NASHVILLE — Progress rarely runs in a straight line. Still, that was quite a zigzag Tennessee made Tuesday night.
Big Orange basketball fans would be hard-pressed to find a more humbling 48 hours than what they got to start the week.
The Lady Vols were blown out by 28 points at Notre Dame on Monday. The UT men offered no pick-me-up, going down meekly 65-47 at Vanderbilt.
The former was more surprising than the latter, given that Cuonzo Martin is still at the ground-level stage of building a program in his image.
The upset of nationally ranked and defending national champion Connecticut on Saturday was an impressive step forward. Vanderbilt bowed up and shoved the Vols backward.
By the time the Commodores had claimed a 9-0 lead, Tennessee was already four turnovers down the path to perdition. The Vols would get to a staggering 25 before the final horn.
The turnovers — which led to 30 Vandy points — were the most dramatic manifestation of Tennessee's inadequacy in yet another road loss, but certainly not the only one.
Vandy's tenacious defense harassed UT into 35.3-percent shooting.
"We were posting at odd places and weird angles,'' said Jeronne Maymon, whose 15 points were one of the few bright spots for UT.
It looked as if the Vols would draw a blank behind the 3-point arc for a second game this year until Josh Richardson hit the first — and only — trey late in the game.
Even though Tennessee won the boards, 40-32, another telling sign of Vanderbilt's superior aggressiveness was a 15-0 margin in fast-break points.
After four previous SEC games in which the Vols were competitive to the end, this one begged the question:
"We've lost a couple of games to teams where we played as hard as we possibly could,'' said Richardson, one of four freshmen on the court for the final minutes.
"That's easier to sleep at night after than this game tonight. We got out-toughed and out-fought. That's all on us.''
The environment had something to do with it. Memorial Gym is a tough house. Vandy crowds especially delight in tormenting Tennessee misplays and the Vols gave them ample opportunity.
But Vandy's veteran roster had more to do with creating a beat-down.
Kevin Stallings' program is the anti-Kentucky. John Calipari makes his living with one-and-done phenoms. They flash their skills and move on to the NBA.
Vandy's guys stick around. Tuesday's starting lineup was four seniors and junior John Jenkins. They brought a combined 524 games and 371 starts to tipoff.
Tennessee answered the bell with two freshmen and a sophomore and a combined 107 starts, 62 of them by Cameron Tatum.
Jarnell Stokes, of course, had only three previous games and one previous start. And for the first time in his young career, it showed.
Stokes got his 10 rebounds, but was held to six points. He also was tagged with seven turnovers and a technical foul.
"It was a great lesson to him,'' said Martin.
A lesson taught primarily by Festus Ezeli, Vandy's 6-foot-11, 255-pound senior center. Ezeli blocked four shots and generally made life difficult in the paint.
Martin and Stallings both come from the Gene Keady coaching tree at Purdue and believe in the same hard-nosed fundamentals.
Stallings is in his 13th year at Vandy, with as veteran a rotation as you'll see in college basketball this day and age.
Martin is in his first year at Tennessee. Tatum is his only veteran with starting experience before this year.
The difference in those two scenarios was obvious Tuesday night. Tennessee got hit in the mouth by a cagey veteran in a hostile environment and could not summon a response.
At least not on the spot. Now the question is how the Vols respond when they regroup and take the court on Saturday.
"It's not a setback at all,'' Martin insisted. "You get back to work and keep pushing forward.''
With the understanding that forward isn't always a straight line.