Can UT handle success?

Tennessee's basketball team entered this season with a little chip on its shoulder. Preseason projections by Athlon, Street & Smith, Blue Ribbon, The Sporting News and the SEC media all tabbed the Vols fifth in the six-team SEC Eastern Division.

Clearly, they had something to prove, and they proved it by upsetting No. 6 Texas and No. 2 Florida en route to a 12-3 record. So, you wonder: Now that the chip is gone from their shoulder, will success go to their heads?

To ensure that won't happen, head coach Bruce Pearl plans to work his players just as hard as before … maybe harder.

"We're going to lift at 6:45 on Monday morning – before classes – and it's going to be the best lift of the year," he vowed moments after the Vols shocked previously unbeaten Florida 80-76 Saturday night.

"If there's a chance for success to change us, tonight would be the first time," Pearl continued. "Not Texas and nothing else prior. We've got to make sure we stay focused, we stay humble and we stay hungry because every night in this league is going to be like (Saturday night's game)."

That hunger helped the Vols through rigorous preseason conditioning drills. That hunger also helped them rally late to win several close games. In short, that hunger has been the difference between 12-3 and 8-7.

"The difference is, nobody else has that except us," Pearl said. "Nobody else in this league has got that, but we've got that."

Junior forward Dane Bradshaw echoes those sentiments. He says the Vols – coming off a disappointing 14-17 season in 2004-05 – won't allow their strong start in 2005-06 to make them complacent.

"We just have to take it like it's a regular win," he said. "Even though we're going to celebrate and be happy about it, our preparation and our routine won't change for the next game."

That "next game" is Wednesday night at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are 11-7 and looking to bounce back from Saturday's 80-52 loss at Vanderbilt.


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