UT can relate to Duke

Tennessee's basketball players know how the Duke Blue Devils feel today.

The Vols were flying high – 11 wins in their first 12 games – when they faced LSU on Jan. 14 in Baton Rouge. The tall, talented Tigers quickly grounded UT by assigning 6-5 defensive specialist Garrett Temple to shadow Tennessee's chief offensive threat, sharp-shooting guard Chris Lofton. Sure enough, Temple limited Lofton to 1-of-7 shooting and a season-low 2 points.

Temple wasn't the only Tiger to throw some defense at UT that evening, however. LSU limited the Vols to just 40-percent shooting as a team. The Tigers' 1-2 inside punch of Glen "Big Baby" Davis (24 points) and Tyrus Thomas (17 points, 9 rebounds, 9 blocks) did the rest as LSU prevailed 88-74.

Flash forward two months and you'll notice LSU coach John Brady used the same blueprint against Duke, which was flying high – a top seed for the NCAA Tournament – only to be grounded by the Tigers last night in Atlanta.

Brady assigned Temple to shadow Duke's chief offensive threat, sharp-shooting guard J.J. Redick. Sure enough, Temple limited Redick to 3-of-18 shooting and a season-low 11 points. Meanwhile, Davis (14 points) and Thomas (13 rebounds, 5 blocks) handled the dirty work on the inside as the Tigers clawed the Blue Devils 62-54. Again, LSU's defense was decisive, holding Duke to 28-percent shooting and its lowest point total since 1996.

Clearly, March is providing some vindication for the Southeastern Conference. LSU has advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight for the first time since 1987. Florida also will reach the Elite Eight if it can dust off Georgetown tonight in Minneapolis.

In addition, SEC also-ran South Carolina beat Cincinnati 65-62 last night to reach the semifinals of the National Invitation Tourament for the second year in a row. The defending champ Gamecocks are bidding to become the first school to claim back-to-back NIT titles since St. John's did so in 1943 and '44.

All season UT coach Bruce Pearl insisted the SEC was a powerful league, even in a down year for Kentucky. It looks like the coach was right.

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