Tennessee's game plan is simple: find a way.
"We just need to be better offensively,'' Pearl said Tuesday. "Vanderbilt is playing better than anyone we've played here.
"Kansas came in, they were No. 1 but . . . they weren't playing their best basketball.''
The 21st-ranked Commodores (15-3, 4-0 SEC) bring a nine-game win streak into Thompson-Boling Arena for Wednesday night's 7 p.m. tip (TV: ESPNU). It's Vanderbilt's best start in SEC play in 44 years.
The 14th-ranked Vols (15-3, 3-1), meanwhile, are looking to extend a 10-game home-court win streak and remain in contention in the SEC East.
"This is always one of our favorite games,'' UT senior J.P. Prince said. "The orange jacket (worn by Pearl) comes out, and you know Wayne (Chism) enjoys his matchup with A.J. Ogilvy.''
Chism has gotten the better of the Commodores' 6-foot-11 center the past two seasons, yet Ogilvy's name consistently surfaces ahead of Chism's on the All-SEC teams.
Chism returned to practice Tuesday after sitting out Monday with a sprained knee he suffered at Georgia last Saturday.
"Wayne was OK, but we didn't go hard,'' Pearl said. "Wayne has played well against Vanderbilt, and I'm sure they are well aware of that, and I'm sure they will do what everyone else is trying to do against him.
"That's get Wayne in foul trouble or somehow disrupt his game.''
Chism's elevated play in SEC games is just one component of UT's surprising run since the well-documented Jan. 1 arrest of four players that led to All-SEC forward Tyler Smith being dismissed from the team.
Pearl said the Vols' success has been more about character than any new-fangled rotation or strategic plan of attack.
"Since the complexion of the team changed, we're 5-1 with two victories over top-25 teams,'' Pearl said. "We've just found a way, and that's been our identity.
"It's a tough group of kids that have overcome a tremendous challenge.''
Point guard Bobby Maze said he hasn't really put much thought into the new personnel groupings.
"You get so caught up in the game, you don't even realize it's not the same players on the floor,'' Maze said. "At certain times you still know who to get the ball to in what spots, but it's really about there being more to prove.
"There was a lot said about us when that incident happened, and we've had a lot of doubters.''
The Vols have opened as a 5 1/2-point favorite, despite the fact Pearl is 4-0 against the Commodores in Knoxville, including last year's 69-50 Valentine's Day massacre in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Smith, it's worth noting, accounted for more than half of UT's scoring in that victory, pouring in a career-high 30 points in addition to dishing out three assists.
Prince has had to step up an assume many of the play-making duties in the halfcourt game in Smith's absence.
"J.P. has always been an important playmaker,'' Pearl said. "Now, he's one of our primary playmakers.''
As Prince evolves, so does the team's personality.
"Tyler and I fed off each other before,'' Prince said, "so this is something I've had to get used to.''
Pearl said he anticipates Vanderbilt will play a great deal of zone against the Vols, both 2-3 and 3-2, on account of UT's recent 3-point shooting struggles.
Scotty Hopson has gone 6-of-11 shooting beyond the arc the past two games, but the rest of the team is a combined 0 for 15.
"There's more to being effective against zone than shooting well from outside, but it will start there,'' Pearl said. "Part of the reason people are playing zone against us is it's not as easy for me to play call and get Wayne touches on the inside.
"To say Wayne's a key would be an understatement.''
Pearl said he had no update on the future of 6-10 junior post Brian Williams, who remains suspended indefinitely as one of the four players arrested.
Big Orange TipOff Club: Basketball historian and former LSU athletic director Joe Dean Sr. will be the featured speaker at 11:30 a.m. today at Calhoun's on the River at the Big Orange TipOff Club luncheon.
The club also is putting together a bus trip to Columbia, S.C., for the Feb. 20 game against South Carolina.
For more information on either event, go to www.bigorangetipoff.com
Tickets available: UT has tickets available in the upper deck at $15 apiece for the Vanderbilt game and can be purchased at Uttix.com, the UT ticket office or by calling 865-656-1200.