The Vols, 69-68 overtime losers to No. 9 Kentucky on Tuesday, followed a similar script Sunday night against No. 5 Louisville. This time the Big Orange faded down the stretch and lost 65-62.
Tennessee led by seven points on three occasions -- the last time at 43-36 with 11:50 remaining. But the Cardinals showed why they've won 15 games in a row after a season-opening setback. Rick Pitino's club made a 12-0 run to grab a 48-43 lead with 8:27 remaining.
Francisco Garcia opened the spurt with a breakaway. He subsequently hit two free throws, then scored on a run-out off a steal to cap the burst.
Tennessee (10-5) trailed by eight (60-52) with 2:45 remaining but closed to 62-59 on a Brandon Crump tip-in and a 3-pointer by Justin Albrecht with 13.7 seconds left. Taquan Dean, who missed all but 10 minutes of the game due to a hamstring pull, hit a pair of free throws with 13.2 remaining to make it 64-59 but Scooter McFadgon nailed a 3 for UT with 4 seconds left.
Garcia slid out of bounds after taking Louisville's inbounds pass but UT's John Winchester was whistled for a foul, supposedly for pushing Garcia. Replays showed minimal contact.
Garcia made one of two tries with 0:03 left, and UT's inbounds pass was intercepted at midcourt to seal the deal.
Garcia finished with 24 points to pace Louisville, getting 15 of those in the second half -- in spite of rolling his ankle and missing several minutes of play.
''He just kind of took over,'' Vol head man Buzz Peterson said on his post-game show. ''We just couldn't do anything with him. He made some big-time shots. He's one of the better players in the country, and he stepped up and made some great shots for them.''
Crump scored 16 and C.J. Watson 15 for Tennessee. McFadgon, the SEC's leading scorer, added 10 but hit just 3 of 15 field goal attempts. He also saw his streak of 32 consecutive free throws snapped with a first-half miss.
Tennessee, which lost the UK game because of a poor first half which incurred a 16-point deficit, dominated the first half vs. Louisville. The Vols outrebounded the Cardinals 22-11 and outscored them 5-0 from the foul line. Still, UT led by a mere 28-26 margin. The inability to open a bigger gap while dominating play proved costly.
Whereas Louisville was scoring many of its points on slashing drives to the basket, Tennessee was unable to penetrate against the super-quick Cardinals. That's why Louisville shot 23 second-half free throws (making 15), while UT shot just 10 second-half free throws (making 7).
''We didn't get to the bonus (7 fouls) too quick,'' Peterson said. ''Usually we get there a lot faster but we weren't dribble/driving enough to get there.''
After two gut-wrenching losses in a row, the Vols could be emotionally fragile when they visit Mississippi State on Wednesday. UT was blown out by Florida (95-57) and South Carolina (85-64) in its last two road games, which does not bode well.
One thing's for sure: If the Vols don't start winning the close ones at home and playing some close games on the road, this season could be headed for trouble.