When Tennessee took the big hit, the Vols closed ranks with inspired efficiency. The adrenaline rush, however, is over.
Tyler Smith's absence is looming over Tennessee's SEC season and coach Bruce Pearl is wondering what can be done to shore up the stretch run.
Ten games into the conference race, the Vols are getting beat at the four position, the one Smith played at an All-SEC level the previous two years.
In essence, Wayne Chism is having to go it alone on the inside most nights.
Since Smith was dismissed from the team after his Jan. 1 arrest, Pearl has rotated sophomore Renaldo Woolridge and freshman Kenny Hall in and out of the starting lineup, with walk-on Steven Pearl getting double-digit minutes off the bench.
Woolridge is averaging 2.7 points and 3.5 rebounds in SEC play. His 3-point shooting has dropped off the table since he bombed Kansas with four treys on Jan. 10.
Woolridge is 3-of-21 in SEC play, and only 1-of-17 in the nine games since the conference opener against Auburn. For the record, his one trey was critical in the 61-60 win over Florida.
Hall got off to a fast start in SEC play, but has had only one productive game - South Carolina - out of the past five.
Pearl gives the defense a needed boost, but opponents know he's a minimal threat to score.
"We need better play from the four,'' Bruce Pearl said Monday, "but it's tough to ask that when you're playing against (Kentucky's) Patrick Patterson or (Georgia's) Trey Thompkins.
"But somebody else has got to step forward.''
Who? Perhaps Brian Williams. UT's biggest body is getting a long look in practice to see if he's ready to help against Georgia's huge front line Wednesday night.
Williams has to get back in game shape after a nine-game suspension in which he didn't practice with the team.
"We'll see how close he is to being able to help us,'' Pearl said. "This will be a good opportunity for Brian.''
Elite Eight Forecast: Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated (si.com) has a higher opinion of UT's postseason chances than the average Vol fan does at this point.
At the annual mock bracket exercise conducted by the NCAA - in which selected media fill a bracket - Tennessee was awarded a No. 6 seed. Davis declared the Vols "might be the best No. 6 seed of all time.'' He projected them losing to Syracuse in the regional finals.
Ellis In Town: Vol great Dale Ellis is Wednesday's speaker at the Big Orange TipOff Club.
Ellis was the SEC player of the year in 1982 and again in 1983, when he was a consensus first-team All-American.
He scored 2,065 points for Don DeVoe, then played in the NBA 1984-2001, reinventing himself as a deadly 3-point shooter.
The club meets at Calhoun's on the River at 11:30 a.m. Non-members are welcome.
From Sweden With Love: Jeffery Taylor and John Wall both used the Vols as a springboard to SEC honors.
Vanderbilt's Taylor, a 6-7 sophomore, is the player of the week. He dumped 26 points on UT Tuesday, including 12-of-12 at the free-throw stripe.
Taylor is a guy to watch. He grew up in Sweden because his father, Jeff Sr., played there after Texas Tech and took a Swedish wife. He was sent to Hobbs, N.M., before his sophomore year of high school to live with his grandparents.
He was No. 52 in the Rivals.com class of 2008 and picked Vandy over Texas, Gonzaga and UNLV.
Wall, you already know. He's the SEC freshman of the week after going for 24 against the Vols.
Vols Liked Jenkins: Pearl said UT evaluated and liked John Jenkins, the Vanderbilt freshman from Gallatin.
Jenkins averages 10.4 points and is shooting 45.7 percent from 3-point range. The Vols are hitting 29.7 percent from the arc in SEC play.
"With Scotty Hopson on our roster a year ahead of him, he said, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' '' Pearl said. "Once we got Scotty, that was the end of John Jenkins.''
Jenkins has been compared to Chris Lofton, who set SEC 3-point shooting records at UT from 2004-08.
"That's lofty praise there,'' said Vandy coach Kevin Stallings. "He's a very gifted shooter and we obviously need him going down the stretch.''
Quote of the Week: Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, asked what impressed him about Kentucky:
"It'd probably be easier to dissect the things you're not impressed with.''
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-342-6276.