A grueling challenge

In order to reach the finals of this week's Southeastern Conference basketball tournament, the Tennessee Vols would have to win three games in three days. That's a grueling challenge but not a new one. The Big Orange already endured a three-games-in-three-days stretch earlier this season.

The Vols' first three games of 2004-05, in fact, were played in a three-day span at the Maui Invitational. They beat Stanford 69-57 on Day 1, lost to North Carolina 94-81 on Day 2. Apparently spent, the Vols were blown out by Texas 95-70 on Day 3.

Despite losing two of the three games in Maui, that experience might help Tennessee in the SEC tourney.

''I think so because we went against some great competition,'' UT head man Buzz Peterson said this week. ''(When you're) playing 120 minutes ... that third day is tough. You've got to have a bench, and I think our guys know what it takes now.''

Tennessee's bench is a little deeper in March than it was in November. JaJuan Smith has begun providing some quality minutes as a backcourt reserve and wing Stanley Asumnu seems to be emerging from a season-long slump. He scored a career-high 14 points last Saturday against Georgia. Post reserves Major Wingate and Jemere Hendrix continue to be very erratic, however.

Of course, the Vols won't have to worry about playing three games in three days unless they beat Arkansas in Round 1 and Kentucky in Round 2 of the SEC Tournament. That's a pretty imposing challenge in itself.

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