Pearl talks Vols defense
Tennessee heads to Pittsburgh today looking for what could be the first 7-0 season start in Bruce Pearl's six-year tenure with the Vols.
The Vols are scheduled to practice this afternoon at the Consol Energy Center where the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins play their home games.
No. 11 UT (6-0) tips off against the No. 3 Panthers (10-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (TV: ESPN).
The Vols are 6-7 under Pearl against teams ranked in the top five, but only one of those victories came in an opponents' city (Memphis).
"What does our record against the top five say? First, the fact this is our 14th game against a top-five team is an indicator of what we're doing with the program,'' Pearl said. "The SEC needed a team to volunteer to play at Pitt without a return game, and we took the challenge.
The last time Tennessee started a season with seven consecutive wins was 2000, when former coach Jerry Green led a top 10-ranked team to a 9-0 start. Green, however, didn't play a top-five ranked team during his four-year coaching tenure at UT.
And none of the wins during the 9-0 start in 2000 came on the road against a ranked opponent.
"Pitt is the deepest team we've ever faced, and it's also one of the most experienced teams in the country with about 85 percent back from last year,'' Pearl said. "Fatigue will not be a factor for them, so it does change what we do.''
Pearl most always plays a deeper bench than opponents, and his hallmark of uptempo play has led to UT wearing down opponents.
The Panthers are a different animal to the extent that Pearl scheduled unprecedented double sessions of practice on Thursday.
"This is a balance between respect and fear,'' Pearl said. "The quality of Pitt's play will challenge us, but we've got to make sure our players aren't fearful of the quality of our opponent and location.''
Fourth-year junior Cam Tatum said there's only one way for Tennessee to approach the game.
"You go in there with your hard hat on,'' Tatum said. "It's the type of matchup you have to look forward to, knowing it's a game that will help you down the road as well as see where the team is at.''
Senior post Brian Williams, who has been on hand for 11 of the Vols' 13 games against top five teams, said he has a good idea of what to expect.
"Growing up I watched Pitt basketball, and it has always been a tough team with a lot of inner-city kids who are tough and strong,'' Williams said. "They will come into this game looking to destroy us, and we can't prove anything until we beat a team like Pitt.''
While the Vols are looking to make history in the Pearl Era, the Panthers' undefeated start represents business as usual.
Pitt is the winningest team in the Big East over the past nine years and has started the season 10-0 for the seventh time in the past eight years.
Woolridge Out: Junior wing Renaldo Woolridge injured his right ankle Thursday morning when he fell down some steps on his way to practice.
Woolridge, who's averaging 11.2 minutes per game backing up Tatum, has been evaluated with a sprain.
Maymon Watch: The Vols are expected to add sophomore transfer Jeronne Maymon to the rotation behind starter Tobias Harris at power forward.
Maymon is still waiting for his final grade to be posted on UT's official website, but it's considered a technicality. Maymon has received notice he passed all five classes he took in the fall semester.
Maymon's addition has led to senior Steven Pearl moving from power forward to the wing, where he will replace the injured Woolridge.