The Columbia jinx

On Dec. 6, 1969, Ray Mears' Tennessee Basketball Vols slipped out of Columbia with a 55-54 upset of top-ranked South Carolina in what probably stands as the greatest victory in program history.

Strangely enough, the site of that magnificent achievement has been the site of utter futility lately. Tennessee was 0-4 at Columbia during the Buzz Peterson era, losing by an average margin of 16 points. Those four losses weren't just decisive, however. They were disastrous.

Peterson's 2001-02 Vols had won six of seven (including an upset of seventh-ranked Kentucky) heading to Columbia. They lost 72-54, however, then dropped four of the next five, as well.

The 2002-03 Vols suffered a similar fate. They had won six in a row (including an upset of fourth-ranked Florida) heading to Columbia. But a 77-63 setback ignited a four-game losing streak.

The 2003-04 Vols carried a 10-2 record and high hopes to Columbia only to see the record marred and the hopes dashed. Carolina romped 85-64, sending Tennessee into another four-game tailspin.

The 2004-05 Vols were coming off an upset of No. 11 Mississippi State when they arrived in Columbia. They lost 66-63, however, and went on to drop six of their next eight games, costing Peterson his job.

Tennessee's veteran players are acutely aware of the anguish inflicted on them in the four most recent trips to South Carolina's campus. That's why they're hoping for some redemption in Sunday's SEC opener at Columbia (1:30 tip-off on Fox Sports South).

"Hopefully, we can break that streak," junior forward Dane Bradshaw said. "I know as long as I've been here we haven't been able to win there, and Tennessee's had some pretty rough losses there in the past. That could be a great start for us on the road."

Tennessee carries a 9-1 record into the fray. South Carolina's record is 9-4 but the Gamecocks are 6-0 on their home floor. Slipping out of Columbia won't be easy. Then again, it never is.

Former UT coach Kevin O'Neill was 0-3 at Columbia between 1997 and 1999, including 73-41 humiliation in ‘97. Jerry Green went 2-2 at Columbia but suffered the worst loss (81-51) of his four-year tenure as Vol coach there in 1998. Interestingly enough, Peterson sustained the second-most lopsided setback of his four-year tenure at the hands of South Carolina (94-60 in 2002) but that game was played in Knoxville.

Can Tennessee shake the Columbia jinx? The Vols think so.

"We haven't won there in a long time," Bradshaw conceded. "That could be huge for the confidence of the veterans here, and I think we're ready to do that."

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