Jeronne Maymon talks about his performance against Kentucky
One month ago, here was Tennessee's basketball week:
A historic loss to Austin Peay. The Governors looked like a Final Four team when they shot 72 percent in the second half.
Then a loss at College of Charleston. A guy from up the road in Greeneville, Antwaine Wiggins, looked like a lottery pick when he scored 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting.
OK, consider Tennessee's most recent week:
The Vols convincingly beat one ranked SEC team, Florida, and, then played to the brink of upsetting two others in less than 48 hours.
A 65-62 loss to No. 2 Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday had a strikingly similar feel to the 62-58 loss at No. 20 Mississippi State on Thursday night.
In each case, Tennessee battled to within one possession of pulling off a shocker.
Obviously, the mid-January Vols have come a long way from the mid-December Vols.
Austin Peay merely looked like a Final Four team. Kentucky is a Final Four team.
Charleston's Wiggins merely looked like a lottery pick. Kentucky's Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are lottery picks.
"I'm so impressed with what Coach (Cuonzo) Martin has done,'' gushed UK coach John Calipari. "That is an NCAA tournament team.''
Calipari is well known for having the gift of blarney. But he's not the only one impressed with what Martin is doing with the bunch that lost to Austin Peay and Charleston.
The Vols' effort Saturday was the most impressive of the recent three, even if the result wasn't satisfying in any shape, form or fashion.
"We just feel like they're losses,'' Jeronne Maymon said after an 15-point, 10-rebound afternoon. "All we want is wins.
"That's all people care about when you really think about it.''
Of course. That's why there is a scoreboard. But in this season of lowered expectations, UT fans also care that their team is representing, even when it's not winning.
At Memphis a mere 10 days ago, the Vols neither won nor represented. Since then, their transformation on the defensive end has been a game-changer.
They handled the Gators at home. Having a chance to win at Mississippi State signalled the Florida upset was no fluke. Nothing comes easy in Starkville.
Back home Saturday after a quick turn-around the Vols had a capacity crowd to feed the adrenaline. If a third of the crowd was feeding Kentucky, there was still plenty for the home team.
Jarnell Stokes, the newest Vol, was also good for a pick-me-up. Nine points and four rebounds in 17 minutes was beyond anyone's expectations for the freshmen who hasn't been on campus long enough to find the student center yet.
Kentucky came at the Vols with more weapons than either Florida or Mississippi State. Ultimately, Tennessee blinked, but it never quit.
"These are all learning experiences for us,'' said senior Cameron Tatum who emerged from a dreadful slump to score 16 points. "I can see the confidence in the guys each time down the stretch. I see that in everybody's eyes.
"I like what I see.''
Except, of course, for the scoreboard these past two games. Details, details.
But the month's journey from losing to Austin Peay and Charleston to taking Mississippi State and Kentucky to the wire indicates real progress.
Let's see what the scoreboards look like in another month.