LSU coach Trent Johnson on game with UT
"Tennessee is going to regain its identity for its toughness and physicality,'' Pearl said after Tuesday's practice. "When we recapture that, we can build and improve.''
The Vols (12-7, 2-2 SEC) will get their first chance to respond to Pearl's edict Wednesday night against LSU (10-9, 2-2) at Thompson-Boling Arena (TV: WVLT, 8 p.m.).
If not, associate head coach Tony Jones has the green light to pull any player who lacks the proper focus and/or effort.
"I know what Coach (Pearl) wants, and I will adjust accordingly to the team needs, offensively and defensively,'' said Jones, who will handle the head coaching duties with Pearl serving the fifth game of his eight-game SEC suspension.
"The message for this game is 'what's our identity.' "
Pearl made a vow to UT fans when he was hired 6 1/2 years ago that the Vols would not be out-worked or out-hustled.
"That hasn't been happening consistently,'' Pearl said. "That means things are going to change.
"It's the way it has to be; we're going to fight to get our identity back.''
Freshman Tobias Harris said the players took Pearl's talk to heart.
"He said we're a team with so much potential, but we're only 12-7,'' Harris said. "It's about playing with heart, playing with passion and playing like it's the last game of your life.''
Bruce Pearl on freshman forward Tobias Harris
Pearl made it clear to his players that LSU is capable of dealing UT a defeat, despite the Vols being installed as 16-point favorites by oddsmakers.
"I asked them if they are ready to play Duke,'' Pearl said. "This (LSU) is a team that was beating Auburn 32-6 at the half, and Auburn beat the same Florida State team that beat Duke.
"This (LSU) team beat Arkansas . . . we have had close games with them the last three times with (coach) Trent Johnson.''
Pearl was testy with reporters Tuesday, irritated by a recent swarm of off-court distractions.
"You want to write about the NCAA, or a player being suspended or a kid working toward his college major?'' Pearl said, referring to Jordan McRae being suspended for using inappropriate language and a school investigation into Renaldo Woolridge reportedly using an upstairs section of a bar for a video project last Saturday night.
"That's fine, we've given you that stuff to write about,'' Pearl said. "But we're going to get the focus back on the floor, and get back to our identity, and that's playing hard and hustling.''
It's not the first time Pearl has attempted to deliver the message, but Harris explained that this time it was different.
"Coach Pearl got the message across that if you're not going to play tough, you're not going to be playing,'' Harris said. "That's anybody - and it can't be playing hard in spurts - it has to be all the time.
"As a team, we can play with more of an edge, and I think we will.''