Three-game gauntlet

Tennessee's Basketball Vols made a significant step up in class when they played back-to-back games against Texas and Oklahoma State in mid-December. Now they're about to take an even bigger step.

Tennessee's next three games are at defending SEC West champ LSU on Saturday, at fifth-ranked Memphis on Jan. 18 and at home against No. 2 Florida on Jan. 21.

How's that for a Murderer's Row?

LSU (9-5) appears to be jelling after a slow start. The Tigers lost by a point at No. 4 Connecticut last Saturday, then upset Arkansas 63-58 in Fayetteville on Wednesday. Thus, a Tennessee win this Saturday night in Baton Rouge would be huge.

"We're still trying to get respect from everybody," senior point guard C.J. Watson said. "We're probably not supposed to win the game but we're going to go down there with a lot of confidence and some swagger and try to steal a win."

Facing Memphis (14-2) at The Pyramid may pose an even bigger challenge for the Vols.

"We're getting ready to play two teams (LSU, Memphis) that are probably in the top five in talent in the country," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl said.

If that isn't daunting enough, the Vols return home to face a Florida team (15-0) that is off to the best start in program history.

Pearl recognizes that the next three games represent quite a gauntlet. He won't have to play them all on the same night, however, so he's taking a "first things first" approach.

"We've got to go to LSU and we've got to go to Memphis, then Florida comes in," he said. "But you take ‘em one at a time. You just can't look down the road. You've got to look at LSU."

Watson touched on the same theme.

"We're trying to stay confident and stay humble at the same time," he said. "At any time we could lose three or four in a row, so we're trying to keep a slow pace, take it one game at a time."

Bottom line: Winning one of the next three games would be a significant accomplishment. Winning two would be gravy.

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