Road warriors

Tennessee has lost five of its last seven games but the Vols have at least one factor in their favor tonight vs. South Carolina: The game is in Columbia.

As Big Orange fans are painfully aware, this Tennessee team has routinely played better on the road than at home. Consider:

- It is averaging nearly seven points per game more in SEC outings on the road (67.0) than at home (60.4).

- It has a better league record on the road (4-3) than at home (3-4).

- Its two signature wins - versus Villanova and versus Pitt - occurred on the road.

- It played Georgia better on the road (winning by two) than at home (losing by six).

- It played Vanderbilt better on the road (winning by nine) than at home (winning by three in overtime).

- It played Florida better on the road (losing by one) than at home (losing by six in overtime).

So, ridiculous as it sounds, it probably bodes well for Bruce Pearl's Vols that they're playing tonight's game at Colonial Life Arena. Tennessee's players apparently execute with more focus and discipline when they're playing in someone else's gym.

"Coach said on the road we're more mindful that we've got to run cutters, be more solid and not take as many chances," junior wing Scotty Hopson said recently. "At home it's the opposite: We take more chances. I think we've just got to be mindful of the fact that we've got to be solid each and every possession."

Tennessee struggled mightily to subdue South Carolina 73-67 Feb. 16 in Knoxville. If the unconventional Vols are true to form, however, they will play much better in tonight's rematch. Of course, if the conventional Gamecocks are true to form, they'll play much better tonight, too.

"South Carolina plays better at home," Pearl said. "They're 11-5 at home this year. We beat them (in Knoxville) but we didn't beat them soundly. It was a tight ball game. We'll have to play significantly better there to beat them."

Even with five losses in the last seven games, Pearl is convinced his team can get on the same type of roll that produced upsets of Villanova and Pitt en route to a 7-0 start. Making a few 3-point shots and a few late-game stops would be a big step in that direction.

"There's nothing that would surprise me as relates to whether this team could get it going again," Pearl said. "Certainly, no one expected this team to win at Vanderbilt.

"This team is definitely capable. To do it, we need better leadership all the way around and we need some of those guys that are taking and missing those (3-point) shots to make a couple of them."

GAME NOTES: Brian Williams, the Vols' 6-10, 270-pound senior center, will miss tonight's game due to back problems.... Pearl is 11-2 vs. South Carolina and has won the last eight meetings with the Gamecocks.... Tennessee brings a 17-12 overall record and a 7-7 SEC record into tonight's game. Carolina is14-13 and 5-9.... The Gamecocks are in an even bigger slump than UT, having lost six of their last seven games.... Sam Muldrow, a 6-9, 229-pound senior, averages 11.0 points and a team-best 7.0 rebounds per game for South Carolina. He also averages an SEC-best 4.0 blocks per game. He rejected six shots when Tennessee and Carolina met two weeks ago in Knoxville.... Other projected starters for the Gamecocks are 6-9, 214-pound freshman Demontre Harris (3.6 points, 3.6 rebounds), 6-5, 230-pound Lakeem Jackson (7.9 points, 5.7 rebounds), 6-2, 176-pound Ramon Galloway (10.5 points per game) and 5-9, 197-pound freshman Bruce Ellington (13.1 points, 3.3 assists).... The game will be televised nationally by ESPN with a 7:02 tipoff.

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