Start may be crucial

A good start at home is nice. A good start on the road is crucial … especially at a venue as hostile as Rupp Arena will be when Tennessee visits Kentucky tonight (7 p.m. tip-off on ESPN).


The Vols rolled to a 23-5 lead at Texas seven minutes into the action. They went on to beat the sixth-ranked Longhorns by 17 points.

The Vols spurted to a 33-18 lead 15 minutes into their game at Mississippi State. They eventually romped by 23.

The Vols led 11-10 after five minutes at Memphis. They hung tough all night, eventually losing by nine on a late Tiger rally.

"We started well at Mississippi State," UT head coach Bruce Pearl recalled. "We obviously started well at Texas and we started well enough at Memphis."

Tennessee did not start so well in its other road tests.

The Vols fell behind 28-14 against Oklahoma State 14 minutes into the fray. They ultimately lost by 16.

The Vols scored just four points in the first nine minutes at LSU. They wound up losing by 14.

Good start, good performance. Bad start, bad performance. Tennessee has encountered one exception to that rule this season: The Vols fell behind 25-13 with 14 minutes gone at South Carolina but rallied furiously to win. Still, a similar start tonight against Kentucky could be fatal.

"If we start like we started at South Carolina, it could be a long night," Pearl said. "We were fortunate to survive that start."

Kentucky has won 26 of the last 27 meetings with Tennessee at Rupp Arena. No doubt, the Wildcats expect to make it 27 of 28 tonight. So, how does UT earn the Big Blue's respect?

"The players will do that with the way they play," Pearl said. "If we get off to a good start and we're sharp, then we get respect. If you don't, you're vulnerable.

"How you start a game on the road has a lot to do with what kind of respect you get the rest of the game."

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