Positive signs

There's a reason Tennessee fans call The Georgia Dome in Atlanta "The Dome of Doom." The Basketball Vols have a 5-10 record there in SEC Tournament play, with five Game 1 losses and five Game 2 losses.

The fact the 2011 tourney is being held at The Georgia Dome does not bode well for the Volunteers but it could be worse: They could be playing in Thompson-Boling Arena, where they lost eight times this season, including four of their last five SEC contests.

Head coach Bruce Pearl was so upset by Tennessee's home-court futility that he strode into the stands following Sunday's loss to Kentucky in the home finale to address the fans.

"I apologized for sending them home (unhappy) a lot of weekends," the coach explained, "but they keep on coming back."

Still, Pearl won't say playing in The Georgia Dome is preferable to playing in Thompson-Boling.

"I'm not going to even go there," he said. "The home court didn't beat us. We had all of the advantages (vs. Kentucky). We just didn't take advantage."

History aside, playing in the Georgia Dome could be just what the doctor ordered for Tennessee. The Vols are 3-0 in neutral-site games this season - beating Virginia Commonwealth and No. 7 Villanova in the NIT Season Tipoff Tournament at New York City and shocking No. 3 Pitt in the SEC/Big East Invitational at Pittsburgh.

"It's a neutral site," junior wing Scotty Hopson said of The Georgia Dome. "We've just got to get back to playing good basketball."

Sophomore center Kenny Hall thinks playing in Atlanta could be a plus for the Big Orange.

"Sometimes I don't mind playing on the road," he said. "I like going against the crowd every now and then. It's actually fun."

Although Tennessee stands just 18-13 after losing six of its last nine games, Hopson says he and his teammates are confident they can right the ship and make a good run in the league tournament.

"Guys are still confident in their abilities," he said. "Cameron (Tatum) stepped up and played a little better (vs. Kentucky). Tobias (Harris) played good. Kenny (Hall) played a little better and gave us some good minutes. You can see guys showing signs."

Nearly all of Tennessee's 13 losses came down to the final minute. So, with a little better late-game execution, the Vols' won-lost record could look a whole lot different.

"We're real close," Hopson said. "We're right there at the brink of it. We've just got to turn that corner."

Hall agreed, noting: "We're getting closer. We're actually playing better. I don't think we played bad at all (vs. Kentucky). We played good but they were the better team."

Pearl sees positive signs, as well.

"For about 35 minutes per game we've defended very, very well," the coach said. "Kentucky hasn't been held to that number of points (22 in the first half) since 2009. It was our effort, our aggressiveness, our attention to detail ... I like our defense.

"I like that Tobias Harris is playing his best basketball right now. Six of the last seven games Scotty Hopson has played great basketball, particularly on the offensive end. We're getting improved point-guard play from Melvin (Goins). What we need now - and what you'll see - is that somebody else will step up and do something.

"I thought Cameron played better against South Carolina. Steven Pearl had some good moments against South Carolina. Kenny Hall played his best game this year against Kentucky. There needs to be somebody else at tournament time, and I believe we have a number of guys that are capable."


1987: beat Vanderbilt 74-57, lost to Alabama 68-60

1995: lost to Alabama 55-43

1998: beat LSU 73-62, lost to Arkansas 102-96

1999: lost to Mississippi State 62-56

2000: lost to South Carolina 75-68

2002: beat Arkansas 68-61, lost to Alabama 91-72

2004: lost to Alabama 84-49

2005: beat Arkansas 65-46, lost to Kentucky 76-62

2007: lost to LSU 76-67 in OT

2008: beat South Carolina 89-87, lost to Arkansas 92-91

WILLIAMS UPDATE: Brian Williams, the 6-10 senior center who missed Tennessee's games with South Carolina due to back problems, practiced at full speed Tuesday. He is expected to play Thursday night, when the Vols face Arkansas at 7:30 in Round 1 of the SEC Tournament.

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