Bruce Pearl's bold declaration: 'Must win'

Vols welcome big stage, high stakes against Vandy

Bruce Pearl discusses must-win game with Vanderbilt

Bruce Pearl broke another rule Friday afternoon - one of the unwritten variety.

Tennessee's sixth-year men's basketball coach uttered two daunting words reserved for only the most desperate of times: "Must win."

The Vols host Vanderbilt at noon today with ESPN's GameDay on hand to offer collegiate basketball's biggest stage and further amplify the moment.

"If we're planning on winning the SEC East, it makes this a must-win game,'' Pearl said. "If that's pressure, welcome to the real world.

"The season isn't in balance, but the SEC championship is, and we've got to play like our lives depended on it.''

UT associate head coach Tony Jones will assume gameday head-coaching duties as Pearl serves the third game of his SEC-imposed eight-game league suspension.

Jones was waffling over wearing an orange sports coat for today's Vanderbilt game in the tradition established by former UT coach Ray Mears and carried on by Pearl, but there were bigger things on his mind as the Vols (10-6, 0-2 SEC) prepared for this ESPN-televised game with the Commodores (12-3, 1-1).

The players have been throwing around the "must-win" phrase since the buzzer sounded on an 81-75 overtime loss to Florida on Tuesday that made this the worst start to a UT season in Pearl's tenure - even after the team shot out to an unprecedented 7-0 start.

"I've been saying since the night we lost to Florida this is must-win,'' UT junior Scotty Hopson said. "Yeah, that's pressure, but we don't fold under pressure on the big stage in the big games.

"Our guys respond to pressure and adversity,'' Hopson said. "It should be like this every game, but it can't be. I mean, GameDay is here.''

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings talks about the Commodores

Jay Bilas, a noted analyst on ESPN's GameDay crew, sees Pearl's must-win approach as an attempt to ratchet up the sense of urgency.

"Looking at it from the outside . . . can a game in mid-January be must-win? No,'' Bilas said. "Especially when you're 10-6 and you've beaten teams like Villanova and Pittsburgh. From outside, it looks ludicrous (to say) must-win.

"But when you've lost a couple of close ones, it's a rallying cry.''

UT will take whatever motivation it can get after falling to 0-2 in the SEC for the first time in Pearl's tenure, and with a daunting schedule ahead that includes trips to play at No. 24 Georgia on Tuesday and at No. 10 Connecticut next Saturday.

The juncture at which the Vols find themselves led Hopson to call former UT great Chris Lofton for advice on Thursday night.

It's what made the UT student sleepover that took place in Thompson-Boling Arena on Friday night well-timed.

And it explains why the UT student managers deviated from the standard orange Gatorade to what they're referring to as a "Kryptonite" green brew for the players to drink in today's game.

Vols freshman Tobias Harris, who had his choice of schools to attend after a McDonald's All-American high school career, concedes the losses are getting under his skin.

"I came here to win a national championship, and that's still what I want to do,'' said Harris, who has had four double-doubles over the past five games. "Yeah, it's must win.''

Even the normally jovial Brian Williams, known as much for his wisecracks as his 6-foot-10, 260-pound frame, has worn a stern expression in the days leading up to today's game.

"Right now we're last in the SEC East,'' Williams said. "This game is about who's best in Tennessee. We need this victory at home, and we need the SEC win. Everything about it, we need it.''

Vanderbilt needs it, too, and the Commodores are well-equipped to give UT trouble with their perpetual motion offense, filled with players curling off screens and driving to the basket to draw fouls.

"Vandy has always had good shooters,'' UT junior Cameron Tatum said. "But now they've added some athletes, and they're more than a one-dimensional team.''

Pearl, in his precious few days of preparation, has turned over every stone on coach Kevin Stallings' team.

"Kevin has solid sets and he tweaks them based on his scout(-ing report),'' Pearl said.

"But (John) Jenkins is as Lofton-like of a shooter as anyone I've seen, and (Jeffery) Taylor is a beast, probably the best defender in college basketball, and he'll be all over guarding Scotty.''

Pearl's focus was such that he misplaced both his briefcase and his BlackBerry before recognizing in the middle of practice that they were missing.

It was the kind of thing that happens the day before a must-win game.

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Comments » 21

rockytopnation16 writes:

Bruce is correct.

bluetick writes:

Harris is the only consistent player on this team. It's hard to understand why this team can only beat ranked opponents. This was suppose to be THE year.

Lostvolinhighweeds writes:

Jay Bilas, a noted analyst on ESPN's GameDay crew, sees Pearl's must-win approach as an attempt to ratchet up the sense of urgency.

"Looking at it from the outside . . . can a game in mid-January be must-win? No,'' Bilas said. "Especially when you're 10-6 and you've beaten teams like Villanova and Pittsburgh. From outside, it looks ludicrous (to say) must-win."

What's ludicrous is giving any attention to anything Jay Bilas says.
Don't get me wrong, I know the whole sordid affair will be mentioned during the telecast. And probably rightfully so. But is it asking to much for the ESPN crew to mention the game being played once in awhile?
I have watched several U.T games on ESPN and this jerk starts beating his gums about coach Pearl and totally ignores the game being played. How about an occasional update about who is in the game, the foul situation, anything concerning the GAME instead of this constant rehashing of the Jay Bilas op-ed. This guy reminds me of my ex-wife. NAG,NAG,NAG.

BigVolinCarolina writes:

Fellas, if you want this game and you really think it's a "must win", then YOU are going to have to go out and get it! Vandy isn't going to let you have it--gonna have to play D like you haven't this season, hit the boards like you haven't this season, and take wise shots on offense....and make free throws.

It can be done. But, how bad does the team want it? We'll see tomorrow at Noon.

Go Vols!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to Lostvolinhighweeds:

Jay Bilas, a noted analyst on ESPN's GameDay crew, sees Pearl's must-win approach as an attempt to ratchet up the sense of urgency.

"Looking at it from the outside . . . can a game in mid-January be must-win? No,'' Bilas said. "Especially when you're 10-6 and you've beaten teams like Villanova and Pittsburgh. From outside, it looks ludicrous (to say) must-win."

What's ludicrous is giving any attention to anything Jay Bilas says.
Don't get me wrong, I know the whole sordid affair will be mentioned during the telecast. And probably rightfully so. But is it asking to much for the ESPN crew to mention the game being played once in awhile?
I have watched several U.T games on ESPN and this jerk starts beating his gums about coach Pearl and totally ignores the game being played. How about an occasional update about who is in the game, the foul situation, anything concerning the GAME instead of this constant rehashing of the Jay Bilas op-ed. This guy reminds me of my ex-wife. NAG,NAG,NAG.

Well spoken..Be it Bilas or any other TV guy the first words out of their mouth is Pearl's violations..At this point; I doubt anyone in the free world doesn't know the story but spending half the telecast droning on and on about the negatives has really grown old and makes me cringe!! Iam debating on skipping the game day banter but still want to witness the vol faithful's spirit.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to BigVolinCarolina:

Fellas, if you want this game and you really think it's a "must win", then YOU are going to have to go out and get it! Vandy isn't going to let you have it--gonna have to play D like you haven't this season, hit the boards like you haven't this season, and take wise shots on offense....and make free throws.

It can be done. But, how bad does the team want it? We'll see tomorrow at Noon.

Go Vols!

All true my friend..To get the win we will have to do all 4.We lost 2 games because of missed free throws late..In the grand scheme we must shoot better than 50% from the floor and learn how to switch off on defense so their bigs don't continue to bash us underneath the basket like the way Powell;Tyus and Macklin have!! Like you said FT's late in the game are a must!!Williams;Maymon and Fields are doing their job by drawing fouls but their FT's are just plain an embarrassment..I don't know how Maymon became Mr Basketball in Wisconsin seeing how he can barely hit the backboard..Kenny Hall hasn't seen much play time but he's developed a sweet 10 or 12foot shot and should get more playing time..In a recent game Maymon played so bad that the coaches took less than a minute to get Pearl in to replace him.I could go on and about our problems but in the end better D and making shots will get the wih

eboo57#212060 writes:

Hard defense will create easy scores. Smart offense will get you open shots. Tossing up 50 free throws at practice will increase the prec.Go after the rebound hard. Don't complain about the calls. This can cause more to go against you. Most of all, use their BRAINS when they play.

Greyfeathers writes:

Not to worry... Lyin' Bruce will pull them through.... Bones never lie.... LOL

bigdisbig writes:

Its time for Brian Williams to MAN UP and play like his size should dictate instead of some kid playing horse. He is 6'10 260 and should take the ball to the hoop when he has it in the lane. Keep your man in front of you on defense and determine to be the best player on the court. IF these guys will play team ball instead of 4 guys standing outside the arc wanting to shoot the 3 with no rebounder in sight they might have a chance. GUARD YOUR MAN. I used to be a Steve Pearl hater but I give the kid credit for being the best hustler on the team. At least he rebounds and guards his man. He may not score but he does know how to play team ball.
Brian Williams you have been a huge disappointment. ITS TIME YOU COME OUT DUDE! You are allowing freshmen outplay you DUDE!

DO NOT allow these geeks from Vandy push you around. They kicked your tail last year and have laughed at your failures this year.

Send them home crying for God's sake!!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to Lostvolinhighweeds:

Jay Bilas, a noted analyst on ESPN's GameDay crew, sees Pearl's must-win approach as an attempt to ratchet up the sense of urgency.

"Looking at it from the outside . . . can a game in mid-January be must-win? No,'' Bilas said. "Especially when you're 10-6 and you've beaten teams like Villanova and Pittsburgh. From outside, it looks ludicrous (to say) must-win."

What's ludicrous is giving any attention to anything Jay Bilas says.
Don't get me wrong, I know the whole sordid affair will be mentioned during the telecast. And probably rightfully so. But is it asking to much for the ESPN crew to mention the game being played once in awhile?
I have watched several U.T games on ESPN and this jerk starts beating his gums about coach Pearl and totally ignores the game being played. How about an occasional update about who is in the game, the foul situation, anything concerning the GAME instead of this constant rehashing of the Jay Bilas op-ed. This guy reminds me of my ex-wife. NAG,NAG,NAG.

I hate ESPN!! They are no longer a sports channel in my book. Just a few gossip shows and very little real sports. I'm not saying that because of Pearl. I didn't like ESPN before Pearl's oops. Yeah there is basketball on there but their news programs suck! Plus they never report any sports not on one of their channels. It's too bad they've become a gossip channel...just like CNN, MSNBC, FOX, it's all about the latest mistake someone made. The worst part is that most people love it?

TennVol01 writes:

After multiple losses to lesser teams ... now the coach and team wake up and say "we must win". Duh.... Fans have been screaming this for weeks.

richvol writes:

in response to Claudettevol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Claudette Riley? The great majorette?

collegegrad writes:

Before he makes another fool of himself and the university, I think Dr. Dipetrio must fire Bruce Pearl immediately and name Tony Jones interim coach, while they search. Since Hamilton's not gonna do anything, I think the president should step in. If he can not find another coaching position at another university, then it's his own fault and he can start a new career. Let's see, he can become a grill cook for McDonald's or Wendy's, a dishwasher, busser or grill cook for one of the casual dine-in restaurants in Knoxville, door greeter, stock person, or sales clerk for Wal-Mart, bagger, stockperson, or grocery clerk for Food City, assembly line associate for a factory, stockperson for a warehouse, luggage expeditor (bellhop) for holiday inn or the airport, custodial engineer (janitor) for a business, school, hospital, or the city/county building, sanitation specialist (garbage man) for the landfill/dump, digging ditches, or selling used cares at some dealorship. He could also pick up garbage along the highway or work as a gaspump attendant at a gas station.

silentmajority writes:

OK. So its MUST WIN:

"Bruce Pearl's bold declaration: 'Must win'..."

Then WHAT DO WE DO if we (perish the thought) LOSE?

Fall on our swords? Give up basketball? Can pearl?

TennVol01 writes:

I am watching the game right now. Vandy is having their way with the Vols. Tenn is so predictable. After only four minutes of play they benched most of their first string and sent in McBee of all players. Then after a minute or so they also brought in Pearl. If they want to lose that bad, they should have also sent in Summitt. I can't watch this much longer. Fans are so embarrassed.

dgcarter43 writes:

As I watch the Vols taking on Vandy, I can hardly believe the lack of any set plays. Tn. looks like sand lot play. Steven Pearl is on the court far too much. When he is, the opposing team has 5 guarding 4 because SP is not a threat to score. At least Skyler Mcbee can score.

eduardo writes:

Would they please quit handing the ball out front and go to the basket..Please!!!!!

eduardo writes:

I agree with Strange I have seen this before, like in the 1990's and Wade the Fade!!!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to bigdisbig:

Its time for Brian Williams to MAN UP and play like his size should dictate instead of some kid playing horse. He is 6'10 260 and should take the ball to the hoop when he has it in the lane. Keep your man in front of you on defense and determine to be the best player on the court. IF these guys will play team ball instead of 4 guys standing outside the arc wanting to shoot the 3 with no rebounder in sight they might have a chance. GUARD YOUR MAN. I used to be a Steve Pearl hater but I give the kid credit for being the best hustler on the team. At least he rebounds and guards his man. He may not score but he does know how to play team ball.
Brian Williams you have been a huge disappointment. ITS TIME YOU COME OUT DUDE! You are allowing freshmen outplay you DUDE!

DO NOT allow these geeks from Vandy push you around. They kicked your tail last year and have laughed at your failures this year.

Send them home crying for God's sake!!

From your keyboard to Brian's head, apparently, big! He REALLY came to play in the second half, as did Scotty. We see what these guys can do when their minds are right. And how about McBee! Ten big points and some good defense to boot! This was one they HAD to have, and after being about as bad as a top-division college can look in the first half, they sucked it up and pulled it out. I am SO happy for the guys and for Tony Jones. Now they need to take tomorrow off except maybe for looking at the UGA scouting report and maybe shooting some free-throws and be ready to gear it up again Tuesday night.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to richvol:

Claudette Riley? The great majorette?

Good one, rich! My sister took baton lessons from Claudette Riley and went on to become a UT majorette herself. I have sometimes wondered what has become of Claudette. She was as well-known as any young woman in Knoxville in her heyday.

1965Vol writes:

in response to Claudettevol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Well lil' fellar, I betcha the trip to G'ville was a lot shorter than the trip back! Looks like lil' BillyChoker did it again ... 1st to 1st to irrelevant. Kinda just like your football Gatas.

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