Conversely, fans dogged the 2004-05 Vols throughout December and early January for their lack of hustle, focus and determination. Yet, there has been precious little grumbling in the wake of Saturday's 66-63 loss to South Carolina. There are two reasons for that:
1) The Vols played hard, outrebounding USC 31-26 and outscoring the Cocks 32-18 in the paint.
2) The Vols played smart, generally taking good shots and committing just 9 turnovers.
Will the team continue playing hard and playing smart from now on? Head coach Buzz Peterson hopes so.
After noting that his players ''gave us their all'' in the loss at South Carolina, the coach added: ''If I can get consistent effort every single night, get the stat sheet like that every night, I'm going to like our chances to get some wins.
''I've got to make sure they stay aggressive, limit turnovers, rebound like they did and share the ball. (If they do that) I like our chances the rest of the season.''
Due to the heartbreaking nature of the loss at South Carolina, there is a chance the Vols could slip into a funk and revert to their half-hearted ways of earlier this season. Peterson doesn't see that happening, however, because of the practice dedication of UT's little-used reserves.
''The thing that's helped us a lot is the guys from 8 through 11 or 12 (on the depth chart) are really being aggressive, coming out and giving a lot of effort in practice,'' the coach said. ''They're making the starters better. It's been pretty healthy out there. That's what we need every single day.
''Even though we lost that (Carolina) game, we've got to continue to work hard so good things will happen for us.''
The Vols (9-7, 2-2) visit Florida (11-3, 3-0) tonight. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville.