Bruce Pearl on the Hopson/Liggins matchup during the Kentucky game
Game summary: Tennessee vs. Kentucky (March 6, 2011)
Bruce Pearl most always attempts to put a positive spin on things, but the Tennessee coach isn't bothering to try to mask his disappointment after Sunday's loss to rival Kentucky.
“Still pretty burned from yesterday, just the way things unfolded for us,'' Pearl said at his weekly press luncheon on Monday. “It's hard to disguise the disappointment. ... what it is, is what it is, and it's been tough.''
The Vols (18-13) missed out on an opportunity to win the SEC Eastern Division's No. 2 seed by dropping a 64-58 decision to No. 15 Kentucky (22-8) on Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee finished with the No. 5 seed in the division with the loss, putting them into a first-round matchup against Arkansas (18-12) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the SEC tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The winner plays the SEC regular season champion, No. 12 Florida (24-6), at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Pearl said the status of UT senior center Brian Williams remains unknown, but he added there's a chance Williams will try to practice this afternoon.
Williams hasn't played or practiced since the Vols' loss to Mississippi State on Feb. 26, when he injured his back.
Pearl said his six outgoing seniors took Sunday's loss to Kentucky particularly hard, but he was pleased by the support he felt after the game when he and his players went into the stands to thank the fans.
“I can't begin to tell you what the response was; It was genuinely positive,'' Pearl said. ”I think our fans appreciated seeing me and the players up there. They were disappointed but very supportive.''
UT finished this season 10-8 in home games, the most losses since UT finished 7-8 during the 1994-95 season under kevin O'Neill.
The Vols finished fifth in the nation in home attendance, averaging 18,952. Kentucky, Syracuse, Louisville and North Carolina were the schools to finish ahead of UT in average home attendance.
Pearl was asked if he felt the Vols had clinched at NCAA at-large berth at this stage of the season.
“We have some math that puts us in there, but I don't want to leave it up to that,'' said Pearl, whose team is No. 36 in the RPI rankings with a strength of schedule that ranks third in the nation.
“We've got eight wins versus top 50 (RPI) teams, and it would be 10 if Belmont wasn't 51 (in the RPI),'' Pearl said. “We've got 11 wins versus the top 100 (RPI); we have a great road record, but some bad losses.''