NASHVILLE - Well, there's still Lexington to look forward to.
Vanderbilt 90, Tennessee 71.
So began the Vols' toughest week of the 2009-10 basketball season Tuesday night.
Onward to Rupp Arena.
Kentucky is a better basketball team than Tennessee. This we suspect, at least, on circumstantial evidence. The two head-to-head meetings are yet to come, Lexington first and later Knoxville.
Vanderbilt is better than the Vols. This we know, after watching the Commodores take UT down twice, by nine points in Knoxville and then by 19 in Memorial Gym.
At one point Tuesday night the margin was 27. That was in the second half.
It wasn't much better early. The gap was 16 - 22-6 - before Tennessee notched its second basket.
The Vols made a couple of runs, got as close as 10 with 17 minutes to play. But nobody was spinning it that this one could have gone either way.
"This,'' said Vandy coach Kevin Stallings, "was one of our best performances of the year.''
Said UT coach Bruce Pearl, after an evening he obviously did not enjoy in the least, "We got outplayed.
"We've got to play a lot better on the road if we want to contend.''
Pearl had hoped for better. His team was coming off a commanding home-court victory over South Carolina on Saturday. That momentum never made it over I-40 to Memorial Gym.
Vandy never let Wayne Chism get established. Scotty Hopson was a no-show until way too late.
Pearl wasn't thrilled with watching the conga line of Commodores headed to the free-throw stripe.
Vandy made 37 of 43, forward Jeffery Taylor going 12-for-12.
Pearl was exercised about it enough to get a technical foul in the first half. In the second, he motioned athletic director Mike Hamilton over to the bench for a brief conversation.
"If he liked his seat,'' Pearl said.
On a serious note, he added, "There were a lot of things out there I wasn't happy about.''
As poorly as Tennessee played Tuesday night, the sky has not fallen. The Vols are still 18-5 and 6-3 in SEC play.
But you can't feel good about the trend at this delicate point in the schedule.
The Vols played poorly at Georgia on Jan. 23 and got thumped.
They didn't play well at LSU on Feb. 4, yet won because LSU is awful.
Tuesday night in Memorial Gym was a continuation. The difference is Vandy is so good that a poor performance won't be forgiven.
And looking ahead, three of the next four games are at Kentucky (TV: ESPN, 9 p.m. Saturday), South Carolina and Florida, respectively.
Generally speaking, on the road you can't get off to a dreadful start like the Vols did Tuesday night.
They made two of their first 11 shots. Vandy made eight of its first 11.
"Your top players have got to play well early,'' said Pearl. "That gives confidence and courage away from home to the other guys.
"Some of the plays J.P. (Prince) made late, if he makes 'em early, it gives the other guys confidence.''
Prince was unafflicted by the shooting woes of his teammates. He was 8-of-12 from the field. In the waning moments, he channeled Chris Lofton, drilling three consecutive 3-point baskets.
But it was wasted, the hole already dug too deep.
Afterward, Prince was asked how the team could regroup after a disheartening outing enough to stand a chance in Rupp.
"Go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow,'' he said.
"It's just one game. You can't put too much on one game.''
To be fair, Prince offered the same sentiment, virtually word for word, after UT's last-second win over Florida 10 days earlier.
Big win, big loss, it's just one game. Then you start fresh again.
After Tuesday night, Tennessee clearly needs a fresh start in its toughest week.
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com or 865-342-6276.