Vols relax 'a little bit'

The Tennessee Vols entered the last four SEC Basketball Tournaments knowing they probably needed to win it to ensure an NCAA Tournament bid. This year, thanks to a 21-6 record and No. 14 national ranking, the bid is in the bag.

Thus, the Big Orange can relax somewhat.

"A little bit," junior forward Dane Bradshaw conceded. "But when you're fighting for your post-season life (as some of their foes are) that's as hungry as you can be. We have to bring that same sense of urgency, even though we're pretty sure we're going to have a bid to the NCAA Tournament."

As the No. 1 seed in the SEC East, Tennessee received a first-round bye and will watch today while the lower seeds battle for survival. Given how taxing the past month has been, the Vols desperately needed the bye.

"It helps a lot, I think," Bradshaw said. "Every player in the SEC is banged up a little bit. When you have an extra day of treatment and rest for your legs, that's great for your body. Plus, it's a whole lot easier to win three games in a row than four in the SEC Tournament."

Mississippi State and South Carolina play today at 1 EST, with the winner to face Tennessee Friday at 1 in Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center. Thus, the Vols will be more rested than their foe, whoever it is.

"We will be," Bradshaw noted. "But, at the same time, they'll be coming off a great win. They'll have great momentum and we'll be better rested. Either way, all of that is put aside once you get on the court."

By playing today, the Mississippi State-South Carolina winner will be familiar with the rims and atmosphere at the Gaylord Center heading into Friday's game. Tennessee is no stranger to the arena, however. UT coach Bruce Pearl saw to that by scheduling the Murray State game on Nov. 30 at the Gaylord Center, thereby giving his team an advance look at the site of the SEC tournament.

"I really hadn't thought about that until Coach told us he planned to play the game in Nashville as preparation for the SEC Tournament," Bradshaw said. "That's huge for us because we're not going to even have any practice time there. To know what to expect and what type of arena we'll be in really is an advantage for us."

The fact UT beat Murray State 64-53 and stands 1-0 at the Gaylord Center this season should help the Vols, as well.

"I think it does," Bradshaw said. "So does the fact Knoxville is only a couple of hours away, so the home crowd is going to be behind us."

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