"It's not that big of a deal," senior point guard C.J. Watson said of the 1-3 record over the past two weeks. "We've just got to pick the pace up and pick our energy up. We want to play our better ball going to the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament, so we've just got to pick up a win at Vanderbilt."
All three of the recent losses – at Alabama, vs. Arkansas, vs. Kentucky – came at the hands of teams spurred by the quest for NCAA Tournament bids. Senior forward Andre Patterson believes that gave those foes a motivational advantage over UT, which already had a bid locked up.
"We're all right," he said. "We played some teams that were on the bubble who came out with a little more energy and passion than us. We just have to get our fire back. We've got to get back to playing hard. We have a bunch of pride in the team this year, so we've got to get back to playing hard and outworking teams."
Most of all, the Vols (20-6 overall, 11-4 SEC) have to get back to playing defense. It has been incredibly erratic the past two weeks. They allowed Alabama to shoot 76 percent in the first half, incurring a deficit they never overcame. They allowed Arkansas to score on nearly every possession down the stretch as the Hogs outscored them 24-6 over that game's final 8:48. They allowed Kentucky to shoot 78.9 percent (15 of 19) in the second half.
If Tennessee's confidence has taken a hit, it is in this area of play.
"I think I think our confidence is really high on the offensive end," Watson said. "We've just got to pick it up on defense. If we don't stop anybody we're not going to accomplish the goals we want to accomplish."
Senior wing Stanley Asumnu agrees that UT's players have supreme confidence in their offensive abilities. Thus, the key for today's game at Vanderbilt lies elsewhere.
"Defense and rebounding is going to win the ballgame," he said. "We don't have a problem scoring. But if we let teams shoot 70 percent, you can't win like that."
Although UT's defensive performance level has slipped, Patterson says the team's defensive confidence has not.
"I think we're all right defensively, as far as confidence," he said. "These last two games (home losses to Arkansas and Kentucky) may be good for us. To lose like this before going to the tournament gives us a couple of bumps on our head and reminds us how it was before we started winning."
Basically, Patterson shrugs off the three recent losses. Clearly, he considers them no big deal.
"We've just got to man up and get somes stops at the end of games," he said. "It's important for us to win at Vanderbilt but I believe we're ready for the SEC Tournament. Hopefully, Kentucky was our last loss of the year."
How's that for confidence?