"Leadership" was the word of the day in the Tennessee men's basketball program.
Coach Bruce Pearl talked about it at his Monday press conference, and then he opened practice discussing leadership issues with his players.
"Coaches can lead teams to victories, and we've led them to some victories,'' Pearl said at his press luncheon. "Coaches can't lead teams to championships - that has to come from within.''
Pearl said following UT's 70-69 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday that one of the Vols' problems this season has been a lack of leadership within the team.
Tennessee senior point guard Melvin Goins said on Saturday in response to Pearl's comment that the team did have leadership issues, "from the top all the way down.''
Pearl agreed, saying everyone had to improve in that area for the Vols (17-12, 7-7 SEC) to reach their potential to win at South Carolina (14-13, 5-9) on Thursday (TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.).
"We beat them here, but we didn't beat them soundly, it was a tight ball game,'' Pearl said, referencing UT's 73-67 victory over the Gamecocks on Feb. 16 in Knoxville. "We'll have to play significantly better to beat them there.''
Pearl said the team can improve by pushing one another and keeping teammates focused.
"Leadership is something that's needed everywhere, Melvin's right,'' Pearl said. "He needs (his) coach to do a better job leading, and we need players to do a better job leading, and that would be part of what might help us finish strong.
"Leadership is what do you do by making someone else better on the floor.''
Pearl proceeded to help his team get better on Monday by staging one of the most demanding and physical practices of the season.
"Hell yeah this was physical,'' UT junior Scotty Hopson said. "Last year at this time we were having shootarounds and walkthroughs.
"I saw a lot of anger and tension, guys releasing their frustrations. Coach Pearl knows how to manage this team and get us ready. I think this was needed.''
Pearl stopped play in the middle of practice and made the team run 11 full-court sprints in under one minute, 10 seconds, because one of the players appeared out of breath and placed his hands on his knees during a 4-on-4 scrimmage.
"Looks to me like we need some better conditioning,'' Pearl said as the players proceeded to rally around and encourage the exhausted teammate.
The conditioning run was stopped in the middle and re-started because a player missed a line, serving to send the message that nothing less than proper execution would be accepted.
"Leadership starts with me,'' Pearl said. "It's my job to assist our players to be in position to lead.''
Goins made it through the entire practice despite having three teeth pulled earlier in the day.
The only UT player who wasn't present was senior center Brian Williams, who was receiving treatment for an undisclosed back injury. Williams is not expected to miss the South Carolina game.
Second Place Scenario: The Vols can finish second in the SEC Eastern Division and earn a first-round bye in the upcoming SEC tournament by:
n Winning their final two games, against the Gamecocks and at home against Kentucky on Sunday.
n Having Vanderbilt lose at Kentucky tonight and at home to Florida on Saturday.
n Having Georgia lose one of its final remaining games at home against LSU Wednesday or at Alabama on Saturday.
That scenario would create a four-way tie, which UT would win by virtue of the best won-loss record in games between the four teams.
Kentucky would have position over the Vols in the event those two teams finished tied, while UT has the two-team tiebreakers over Georgia and South Carolina.
Beastly East: ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi projects six SEC teams to make the NCAA tournament field - five from the East.
Florida is projected as a No. 4 seed, Vanderbilt and Kentucky as No. 5 seeds, UT as a No. 9 seed and Georgia as a No. 11 seed. Alabama is projected as a No. 11 seed in a play-in game.
RPI Numbers: Tennessee was No. 34 in the RPI rankings with a strength of schedule that ranks No. 2 in the nation.
The Vols have 10 wins over teams in the top 60 of the RPI - more than any team in the nation. UT's next opponent, South Carolina, has an RPI of 116, while Kentucky is No. 15 in the RPI rankings.