Cuonzo Martin on UT's win over Florida
I don't necessarily believe in omens. But perhaps Billy Donovan's blood pressure spiked when Dane Bradshaw materialized at midcourt Saturday to announce it was " basketball time in Tennessee.''
At one point in the second half, the Thompson-Boling Arena JumboTron reminded the crowd it was nearly six years ago that Bradshaw scored winning baskets in consecutive Florida games and helped the Vols launch an 8-2 run against the Gators in the first five years of the Bruce Pearl Era. As if Donovan needed reminding.
No, I don't think omens had anything to do with Tennessee's stunning 67-56 upset of No. 13 Florida that got the SEC season off and running.
That would be selling the 10 Vols who played Saturday and Cuonzo Martin's coaching staff short.
Granted, Florida didn't play well and shot worse. The Gators hardly looked the 13th-best team in the nation. Still, Tennessee deserves credit for the outcome that sent an opening-day shock wave through the conference.
"We always talk about how good we can be,'' said sophomore Jordan McRae, "but going out there and proving people like you wrong, it feels great.
"It shows us how good we really can be.''
People like me had sup
posed that after the loss at Memphis on Wednesday, it might be a while before Tennessee's next victory. A while could be translated as several weeks.
I'll have my crow medium-rare with a side of fries. For nearly three hours Saturday, the early-bird Vols were atop the SEC standings alone at 1-0.
If any former Vol deserves an assist for the victory, it's not Bradshaw but Tony White.
White, "The Wiz" from the 1980s, spoke to the team Friday night, along with chaplain Roger Woods. Several players mentioned being inspired by White.
"He said when they played they didn't lose at home,'' said McRae, whom this year had already lost at home to Austin Peay.
Added Jeronne Maymon, "They took the veil from over our eyes, pointed out what we weren't doing as individuals.
"It was a real shocker, but it helped us look at ourselves in the mirror.''
When the Vols look in the mirror today, they see a team that bought into their coach's mantra, that being accountable on defense makes all the difference.
"It's maturity,'' said point guard Trae Golden. "I think we're growing up. We're realizing we're gonna win the game through defense, not offense.
"If we don't play defense, we're gonna get embarrassed. This is the SEC.''
Golden enjoyed a private conversation with White, who shared his thoughts on walking the line at point guard between scoring and distributing.
"It helped out a lot,'' said Golden. "A huge message.''
Apparently. Against Florida, Golden was especially efficient, scoring 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting and dishing seven assists.
So what's the bottom line Tennessee takes away from its especially efficient Saturday?
Is the team picked to finish 11th or 12th going to contend for an SEC title after all? Probably not.
For the moment, settle for this:
This was the SEC and, contrary to dire predictions, the Vols weren't embarrassed. On the contrary, they dished out the embarrassment.
Add Jarnell Stokes to the mix soon and the next two months are suddenly looking a lot more interesting.