'Dance' experience

Tennessee's basketball team hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament in four years, but one Vol has.

Senior Andre Patterson went as a member of the UCLA Bruins in 2003. It was an experience he'll never forget.

"The Tournament is real exciting," he says, grinning at the recollection. "It's a different level, man."

Based on his experience, Patterson knows the intensity level goes up at tourney time. That's a message he has been trying to convey to his teammates.

"Everybody's giving their all," he recalls. "You're going for a national championship, so guys are hyped to play their best. Everybody's amped up, so it's great basketball right there."

Another lesson he has shared with his teammates is that their No. 2 seeding means absolutely nothing. NCAA Tournament games are won by the team that plays the best, not necessarily the best team.

"I tell the guys it don't matter what seed you are because when I was at UCLA we were an 8 seed and we made the Sweet 16," he recalls. "We had to beat a 9 seed, Ole Miss, and a 1 seed, Cincinnati, to get to the Sweet 16. So, us being a 2 seed this year, we can't look at nobody else and doubt them."

Tennessee (21-7) opens its NCAA Tournament adventure Thursday at 2:30 in Greensboro, N.C. The opponent is No. 15 seed Winthrop (23-7). The stakes couldn't be higher. The winner advances. The loser is through for the year. Winthrop is sure to be pumped up, but Tennessee is accustomed to facing fired-up foes. Three of the last four teams to beat the Vols – Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky – won their way into the NCAA Tournament by doing so.

"It was do-or-die for them, so those teams stepped their intensity up," Patterson says. "Now we've got to do the same thing in these Tournament games."

The pressure to win is enormous, yet the NCAA Tournament can be a lot of fun. Patterson has conveyed this message to his teammates, as well.

"I tell ‘em all the time that the best thing about the tournament is just winning," he notes. "The more you win, the more media coverage you get. The games get harder but it's fun. This is what you come to college for right here."

Although the Vols have dropped four of their last six games, Patterson says the team is in good shape psychologically.

"We're all happy," he says. "We can't wait to get out there and win."

Tennessee plays a high-energy brand of offense and defense that left the Vols somewhat drained the past few weeks. Patterson believes the team will exhibit plenty of zip this week, however.

"We're all right," he says. "We've had a week off and our legs are good. We've just got to get back to outworking people. We haven't been outworking teams lately."

In addition to its energy, Tennessee seemed to lose its mental edge down the home stretch. Patterson believes the Vols have regained that, as well.

"We just had a tough part of the schedule," he says. "It was a tough streak but that helped us prepare for the Tournament."


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