This year celebrates the centennial season of men's basketball at Tennessee. The News Sentinel continues its series looking into the players, teams and events that have molded an exciting history.
Other than his son Allan’s scoring expertise, the Wade Houston years (1989-94) didn’t produce an abundance of memories for Tennessee basketball.
But come SEC tournament time, you never knew what drama might unfold.
From 1991-93, Houston’s Vols were involved in three consecutive memorable SEC tournaments. We’ll label them the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, though not in that chronological order .
The 1990-91 season was fizzling out with a seven-game losing streak when the Vols reported to Memorial Gym in Nashville for the SEC tournament.
UT tipped off with a 9-21 record against Ole Miss on opening night. But a 94-85 victory entitled the Vols to stay alive another 24 hours.
It wouldn’t likely be more than that, however, since No. 1 seed and co-champion Mississippi State awaited.
The Vols, however, routed the Bulldogs 87-70, shooting 60 percent from the field to avenge a 27-point loss from Feb. 2.
“We think we can win it all,’’ said guard Jay Price. “The way we’re playing right now, we can beat anybody.’’
On Saturday, the Cinderella story gained steam. The Vols ripped Georgia, 85-65, again shooting 60 percent. In 72 hours Tennessee had won three SEC games, something it took the entire regular season to do.
“I packed for four days,’’ said freshman center Gannon Goodson.
Come the fourth day, the Vols were 40 minutes from an NCAA tournament bid. They were also facing a very good Alabama team.
Tennessee hung tough for a half, trailing only 46-43 at the break. But early in the second half, fatigue -- and reality -- set in.
Alabama eased away to an 88-69 win.
“I was hoping we could hang on one more half,’’ said Wade Houston. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t.’’
“We ran out of gas,’’ said guard Lang Wiseman, “but that’s part of tournament play.
“If we had done our job in the regular season we wouldn’t have had to be in that position, to play so many games in four days.’’
Allan Houston set an SEC tournament record that still stands with 98 points. He was named MVP, the last to come from a non-champion team.
Carlus Groves, who scored 68 points, made the All-Tournament team. Price was excellent at point guard, averaging 15.0 points in the three wins before he hit the wall (2-of-13) in the title game.
The 1992 tournament moved to Birmingham. On opening night, UT shot down South Carolina 70-63 in the Gamecocks’ tournament debut.
That pitted the Vols against LSU and giant center Shaquille O’Neal.
LSU was leading 51-33 midway through the second half when O’Neal went up to dunk, only to be grabbed around the waist by Tennessee’s Groves.
O’Neal threw an elbow and the two grappled. The officials might have been able to end things there had LSU coach Dale Brown not charged onto the court after Groves.
Brown, who later claimed he was merely protecting the 7-foot, 294-pound O’Neal, shoved Groves as official Andre Patillo intervened, preventing Groves from getting a clean punch at Brown. Players from both teams began swinging and mayhem engulfed the court.
It was an astonishing scene. Order was finally restored and O’Neal and Groves were ejected, along with four additional players from each team (Price, Alonzo Johnson, Chris Brand and Steve Rivers in UT’s case).
Most of the crowd thought Brown should have been ejected as well but he wasn’t. (His only penalty was an official reprimand for violating the conference code of ethics.)
LSU, left with only one starter, milked the clock and preserved a 99-89 victory.
Wade Houston, to his credit, behaved with civility during the fracas.
“I would never go on the floor after a player,’’ Houston said. “I can’t speak for Dale. Dale has to live with his own actions. That’s Dale.’’
In 1993, the tournament went to Rupp Arena, and No. 4 Kentucky was a huge favorite on its home floor.
Tennessee upset Auburn 78-76 on opening night, but in retrospect, the Vols would have been better off had the Tigers thrown in a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
In the second round, Kentucky lay in wait with revenge on its mind. Two weeks earlier, the Vols had stunned the then-No. 2 Wildcats in Knoxville, 78-77, by virtue of a miraclous four-point possession involving Allan Houston, an intentionally missed free throw and a three-point play on the rebound by Corey Allen.
The rematch was never a match. Coach Rick Pitino’s ‘Cats raced to a 14-0 lead and the nightmare was on.
It was 41-17 at the half. The margin hit 40 points with 12:15 left, then 50 with 7:01 to play.
The final count was 101-40, the 61-point spread being the worst in UT basketball history.
The Vols set dubious SEC tournament records by shooting only 23 percent and giving up 30 turnovers. Kentucky set records with 30 assists and 19 steals.
The sad understory was the painful finale to Allan Houston’s brilliant individual career.
Houston missed his first 14 shots, finally sinking a 3-pointer with 4:54 to play. When the SEC’s second-leading career scorer (2,801 points) went to the bench soon thereafter he was given an ovation by the pro-Kentucky crowd.