0-for-Oxford

The "Tad Pad" in Oxford, site of this afternoon's Ole Miss-Tennessee basketball game, has been more like The Bad Pad for the Vols lately.

"We have not beaten Ole Miss at Ole Miss in two tries," sixth-year head coach Bruce Pearl noted this week.

Actually, the Vols haven't even come close to winning at Tad Smith Coliseum during Pearl's tenure at Tennessee.

The Rebels outrebounded the Vols 40-34, forced 19 turnovers and won the second half 55-31 en route to an 83-69 romp in the 2007 game at Oxford.

The Rebels dominated the boards 44-30, shot 50.9 percent and outscored the Vols 47-33 in the second half en route to an 81-65 drubbing of the Big Orange in the 2009 game.

Although his first five years at the Big Orange helm saw Pearl beat nine of the other 11 SEC teams on their home floor, he's an emphatic 0 for 2 at Ole Miss. Tennessee had more athleticism each time but Ole Miss had more toughness each time. That could be the case again today. Even Pearl has been questioning the Vols' toughness lately. That's why he read them the riot act earlier this week.

"He just wanted to reiterate that we need to be a tougher team," senior point guard Melvin Goins said. "We got away from being tough on both ends of the floor. He was real intense, and I feel like it paid off (in a 75-53 Wednesday night defeat of LSU)."

Now 13-7 overall and 3-2 in SEC play, Tennessee lost its edge after starting the season 7-0. Goins thinks a diminishing level of toughness played a role in the slump.

"As a unit I feel like we had not been playing tough," he said. "We hadn't been showing the mental toughness we needed to stay in the ballgame. We lost one at Arkansas we should've had. We could've pulled it out but they out-toughed us there at the end."

For what it's worth, Goins thinks Tennessee's toughness is returning.

"We showed toughness coming back (from 17 points down) against Vandy and going to Georgia and getting a tough win," he said. "We've showed we can play that type of basketball. We got away from it for a while but I think we're focusing on it now."

Asked how a lapse in toughness manifests itself, Goins replied: "Sometimes we focus on the glamorous aspects of the game and lose focus on getting the 50/50 balls, boxing out, beating your man to the spot and things like that. If we focus on that, I think everything else will fall into place."

Things had better fall into place early for the Vols, given their recent futility at The Tad Pad.

"I've not been to Oxford," sophomore guard Skylar McBee said, "but I've heard it's a really tough place to play, and I don't think our coaching staff has won there. Hopefully, this win (vs. LSU) will have a snowball effect and give us some confidence going to Ole Miss."

GAME NOTES: Like Tennessee, the Rebels bring a 13-7 overall record into today's game. The Rebels are just 1-4 in SEC play, however.... Chris Warren, Ole Miss' 5-10, 168-pound senior point guard, leads the NCAA in free-throw percentage (94.8) and ranks second among SEC players in scoring (18.3 points per game).... Rebel sophomore Reginald Buckner, a 6-9, 238-pound Memphis native, leads the SEC in field-goal percentage at 61.9. He's averaging 7.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.... Other projected Ole Miss starters are 6-4 Nick Williams (8.0 points per game), 6-6 Zach Graham (14.4 points per game) and 6-10 Terrance Henry, (9.0 points, 6.0 rebounds per game).... The Rebels shoot the ball exceptionally well - leading the SEC in field-goal percentage (47.0) and free-throw percentage (74.7) and ranking third from 3-point range (35.0).... Today's game has a 4 p.m. tipoff and will be televised regionally by the SEC Network.... Associate coach Tony Jones again will be filling in as bench coach while Vol head man Bruce Pearl continues serving an eight-game suspension.


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