"That's what's fun about this team," he says. "Any night it could be anybody who steps up and has a big game."
He has a point. In Tennessee's 76-69 defeat of Carolina Jan. 8 in Columbia, Lofton scored 18 points but the Vols also got big games from C.J. Watson (17 points, 3 assists, 3 steals), Dane Bradshaw (14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) and JaJuan Smith (13 points, 2 assists).
When the teams met for Round 2 Jan. 28 in Knoxville, Lofton again led the point parade with 23. But this time his help came from Andre Patterson (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Asumnu (10 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds in just 17 minutes).
Oddly enough, the Vol who had the least impact on the regular-season games was the Vol with the most incentive. That would be Major Wingate, a native of Florence, S.C. He apparently got so pumped about playing his home-state university that it tied him in knots. He hit just 3 of 8 from the field in the Columbia game, finishing with 7 points, 3 rebounds and 3 turnovers. In the Knoxville rematch he contributed 6 points, 5 rebounds and 2 turnovers in 18 lackluster minutes.
Coming off an NIT championship in 2005, South Carolina (16-14) has been the SEC's ultimate enigma this season. The Gamecocks managed to sweep Florida and thump Alabama 67-56, yet they lost five of eight SEC games on their home court.
Which team will take the floor vs. Tennessee today in Nashville – the one that beat Florida 71-67 in Gainesville or the one that lost 79-66 on its home court to Kentucky? If it's the former, Tennessee is in for a real struggle.
"South Carolina is a dangerous team," UT coach Bruce Pearl says. "They're one of the most experienced teams in the league. They have a lot of guys who have played a lot of basketball and they've proved they can beat the best teams in the league. They got it going at the end last year and won the NIT."
Whereas Carolina has been the SEC's biggest underachiever, Tennessee has been the league's biggest overachiever. The Big Orange brings a 21-6 record and a No. 14 national ranking into today's game. The Vols have struggled lately, however. They had to rally from a 16-point deficit in the regular-season finale at Vanderbilt or they would be losers in four of their last five games. Still, Pearl is confident.
"Chemistry has been a big factor for us all year long," he says. "These guys have played a lot of minutes, played a lot together and been through a lot. Our chemistry has been terrific. Another come-from-behind win (vs. Vandy) can only add to that chemistry. We have the belief, ‘In spite of not playing well, we're not out of it.'"
Tip-off for today's game is 1 p.m. EST with television coverage provided by JP Sports.