Bubble battle

The Tennessee and Georgia teams that collide today at 1:05 in Thompson-Boling Arena have a lot in common.

The Bulldogs, like the Vols, are 6-5 in SEC play.

The Bulldogs, like the Vols, are surprisingly good on the road. Georgia is 3-2 in SEC road games, Tennessee 3-3.

The Bulldogs, like the Vols, rely heavily on Georgia talent. Mark Fox's team boasts 10 players from the Peach State, four of whom start. Bruce Pearl's team features four players from the Peach State, one of whom starts.

The Bulldogs, like the Vols, are struggling of late. Each team is 6-6 in its last 12 games.

The Bulldogs, like the Vols, are fighting to get off the NCAA Tournament bubble. Georgia is 17-8 overall, the Vols 16-10. That makes today's game vital to each team's post-season hopes.

"We definitely need to get on a win streak," Vol junior Scotty Hopson said. "We've got some games at home and we've got to protect our home floor."

Senior Melvin Goins added a hearty amen to that.

"Yeah, it's winding down here, so every game is important," he said. "Every game is wide open, so it's important to get in that mindset of winning because it's loser-go-home once the regular season ends. We've just got to get in that mindset ... to play every possession to win."

Although Goins and Brian Williams are seniors, Hopson has played far more minutes at Tennessee than the two of them combined. As a result, he feels the team looks to him for a spark and for leadership as it enters the stretch run toward an NCAA Tournament bid.

"I'm a veteran of this team, and I'm going to do all I can to relieve some of the pressure from the rest of the guys, put the team on my back and make plays out there on the floor," he said. "I tell them to stay positive and stay confident in everything we do. We've just got to execute Coach's game plan, trust in him and the rest of the coaching staff, and we'll be fine."

Although the Vols are just 9-10 since starting the season 7-0 and soaring to No. 7 in the national rankings, Hopson believes this team can recapture the magic it flashed in November and early December.

"There's a lot to be learned," he said. "It's still a learning process each and every day. This team can grow and get a lot better. We just want to keep everyone positive and keep everyone confident."

GAME NOTES: Bruce Pearl stands 10-1 against Georgia. A win today will give him a sweep of the Dawgs for the fifth time in his six seasons at Tennessee.... Based on SEC games only Georgia leads the league in 3-point shooting (40.0 percent), rebound margin (plus-6.7) and assists (15.9 per game).... The Dawgs are expected to start 6-10, 245-pound Trey Thompkins (16.2 points, 7.6 rebounds per game), 6-8, 264-pound Jeremy Price (8.9 points, 5.2 rebounds), 6-4 Travis Leslie (14.0 points, 7.2 rebounds), 6-1 Gerald Robinson (13.0 points, 3.8 assists) and 5-11 Dustin Ware (8.1 points, 3.9 assists).... CBS will televise today's game on a regional basis.... Tennessee is hoping for a "white-out" today, with fans wearing white OUTLIVE T-shirts in support of cancer screening.

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