The Vols (19-4, 10-2 SEC) had the country's third-best RPI before a 92-79 trouncing by Alabama (15-9, 8-4 SEC) that wasn't close after Alabama went on a 19-1 run mid-way through the first half.
Just a few minutes after one of Alabama's greatest basketball teams, dubbed the Rocket Eight, was honored in pre-game ceremonies, Alabama's Stealth Seven scholarshipped players carpet bombed Tennessee's highly touted squad, scoring a phenomenal [for Alabama] 57 first half points, stunning the Vols and the 15,316 in attendance at Coleman Coliseum.
It was Alabama's sixth straight win over the Vols.
Four times this year Alabama hasn't hit the 57-point mark for an entire game – including a 56-52 win over Auburn. The Tide made 19 of 25 first half field goals [76 percent] and 13 of 13 free throws. Bama's 12 first-half turnovers were incidental.
"You'd like to put some magic potion on them that makes them play the way they did in the first half every game, but it doesn't happen that way," Gottfried said.
Both teams were hot to start, and Tennessee took its only lead with a Chris Lofton trey that gave the Vols a 23-21 edge. But Alabama reeled off a 19-1 run after the under-12 minute TV timeout in which Jean Felix, Ron Steele, Jermareo Davidson, Evan Brock, Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee all scored, giving Alabama a 40-24 edge with 6 minutes and 21 seconds remaining in the opening half.
"We wanted to take advantage of an opportunity if it was there," Gottfried said. "We didn't want to make the game absolute Helter Skelter, but we didn't want to turn down opportunities either, and we had a bunch."
"We wanted to attack the basket. Ron was aggressive and that was the key for us in the first half," he said.
Steele had 12 points and seven assists – just in the first half. He finished the game as the leading scorer with 22 points and nine assists. He was nine for nine from the free throw line.
"Ron, when he is healthy, which he is now, is one of the best point guards in the nation," Gottfried said. "I wouldn't trade him for anybody - when it comes to quickness, penetration, intelligence. He never misses a foul shot and never gets tired. Is there anything left? The guy is phenomenal.
Want more astounding first half numbers?
Alabama had four players in double figures in the first half. In addition to Steele's dozen, Gee had 12 first half points, while Hendrix and Davidson each had 10 at the break [Davidson added seven first-half rebounds], and all seven Bama players had scored at the half.
"Guys are stepping their game up and playing," Gottfried said. "To score 92 points in a game, for these guys, is a heckuva feat. We haven't done that very often if at all. It all starts with Ron and the way he plays."
Alabama's only higher point total for a game was the 105, amassed against Alabama State on November 20 of last year.
Both Davidson and Hendrix finished with double-doubles; Davidson with 17 points and 14 rebounds, Hendrix with 16 points and 10 boards.
Brandon Hollinger had nine points in the game, and took some of the ball handling pressure off Hendrix.
"Brandon Hollinger helped us as well. We can't win this game without him," Gottfried said. "When Ron plays for 40 minutes you have to have another ball handler."
Despite the magnitude of the win, Gottfried is more than downplaying postseason talk, grabbing a familiar line from Joe Kines.
"What we need to do is concentrate on the next game," he said. "I talked to team one time about [the NCAA tournament] and I won't talk to them again about it. How many wins do you need to get -- those guys [experts] got no clue. They don't have a clue. The answer is, ‘to win games'. We need to concentrate on that, and nothing else."
The players have bought in. Asked about beating the significance No. 3 RPI team, Steele said, "I don't know, I don't pay attention to it, for real. That's for the selection team or whoever. You can't be worried about that."
"I wouldn't say that [it's our biggest win]," Steele said. "It's a big win but like Coach always says, it counts as one. It's not going to help us beat the next team. We're going to have to enjoy it tonight and get ready for the next one."