Vols vow to play better

You won't see the same Tennessee team in the NCAA Tournament that you saw in the SEC Tournament.

That's the pledge from Vol players after UT was generously given a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance. The Vols (21-7) play Winthrop (23-7) Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

``It will be a totally different team, I guarantee that,'' said senior forward Stanley Asumnu.

Asumnu guarantees it because of what potentially lies ahead. Tennessee has only once before advanced to the Sweet 16 under the current format – needing to win two games. And UT is in virgin territory – never before landing a No. 2 seed.

``It's a great feeling, a great opportunity for us,'' Asumnu said. ``We just need to take it one game at a time. It should bring a lot of energy going is as a No. 2 seed and getting a lot of respect.''

Senior forward Andre Patterson assured the Vols won't play like they did against South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, an eight-point loss in which UT had 21 turnovers to 12 assists, didn't play interior defense and didn't stop point guard Tre Kelley from penetrating into the paint.

``We're not going to play like that anymore,'' Patterson promised. ``Coach (Bruce) Pearl, he stresses just come out and play free, just play our basketball and leave it all out on the line and see what happens.

``We're going to play like we have all year, play free and loving to play the game. That's the difference in our team. Our style is to have fun and play -- that's what we do.''

That's the goal. But will the legs allow it?

Tennessee admittedly was a tired team down the stretch, losing four of six games.

``No team out there is 100 percent,'' said junior power forward Dane Bradshaw. ``What it comes down to, you've got to play for 40 minutes. We have to get our identity back as a team that's going to give you trouble for 40 minutes.''

Asumnu said he thinks the team lost focus.

``We've got to be mentally strong,'' Asumnu said.

Bradshaw thinks that will be the case: ``There's a breath of fresh air around here right now.''

In garnering a No. 2 seed, the Vols were ahead of LSU, Florida, Gonzaga, North Carolina, Illinois, Kansas, Iowa and Boston College. It's pretty heady stuff for a team that has never won three games in the same NCAA Tournament.

``It's a great feeling, a great opportunity,'' said Patterson. ``I'm just happy for us seniors to go out like this.''

Patterson said the late tailspin by the Vols wasn't caused by fatigue.

``Not really,'' he said. ``We just played bad basketball the last couple of games down the stretch. We didn't play our basketball. When we're running and getting after people and causing turnovers, we're a dangerous team.''

Just ask Texas. Just ask Florida.

Patterson felt the Vols stumbled a bit because they had an eye on landing a No. 2 seed, which put some pressure on the team. He also said some opponents down the stretch, playing for an NCAA bid, brought more intensity.

``We just have to get our swagger back,'' Patterson said.

Mike Hamilton, Tennessee men's athletic director, couldn't help but think back to a year ago when, on Selection Sunday, he fired Buzz Peterson after four average seasons failed to produce a tournament bid. This Sunday, he was celebrating a two seed.

``The difference in emotions, you can only imagine what that might be right now,'' Hamilton said. ``It's gratifying. When you make changes in the role we're in as athletic director, you're doing it with the intention of doing something good for your institution. To see positive results from that, to see that play out over the last 12 months for our men's basketball program is emotional. It really is emotional and refreshing.''

Is it important for the Vols to keep the momentum and reach the Sweet 16?

``Everything that we're doing right now in my mind is a bonus,'' Hamilton said. ``We were predicted to finish 5 or 6 in the SEC East. We win the East. We're 21-7. We're living a great life right now. We're in position to do some things in the tournament given our seed. I hope we'll take advantage of that. I think we need to soak all this up and enjoy the momentum as we go through the ride over the next few days.''


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