No more baby food

You wouldn't expect an infant to go straight from baby food to T-bone steak but that's essentially what Tennessee's basketball team is about to attempt.

After cruising through East Tennessee State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, Murray State and Appalachian State, the 5-0 Vols are preparing to switch from life in a stroller to life in the fast lane. The next two opponents are second-ranked Texas (Dec. 17) and Oklahoma State (Dec. 22). Oh, yeah, both games are on the road.

Are the Vols ready? Not really. Even facing five relative lightweights, they rank dead last among the 12 Southeastern Conference teams in field-goal defense (44.3 percent), 11th in rebound margin (-0.2) and 11th in blocked shots (4.0 per game). So what does head coach Bruce Pearl think about the task ahead?

Nothing. He isn't ready to think about it just yet.

"We could talk about our defense, our shooting percentages and our problems," he said moments after UT moved to 5-0 by beating Appalachian State. "You guys (media) are going to have months to dissect that. I'm not going to go there."

Instead, the first-year coach is going to accentuate the positive.

"We're 5-0," he said. "These guys are finding ways to win. They're playing hard. They're enjoying playing together. The crowd is enjoying them. I'm happy."

Finally permitting himself to look ahead ever-so-briefly, Pearl conceded that the road ahead is a tough one, especially for a team that relies almost exclusively on five starters and two reserves.

"We've got to get better," he said. "The problem is, I don't have a full roster to practice. How much full contact practice can I have before Texas? Right now I can't afford to lose anybody."

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