Pearl said. "The difference that jumps out at me is LSU has more weapons (than Kentucky).
"LSU will do more for Tasmin Mitchell, and (6-foot-11 Chris) Johnson is a factor. There's more balance in LSU's attack, and yet, Thornton is capable of going off.''
Neither the Vols nor the Tigers went off last year in Baton Rouge, as UT escaped with a harrowing 47-45 victory.
"I remember it was ugly,'' said Vols' junior wing J.P. Prince, who was 1-of-7 shooting against LSU and 1-of-5 from the free-throw line. "There were a lot of bricks getting thrown up.''
LSU's Garrett Temple, arguably the best perimeter defender in the SEC, had much to do with that and will be patrolling the 3-point arc again tonight.
With Tigers sophomore point guard Bo Spencer emerging, and Mitchell returning after missing last year with a knee injury, LSU is as dangerous as ever.
"LSU is talented and one of the oldest teams in the league with a couple guys that played in the Final Four with Mitchell and Temple,'' Pearl said. "They are a continuity team, and what they do, they do really well.
"They don't run a ton of play calls; they read what you do (defensively) and take options accordingly.''
Tyler Smith said the Vols will be pushing as hard as possible to get back on the winning track at home.
"You just look at LSU's record, and it's great,'' said Smith, who has dueled Mitchell back to their early AAU days. "It's going to come down to us coming in here and playing Tennessee basketball.''
White Out For Gators: Pearl is spending his own money to take a stand against cancer, buying 3,000 "OUTLIVE" T-shirts for students attending Saturday's 9 p.m. game against Florida. The white-out campaign takes place on a day when ESPN GameDay will make its debut at a UT basketball game.