Tennessee rides momentum of win streak to Georgia

Bulldogs were last team to defeat Vols

Tennessee forward Kenny Hall (20) goes up for a basket as Georgia center John Cannon (41) defends during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. Georgia won 68-62 over Tennessee. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee forward Kenny Hall (20) goes up for a basket as Georgia center John Cannon (41) defends during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. Georgia won 68-62 over Tennessee. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Momentum is a hard device to quantify.

“Yeah,” Josh Richardson agreed, “whatever it is, we’ve got it.”

The Tennessee sophomore guard is content with the vagueness of what’s happened to his Vols.

Steaming along on a six-game winning streak that includes three wins on the road, UT heads to Georgia for a tilt with the Bulldogs today (TV: WVLT, 1:30 p.m.).

Vagueness aside, no view is blurred of what sits ahead. Now 17-10 and tied for fifth in the SEC standings alongside Missouri at 9-6, the Vols can pave their own road. They hope it leads to a double-bye in the SEC tournament and ends in the NCAA tournament.

The last team to beat Tennessee? It was Georgia (13-15, 7-8 SEC), on Feb. 6, in a 68-62 setback.

“They kind of embarrassed us at home,” said Jordan McRae, whose 27 points powered UT to Tuesday’s 64-58 home win over No. 8 Florida. “We definitely didn’t plan on losing any home games, so they embarrassed us. The game was never even close.”

McRae said that meeting with Georgia “seems like it was months ago,” but it was just 25 days ago. That was back when UT dug itself a 3-6 hole in the SEC standings.

Thanks to that aforementioned momentum, the Vols are now on flirting with a top-four spot in the league. That would earn them two days off in the SEC tournament (March 13-17). Finishing fifth or sixth gets them a single bye.

UT is still three games behind first-place Florida, but just one-game back from fourth-place Ole Miss. Alabama and Kentucky, each 11-4 in conference play, are sandwiched in second.

Ole Miss faces last-place Mississippi State today, meaning the Vols likely need a win today to keep pace.

“We know that we have to win these games,” said McRae, who is averaging 18.3 points per game in league play. “We went into the Florida game knowing we had to win. We’ve got to get every game.”

Especially given their position on the ever-fickle NCAA tournament bubble.

In his latest projection, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi excludes the Vols. Nor does he include them in his “first four out” or “next four out.” They are, however, in the picture. An RPI of 52 and strength of schedule rating of 21 continue to climb.

“We can’t let anyone determine whether we get in,” Richardson said.

So there is work to be

done and games to be won.

Following Georgia, UT faces Auburn on the road and Missouri at Thompson-Boling Arena.

First things first, though. While more attention is being paid to the season-finale next Saturday against Missouri, the trip to Athens could be a well-hidden landmine. Star sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope poured in 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting the last time the two met. Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin tried various defensive matchups on the 6-foot-5 guard.

None worked.

“We could have done a better job defending him,” Martin said. “He’s efficient in the way he scores. He’s going to score the ball. He’s going to make plays.”

Martin added the Vols will force other Georgia players to try and beat them. The plan is to limit Caldwell-Pope’s touches —no small task. Everything Georgia coach Mark Fox runs goes through his star.

But while the Vols are climbing, Georgia is falling. Fox’s team has lost three of its past four, the lone win coming at home against South Carolina.

As for his team’s upward momentum, Martin believes maturation might be the key.

“I saw a lot of maturity from the guys after (last weekend’s four-overtime win at Texas A&M),” he said. “You get a big win, then a two-hour flight home, not a lot of practice time on the floor. To go over a gameplan against Florida, a very talented team, you need a lot of hours. The mental focus was there. Give the guys a lot of credit for the mental maturity and growing up as a team.”

In McRae’s words, the Vols are “rolling at the right time.”

“Some teams are falling at this time,” he said. “I’d rather be on the way up than on the way down at this time. (Earning a bye) is important, but we’re just trying to do what we can.”

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.

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Comments » 26

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Bye Bye. we need a Bye

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

HuMONGOUS trap games coming up.

CCM gotta get these guys to pound the boards...the best way to energize a tired team.

AncientVolFan writes:

I wish all the success in the world to this team. But to expect them to win 12 games in a row? So far no other team in the nation has won 12 in a row as far as I know.
It seems very likely they will lose one of the last regular season games. I hope fans aren't too disappointed.

tan007 writes:

I choose to think positive & believe this team can deliver on the last games. They had some players playing injured when Georgia beat us. We are a healthier team now & definitely more focused. Looking forward to beating Georgia!

iowavol writes:

I've never liked players talking about anything other than the next game in front of them. Hopefully, this article cherry picked the comments and most of their mental energy is focused on Georgia.

murrayvol writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

Bye Bye. we need a Bye

You're right but I don't believe the math will work for us. Too many strange things have to happen.

I'll settle for winning out and getting a couple of Ws in Nashville. That should do it.

underthehill writes:

I watched Vandy beat the dogs by defending Pope..UT will win if they do likewise..

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to murrayvol:

You're right but I don't believe the math will work for us. Too many strange things have to happen.

I'll settle for winning out and getting a couple of Ws in Nashville. That should do it.

We just need to "do what we can". I believe we can win out but none of the teams left will roll over for us. I know Georgia and Missouri won't. I don't even think Auburn will want to just show up.

I hope we play harder and smarter now and through the tournament than all the games up to now. At least we seem to have found an offense! Defense has mostly always been good. But now it seems everyone's motivated. We can hope.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to underthehill:

I watched Vandy beat the dogs by defending Pope..UT will win if they do likewise..

Pope was very good at finding the cracks against us. He also was very good at finding his shot. We may be better off just letting him shoot than to double team and let him dish it off and get us in foul trouble.??

trl_x writes:

The next 3 games are all must wins in IMO. Lose one and the Vols will have to win the SEC tournament to get to the NCAA tourney.

Ironically, if they hadn’t lost to Georgia at home they might have had some wiggle room.

brokendownoldvol writes:

Back to trying to play half court ball. Martin is an idiot. GA by 20.

underthehill writes:

`If Golden does not play a better 2nd half..the bubble is history..get with it Golden..

jt45 writes:

Jorden is playing great, next best Vol on the floor so far has been Hall, that about sums up how bad things are going so far for the rest of them. The officiating is very lopsided to the point of being ridiculous.

usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it writes:

Nothing like saving your worst game for when you're needed most. WTF, TG ?

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Sorry boys....
UGA, as does OLE Miss, gets into UT's heads.

This sucks.

brokendownoldvol writes:

Should have left Golden And Stokes lazy azzes at home.

GreerVol22 writes:

in response to brokendownoldvol:

Should have left Golden And Stokes lazy azzes at home.

exactly, looks like they ate everyone elses pasta

COLUMBIA_TN_VOL writes:

Tennessee is going to lose today because of two words: Trae Golden. He is playing selfish, lazy, and stupid basketball. Martin should put him on the bench and keep him there for a while. Earth to Trae, you play the POINT GUARD position. You have the hottest scorer in the country and a guy who cant be stopped if he gets a clean entry pass on the block. Get the ball to them!! It's not all about you and your individual "game". In fact, if you do your job and get the ball to those guys it will open up scoring opportunities for you as the game goes along. Bottom line it's a team game and you can't win with a selfish, immature point guard who plays like a redshirt freshman after three years in the program.

JimmyJoe writes:

Trae golden just help usher the vols out of the NCAA... What at freakin loser! What a freakin loser!

underthehill writes:

in response to COLUMBIA_TN_VOL:

Tennessee is going to lose today because of two words: Trae Golden. He is playing selfish, lazy, and stupid basketball. Martin should put him on the bench and keep him there for a while. Earth to Trae, you play the POINT GUARD position. You have the hottest scorer in the country and a guy who cant be stopped if he gets a clean entry pass on the block. Get the ball to them!! It's not all about you and your individual "game". In fact, if you do your job and get the ball to those guys it will open up scoring opportunities for you as the game goes along. Bottom line it's a team game and you can't win with a selfish, immature point guard who plays like a redshirt freshman after three years in the program.

I reckon so..and when Martin took him out it looked like UT might win..why did he put him back in..one hope left for the big show..win the SEC tourn..the bubble talk is over..

BigOrangeFreak writes:

Golden hurts this team far more than he ever helps. Between his horrific shooting (not to mention "McBee for 3" being a one-trick pony, this team can be very painful to watch.

And Jarnell Stokes needs a sports psycologist badly. What is it about this team in pressure situations?! Stop reading your own press.

brokendownoldvol writes:

It's embarrassing to be from TN much less be a TN fan. Oh well at least we are no. 1 in nation in crank labs.

BigOrangeFreak writes:

in response to COLUMBIA_TN_VOL:

Tennessee is going to lose today because of two words: Trae Golden. He is playing selfish, lazy, and stupid basketball. Martin should put him on the bench and keep him there for a while. Earth to Trae, you play the POINT GUARD position. You have the hottest scorer in the country and a guy who cant be stopped if he gets a clean entry pass on the block. Get the ball to them!! It's not all about you and your individual "game". In fact, if you do your job and get the ball to those guys it will open up scoring opportunities for you as the game goes along. Bottom line it's a team game and you can't win with a selfish, immature point guard who plays like a redshirt freshman after three years in the program.

Spot-on comment. This guy has to be one of the worst, most inconsistent point guards ever to start for us. I just can't believe that he is allowed to stay in the game the way he plays!

And if I didn't know anything about Tennessee, I WOULD think he is a freshman. And Stokes needs a check up from the neck up.

usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it writes:

in response to brokendownoldvol:

It's embarrassing to be from TN much less be a TN fan. Oh well at least we are no. 1 in nation in crank labs.

Then go cheer for someone else. It's embarrassing having shallow fans like you anyway.

brokendownoldvol writes:

in response to usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it:

Then go cheer for someone else. It's embarrassing having shallow fans like you anyway.

Loser.

johnlg00 writes:

Trae didn't have a good game yesterday when we really needed one, but UGA had a lot to do with that. They consistently overplayed him to his right and always had another guy nearby to help out. They usually had bigger defenders on him, and Trae still hasn't learned to use his strength to his best advantage. He still seems to want to try to see and pass OVER people when he would be better served by staying low and stepping through when guys crowd up on him. Besides, nobody else made enough shots to make UGA pay for concentrating on him. Caldwell-Pope is a GREAT player, but he didn't really go off on the Vols, he just had more help from the UGA role-players. The Vols could have used a better game from Stokes, but he has played a LOT of minutes lately. This game was a perfect example of why it is so hard to win on the road. It usually comes down to the home team's role-players playing better than the road team's.

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