Nailing a nemesis

When Phillip Fulmer took over Tennessee's football program 13 years ago, arch-rival Alabama had beaten the Vols seven times in a row. Fulmer tied the Tide on his first try (1993), lost a squeaker on his second try (1994), then beat Bama in Birmingham on his third try (1995).

When Bruce Pearl took over Tennessee's basketball program 11 months ago, arch-rival Kentucky had beaten the Vols eight times in a row. Pearl snapped that streak in no time flat, taming the Wildcats Tuesday night in Lexington on his very first try.

Just as beating Bama was a defining moment for Fulmer, beating Kentucky will be a defining moment for Pearl. It's not every day that you nail a nemesis – on the road, no less – to put an end to a lengthy period of domination.

"It's wonderful to add something to Tennessee history," Pearl said on his post-game show. "We've very, very proud and very, very pleased. We hope this continues to catapult us from here."

Fulmer's signature win against Alabama in '95 certainly catapulted HIS program. The Vols went on to win seven in a row from the Tide and nine of 10, claiming two SEC titles and a national title during that span.

Will Pearl's historic win at Lexington, where UT had just one win in the 27 previous visits, have a similar impact on Vol hoops? Perhaps. But Pearl was more inclined to talk about UT's past than its future following Tuesday's milestone victory. Specifically, he wanted to talk about former Vol coach Ray Mears, a man he has come to admire deeply. That's why Pearl borrowed a page from the Mears' mind-game playbook and wore a gaudy orange jacket Tuesday night to antagonize an already hostile crowd at Rupp Arena.

"I wore the orange jacket in honor of Coach Mears," Pearl noted. "I've heard from so many of our lettermen who stay in touch with Coach and say he really is happy about this."

Wearing the orange jacket has gotten Pearl some air time on ESPN but the Vol coach says the overwhelming positive is not the attention being focused on him but the attention being focused on his esteemed predecessor.

"Now it's even better because we're talking about Coach Ray Mears again, and that's got to please him," Pearl said. "We're talking about the history of Tennessee basketball."

Bruce Pearl added a key win to that history Tuesday night in Lexington.

"This is one that puts us on the map," he said. "Now we've just got to build on it and take advantage of it."


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