Tempo is crucial

It's no secret that a big part of Tennessee's success this basketball season stems from its knack for forcing turnovers. That could be a problem today against a South Carolina team that is very good at ball-handling.

The Gamecocks committed just 12 turnovers – fewest by a Vol foe all season – in the earlier meeting at Columbia. Moreover, the Cocks committed just eight turnovers (while forcing 17) in Wednesday night's 68-62 upset of No. 4 Florida.

South Carolina commits fewer turnovers because the Gamecocks play at a more deliberate pace than most teams. That's how they held the high-scoring Gators to 62 points three nights ago. That's how they limited Tennessee to 76 points, seven below its average, in the earlier meeting.

Conversely, Tennessee starts a small lineup designed to force (1) a quick pace and (2) a lot of turnovers. So why doesn't the fast pace force the Vols into a bunch of turnovers?

"The fact we often have four guards on the floor helps," head coach Bruce Pearl says. "That way we turn it over less. And we try to extend our opponents by the fast pace of our game. It's more up and down. The pace of the tempo makes them turn it over."

Clearly, tempo will be crucial when the Vols (13-3 overall, 4-1 SEC) and Gamecocks (11-8, 2-4) tip it up at 5 p.m. today at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Although Tennessee has the home-floor advantage, South Carolina is a very good road team. The Gamecocks handed Vanderbilt its only home loss of the conference season and had Kentucky beaten in Lexington until Rajon Rondo hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

"South Carolina beat Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt, which was a huge win for South Carolina," Pearl notes. "And really could've beat Kentucky in Lexington."

Since Tennessee already won 76-69 at Columbia, there is a tendency to believe the rematch in Knoxville will be easier. Pearl doesn't subscribe to that theory.

"We knocked down ten 3's in the second half (last time)," the Vol coach says. "We were down 15, and there was a reason."

The Vols rallied from that 15-point deficit by using fullcourt pressure to disrupt the Gamecocks' offense. Carolina should be better prepared to handle the press in today's rematch.

"I will go with the same game plan, so South Carolina has seen it," Pearl says. "The difference is teams have to get better throughout the season, and I hope we are playing better than we did at Columbia."

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