Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl’s focus on Sunday was to get the Vols moving forward without looking back.
Pearl said there was neither time nor reason to review Saturday’s gut-wrenching 65-60 overtime loss to Alabama at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Not with UT (15-8, 5-3 SEC) having road games at Kentucky and at Florida this week.
“This team — all of them, starters, reserves, practice players, coaches — we have to recognize where we’re at,’’ Pearl said Sunday. “We’re a game out of first, or a game out of last, and we’re at a point on our schedule where in order to win we’re going to have to play better.’’
Pearl will return to the bench for UT’s 9 p.m. Tuesday game at Rupp Arena against the Wildcats (16-6, 4-4), having finished serving his eight-game SEC suspension.
Pearl said it’s “possible” that Vols leading scorer Scotty Hopson (16.5 points per game) will return to the lineup after missing the past two games because of a sprained ankle he suffered in practice last Tuesday.
Hopson took part in Sunday’s light practice and didn’t appear to be too hobbled. But the Vols weren’t at full speed, and Pearl said Hopson’s ankle condition would be monitored closely and further evaluated today before any decision is made.
“You just get ready as fast as you can get ready,’’ Pearl said when asked if Hopson has added incentive to return because UT is playing Kentucky. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing.’’
Pearl said playing the Wildcats in Rupp Arena amounts to a “monumental task,’’ because “Kentucky hasn’t lost at home (this season) and doesn’t lose at home.’’
Indeed, the Wildcats are 10-0 at home this season, and the Vols have dropped four straight in Lexington since Pearl won in his Rupp Arena debut by a 75-67 count in 2006.
None of the current UT players have won at Kentucky.
“I’ve never been in another place like that, and I know I haven’t won there,’’ Vols’ senior center Brian Williams said. “I don’t even think it’s been close.’’
Tennessee’s average margin of defeat in its past four trips to Kentucky is 13.75 points, and no game has been closer than six points.
Williams is at a loss to explain it.
“Kentucky isn’t that loud; I’ve played in louder places,’’ Williams said. “I can’t explain what it is about Rupp, but it’s something.
“I guess it’s the old ghosts in there messing with you.’’
Pearl said that step one for the Vols is to recover from Saturday’s heartbreaker.
“This (Alabama) loss will be a hard one to bounce back from, especially with only one day to really prepare,’’ said Pearl, who will travel with the team to Lexington after a short practice today in Knoxville. “Tennessee can’t beat itself.
“I think after we lost to Florida in overtime this year, we came out and went down 17 to Vanderbilt at the half of our next game,’’ he said. “We have to snap out of this quicker.’’
McRae Suspension: Pearl said there’s a chance that freshman wing Jordan McRae, suspended Jan. 21 for using inappropriate language on the team bus in Connecticut, could return later this week.
Nagging Statistic: Alabama didn’t score a field goal in the final 4 minutes, 29 seconds of regulation, nor in the five minutes of overtime.
The Tide went 10 of 10 from the free-throw line to pull out the win.
“It’s real frustrating when you hear that statistic,’’ UT freshman Tobias Harris said Saturday. “You’d have thought we’d win that game. That just shows we didn’t convert on the offensive end.
“I think we were the tougher team, but we didn’t close it out.’’