Ray Mears, Ernie & Bernie Show, Part II?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Chris Lofton hailed from Kentucky. So does Scotty Hopson. These Kentucky connection to the Tennessee Volunteer basketball program aren't the only connections Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl seeks, either.

Ask a long-time Kentucky fan and you'll get a consistent answer to the question of "who was the most hated rival team, coach and duo of players" back in the day? If you answered Tennessee, with Coach Ray Mears, and the "Ernie and Bernie" show--Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King--you're right there with current Vol head coach Bruce Pearl.

Kentucky fans used to live to beat Tennessee and coach Ray Mears in the days of the "Ernie and Bernie Show," Pearl explained. Bruce Pearl would like to see those days return to Knoxville. Kentucky fans wanted to beat Ernie Grunfeld, Bernard King and Ray Mears back in those days.

"I want Kentucky fans to want to beat Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism and Bruce Pearl and Tennessee," Pearl said. "I would like to have our program to that point (again)." Pearl acknowledged that the Vol team did not compete well with Kentucky last year. "I want Kentucky to be my rival," Pearl said. "But we didn't compete with them last year."

Pearl claims a "competitive" relationship with UK coach John Calipari. "I've always had great respect for John Calipari," Pearl said. "It makes it more interesting now (with Calipari at Kentucky."

One key to whether Tennessee may be successful maintaining that rivalry level this year may be super sophomore Scotty Hopson, a Hopkinsville (Ky) product with a lot of talent. Pearl said that last year he let Hopson play and did not push him much. "I am on him a lot more this year in practice than last year," Pearl stated. "But he won't have to do as much as a Lofton because we will have five guys in double figure scoring (this year)."

The Vols may be more balanced this year, but one thing Pearl won't give up is his team's reliance on the outside arc. "We're still committed to the three-ball," Pearl said. "The good news is, last year we were 3rd in three-point shots made. The bad news is we were last in three-point percentage."

That recipe probably won't recreate the days of Mears and the "Ernie and Bernie" Show. But Pearl believes UK fans will nonetheless respect the way his team will play. "They may not have liked the way Chris Lofton wore orange," Pearl said, adding, "But they respect him and the way he played."

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