Vols at crossroads

Coming off a woeful 95-57 annihilation at Florida, Tennessee's basketball team is at a crossroads as it prepares for Wednesday night's game with Vanderbilt.

A bounce-back victory could get the Vols' season back on track. Conversely, another poor performance just might send the season spiraling out of control.

Head coach Buzz Peterson conceded that the Vandy game is ''huge ... a critical point in our season.''

The key to victory may be Tennessee's mindset. If the Vols are determined to redeem themselves, they should be OK. If they go into the game with a Florida hangover, however, they're probably destined to lose this game ... and the next ... and the next.

''I've seen teams get beat pretty bad like this (Florida game) and let it domino,'' Peterson said. ''We can't let it domino. We've got to put it behind us. We've got some tough games coming up.''

Starting with Wednesday's home test against 20th-ranked Vanderbilt. The Commodores won their first 12 games before falling 75-63 last Saturday at No. 5 Kentucky. Matt Freije, preseason pick as the SEC Player of the Year, is a 6-10 forward who is averaging 18.3 points per game. Supersub Matt Hunley chips in 10.6 ppg off the bench.

Statistically, the teams are virtual mirror images. The Dores are averaging 80.6 points per game, UT 81.5 ppg. The Dores allow 62.1 ppg, UT allows 69.2. Vandy is shooting 48 percent from the floor, while allowing just 39.2 percent. Tennessee shoots 47 percent and allows 40.9 percent. Vandy averages 40.2 rebounds, 19.1 assists and 13.9 turnovers per game. UT checks in at 41.3, 18.7 and 14.7.

As their 12-1 record attests, the Commodores a much better team than the one UT swept last season.

''I think their defense is better,'' Peterson said. ''Their size is better ... and their guard play is good. I love Hundley. Freije and Hundley are seniors who are giving them valuable leadership. And (Mario) Moore is the kind of point guard I really like. He'll put his nose in there. He doesn't mind if he makes mistakes. If you watched the game at Kentucky, he was the one guy on their team who was really fighting and competing when they were behind.''

Given the humiliating nature of the loss at Florida, Tennessee's players may have difficulty leaving that setback behind. Peterson concedes that getting his players back into a positive frame of mind is crucial.

''I've got to let them know that I'm upset but it's not the end of the world,'' he said. ''Let's move on. I'll stay positive with them, but we've got to correct the things we did wrong in that game.

''That's the toughest thing sometimes in coaching -- you get upset with what's happened, and you really want to take it out on the guys.... They're going to respond (based on) how you encourage them or what you say to them. A lot of our guys being young, they need some positive things said to them. I'll try to keep it on the positive side.''

Coming off a 38-point loss, that will be quite a challenge.


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