Heading into the hostile environment of the FedEx Forum, the 11-point underdog Vols were projected to suffer an early knockout against the fourth-ranked Tigers. Instead, the game was tied at 69-all with 6:45 to go. Tennessee's players and coaches took no solace in this fact, however, after losing 88-79.
"There were a lot of positive things … just not enough to win a game," a dejected Bruce Pearl said on his post-game radio show. "That's the whole deal. When it's all said and done, it's a loss, not a win."
His players seemed similarly frustrated after losing their second close call in five days. The game was a virtual replay of last Saturday night's 88-74 loss at LSU. The Vols also were in position to win that one late – trailing just 60-56 with 7 minutes left – only to falter down the stretch. Like the loss at Memphis, the Vols took the setback hard.
"I think it's a really good sign that we went to LSU thinking we could beat them," Pearl said this week. "I think it's a really good sign that, when we didn't, we were disappointed in ourselves."
Pearl says he is "not into moral victories," and junior forward Dane Bradshaw obviously isn't, either. Although he led UT with 21 points against Memphis, he was clearly dejected that the Vols couldn't find some way to pull out a victory.
"We were really hoping we could get two top-10 victories this week," he said. "We missed our first chance."
Tennessee gets another chance Saturday night against second-ranked Florida. Odds are 24,000 fans will pack Thompson-Boling Arena to support the Big Orange. Now that the Vols care whether they win or lose, the fans care, too.