Will to win

When you're coming off consecutive road losses at LSU and Memphis, that's not the ideal time to face the No. 2 team in college basketball. So, what does it say about the Tennessee Vols that they were able to bounce back and upset the Gators 80-76 Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena?

"It says a lot about their will," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "I think the kids felt a responsibility to hold up their end out there because of the support they've received (from fans) and the energy around campus. These students are unbelievable."

Tennessee's resiliency is pretty unbelievable, too. After the disappointing losses at Baton Rouge and Memphis, the Vols could've been too drained to get up for the Gators. But they found enough energy to gut out one of the most exciting wins in program history.

"It's in the kids," Pearl said. "It's all about the players … all about their toughness."

Most of Tennessee's players were part of the 2004-05 team that went 14-17 and didn't even qualify for a bid to the National Invitation Tournament. They haven't forgotten that disappointment but they're using it for motivation.

"They've lost enough to have their confidence shaken," Pearl noted, "but they've trained hard enough to believe in a new season. Every year's a new season."

The first-year Tennessee coach believes the Vols learned a valuable lesson from last season's losses: Basically, defeat is hard to swallow.

"You have to taste some of the bitterness of some defeats. That's what experience is," Pearl said. "I'm new; they're not. These guys have been through it (losing) before, and you've got to give the past some credit. It's there. I told ‘em they've won enough to know how to win, they've lost enough to not want to taste it ever again. So, let's keep this thing going."

Sophomore guard Chris Lofton echoed those sentiments. He substituted the word "heart" for will but essentially agreed that the 12-3 Vols are winning with determination and hustle.

"I think we've just got heart," he said. "We don't back down from nobody. We're going to come at you for 40 minutes. We're going to play hard. That's just how it is."


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