Bruce Pearl on the Vols' 61-60 loss at Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - This one hurt. Boy, did it hurt.
Tennessee couldn't or wouldn't mask its collective pain after a basketball game slipped away Saturday night in the O'Connell Center.
Florida's 61-60 win will be a lot tougher for the Vols to recover from than a 12-point loss at Kentucky four nights earlier.
At Rupp, they were never really in it. Here, a hard-earned win - one that would scramble the SEC East race - was theirs to take home.
But they couldn't take it.
The way things went down in the final 25 seconds was a shot to the gut and it left the Vols both stunned and doubled over.
"This is one of the more disappointing losses of my career,'' said an obviously frustrated Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.
Senior center Brian Williams reacted as if it were the most disappointing loss of his career, too.
After the game-deciding sequence - Cam Tatum misses a one-and-one; Florida's Erving Walker drives for go-ahead bucket; Vols botch final play call and miss 3-point shot - Williams was literally doubled over in anguish.
He had to be helped up to go through the hand-shaking ritual with the team that had just buckled his knees.
"A lot of emotions came out at once,'' Williams said later. "We had the game.''
The last we heard of Pearl on Saturday night was probably unintentional. His path from the locker room to the team bus took him past the media work room and he could be heard, um, shall we say, loudly expressing disappointment that Scotty Hopson got to the free-throw line only twice in the second half.
If you've been following the Vols the past few months, you understand Tennessee's frustration wasn't just about this particular night.
The ending that played out in the O'Connell Center is a recurring nightmare.
Go back to Charlotte and Southern Cal in December.
Rewind the finish at Arkansas. Replay the Florida ending in Knoxville. The Alabama ending, too.
And let's not forget how last season ended in St. Louis - missed free throw, no chance to set the defense, Michigan State scores in transition . . .
"This is reminiscent of the loss to Michigan State,'' confirmed Pearl.
This season, an unusual number of UT games have gone down to the final possession. And aside from Georgia, when Williams made a put-back shot at the buzzer, the Vols just can't get it right.
"We could beat anybody on our schedule,'' Williams said. "And we've lost five or six games in the closing seconds that we should have won because we didn't execute what the game plan was.''
The recurring nightmare has left the Vols at 15-10 overall and only 5-5 in the SEC.
That's a sketchy NCAA tournament resume with six regular-season games to play.
The Vols also are tied with Kentucky in fourth place in the SEC East, ahead of only South Carolina.
Florida, meanwhile, has cleared another hurdle toward a championship. The Gators are 9-2 in league play.
And when it comes to close calls, they're the anti-Vols. Florida, with five returning starters from last season, is 5-0 in overtime or last-possession games.
"It's coaching, it's seniors and it's having been in this position before,'' Pearl said.
But hasn't Tennessee been in this position before, too?
The Vols just can't seem to change the ending.
"We let one slip through our hands,'' said Hopson. "We did a lot of great things, things to win the game. But we didn't make the play down the stretch.''
"We had a chance,'' added Williams, "to beat Florida. We played an awesome game.
"This would have started something that we really need.''
Instead, it just perpetuated a familiar problem. And it really hurt.