Pearl Joins Ranks With UT Students

FAYETTEVILLE -- When Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl bared his orange-painted chest in solidarity with other UT fans at the Duke-Lady Vols basketball game on Monday, it was not a pretty sight.

But other SEC men's coaches at least gave Pearl points for his courage.

Pearl's enthusiasm couldn't keep Duke from starting the game with a 17-0 run and eventually edging the Lady Vols 74-70, but Pearl's support for Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt, her team and the UT students made the ESPN highlights.

"That was a wonderful thing to see," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "Not to see his body painted like that, but the energy and enthusiasm he has about Tennessee basketball."

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy joked, "Yeah, we do have cable down here in Mississippi and I did see that. You couldn't have missed it. I applaud Bruce's courage."

South Carolina coach Dave Odom did miss the spectacle of Pearl's orange chest, but he said his wife told him about it.

"I think every coach has to do what he thinks is good for his team, his program and his university," Odom said. "Bruce is a very outgoing personality and an excellent basketball coach. He's in a situation where there's great support for football, women's and men's basketball and other sports. I certainly admire his enthusiasm."

Odom said he noticed that before South Carolina's game against Tennessee last Saturday, Pearl was wearing a lavaliere microphone on his coat lapel, in order to be miked for television during the game.

"He looked at me and said, 'Hey, you've gotta do what you've gotta do,'" Odom related.

The Tennessee men had lost three games in a row -- a first in Pearl's coaching career -- before they beat South Carolina, and now they've lost to Ole Miss this week to send their skid to four losses in five games. They're 14-6 for the season, 2-3 in the SEC.

"We've been wearing ourselves out due to a shortened bench," Pearl said Thursday. "(Star UT guard) Chris Lofton is still doubtful for our Kentucky game on Sunday. He's not even walking on his (sprained) ankle."

With four freshmen among his top eight players, Pearl said, "We're young and undersized."

So he'll resort to another fashion gimmick on Sunday, wearing his orange blazer at Lexington.

"I bring it out against Vanderbilt and Kentucky," Pearl said.

Auburn coach Jeff Lebo was asked Thursday if he envisioned himself ever becoming a bare-chested fan at an Auburn game.

"I don't see that happening to coach Lebo," Lebo said. "I wouldn't want to stand bare-chested next to any of our players. Bruce has got courage, I'll tell you that. That's just his nature. Everyone is different."

Seven Tennessee men's players joined Pearl in his frolic at the Lady Vols' game.

While his support for Summitt is well known, Pearl joked, "I don't see Pat painting her chest orange for one of our games."

Pearl, whose team won at Rupp Arena last season, said, "I'm sure Kentucky will be fired up. They're one of the deepest teams in the league; Tubby is playing 10 guys."

Pearl and Smith agreed that the SEC is the most balanced basketball league in the country.

"There are 12 teams in this league capable of playing in postseason," Pearl said.

Smith, whose team has lost two in a row after 11 straight wins, added, "Other than Florida at the top, there's just a lot of balance."

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