Game preview: UT vs. Ole Miss
MEMPHIS - Ole Miss is not at the top of the list when it comes to Tennessee's favorite road trips or places to play in the SEC.
In fact, it's at or near the bottom.
"It's obviously not as nice as other places,'' senior Steven Pearl, who has been a part of the two UT men's basketball teams that have been drubbed 83-69 and 81-65 in Oxford, Miss, said Thursday. "You fly into Memphis, then you take the bus to Oxford, and that makes for a long day before the game.
"I don't know if all that had to do with us losing there, because we just have gotten outplayed and out-hustled there.''
The Vols (13-7, 3-2 SEC) will make another go at getting a win against the Rebels at C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum today (TV: WVLT, 4 p.m.).
Ole Miss (13-7, 1-4) and Auburn are the two SEC campuses UT coach Bruce Pearl has yet to record a win during in his five-plus seasons with the Vols.
And Bruce Pearl won't get a win today - at least not in person - as he's serving the sixth game of his eight-game SEC suspension.
UT associate head coach Tony Jones will continue to manage game-day duties while Pearl has elected not to travel with the team.
"It's getting harder for me, but I'm sure it's getting more comfortable for Tony and the assistant coaches from the standpoint of how we're preparing, delivering the scouting report and play-call lists,'' Pearl said. "But for me, each game has become increasingly more difficult to watch.
"The bus pulls away, and there goes my family without me. It's a terrible feeling.''
Jones looks to make the most of the situation, but traveling to and playing in Oxford has proved to be a tough chore the two times Pearl-led Tennessee teams have played there.
"Ole Miss is a difficult place to play; it's a different kind of place,'' Jones said. "It's a small town, and our accommodations there . . . we have to go into our rooms from outside.
"There's no other place we've played games at in the five years we've been here where that has been the case.''
The series trend favors the Rebels - the home team has won every game since the 2002-2003 season.
The current UT coaching staff is 4-2 against Ole Miss, yet the Rebels are one of only two annual opponents who have a cumulative scoring advantage over Pearl teams, 453-452. Kentucky, 7-4 versus Pearl teams, is the other at 819-739.
The Rebels' arena, affectionately known as the "Tad Pad,'' is the smallest in the SEC with a seating capacity of 8,700.
Ole Miss has drawn an average home crowd of 5,585, second-lowest in the SEC only to Mississippi State (4,326), and nowhere near the 18,297 average crowd at Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena.
No doubt, the Vols will have to bring their own energy and excitement to the dimly lit 45-year-old gymnasium.
Ole Miss should be well-prepared, having sat idle since scoring a 78-51 victory at LSU last Saturday.
It's a good bet the Rebels will look to get All-SEC pick Chris Warren involved early and often. The senior guard ranks among the top three in the league in the following categories:
n Free-throw shooting (first, .948);
n Free throws made (first, 92);
n Scoring (second, 18.3 points per game);
n Made 3-point shots (second, 54);
n Assist/turnover ratio (third, 2.1); and
n Assists (third, 4.1 per game).
UT senior point guard Melvin Goins said his assignment against Warren will be challenging.
"They do a lot for Chris; he'll do as much off the ball as on the ball,'' Goins said. "They'll run some stagger screens and double-back screens for him.''
Vols senior Josh Bone, who has been handling the back-up duties at wing, had his most prolific UT performance against Warren when the teams met in Knoxville last season.
Bone, then a seldom-used walk-on, came off the bench to shut down Warren as the Vols beat Ole Miss in overtime, 71-69.
"People didn't really know what to expect from me before that,'' Bone said. "I made some plays on the defensive end and hit a few shots on the offensive end in that game, and that was big for me.
"I've yet to score nine points in a game since then.''
Bone's season-high point total this season is six, on three occasions.
Rebels Favored: Ole Miss has opened as a 2-point favorite, which marks only the fourth time the Vols have been an underdog this season.
UT is 3-1 as an underdog, with wins over Pittsburgh, Villanova and Georgia, and a loss to Connecticut.
SEC Tweets: Steven Pearl and Florida's Chandler Parsons had a Twitter exchange involving their respective road trips to Ole Miss and Mississippi State on Friday evening.
"This hotel bed is a joke.' #hardestintheSEC" Parsons tweeted.
Pearl re-tweeted Parsons' comment and added: "Starkville and Oxford . . . two worst road trips in the SEC.''