Wright stuff

When Bruce Pearl accepted the University of Tennessee basketball reins in March of 2005, one of his first official acts was to telephone the state's top prep prospect about possibly playing for the Vols.

Despite getting the cold shoulder from 6-9 Nashville superstar Brandan Wright, Pearl salvaged his first recruiting class by signing 6-9 Wayne Chism and 6-8 Duke Crews. Today Pearl gets an up-close look at "the one that got away," when the No. 22 Vols play No. 2 North Carolina in the NIT Tipoff Tournament's third-place game. Tipoff is set for 4:30 with television coverage provided by ESPN.

Wright, rated the No. 1 prospect in America by some analysts during his senior year at Brentwood Academy, is living up to the hype in his first season with the Tar Heels. He's averaging 16.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, ranking second on the team in each category. Sophomore All-American Tyler Hansbrough leads UNC with 19 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

Both Tennessee and North Carolina are looking to bounce back from Wednesday night setbacks. Tennessee shot just 25 percent from the field (10.3 percent the second half) in a 56-44 loss to Butler. The point total was UT's lowest since Kevin O'Neill's 1996-97 team lost 43-35 at Auburn on Jan. 15, 1997. Carolina is coming off an 82-74 loss to Gonzaga.

Tennessee must play significantly better than it did vs. Butler merely to keep today's game close. The Vols are smaller at every position than the towering Tar Heels. Wright and Hansbrough are 6-9, and frontcourt mate Rashawn Terry is 6-8. In addition, North Carolina's guards – 6-4 Wayne Ellington and 6-3 Bobby Fraser – are bigger than UT's.

Carolina coach Roy Williams is no stranger to Tennessee fans. He's the guy whose recommendation led Vol athletics director Doug Dickey to hire Jerry Green as UT's basketball coach in 1998. And Williams was openly critical of Tennessee when the Vols fired Buzz Peterson following the 2004-05 season.

In addition, Carolina was the team that spoiled Tennessee's greatest basketball season ever. The 1999-2000 Vols, who already had a school-record 26 victories, led the Tar Heels 64-57 with 4:48 left in the NCAA South Region semifinals at Austin, Texas. With a bid to the Elite Eight in sight, however, the Vols went ice cold. Carolina went on a 13-0 run and eventually pulled out a 74-69 triumph.

Following today's game, Tennessee travels to the Deep South for a Monday night game at Louisiana-Lafayette. Tipoff for that one is set for 8 p.m. Next up is a three-game home stand that features Murray State (Friday, Dec. 1), Memphis (Wednesday, Dec. 6) and Western Kentucky (Saturday, Dec. 16)

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