That fateful day in Austin

Bruce Pearl was just another coach and Tennessee was just another basketball team on the morning of Dec. 17, 2005. Everything changed that afternoon, however, when the unsung Vols and their unheralded coach blackened the eyes of Texas, hammering the sixth-ranked Longhorns 95-78 in Austin.

Three dramatic developments occurred on that fateful day:

1. The basketball world realized Tennessee still had a program.

2. The Vols realized their new coach was the real deal.

3. The fans realized they finally had a team worthy of their support.

With the players trusting Pearl and the fans supporting the players, Tennessee suddenly became a major player in college hoops. Spurred by the win at Texas, the 2005-06 Vols went on to win the SEC East title, earn a No. 2 NCAA Tournament seeding and finish 22-8.

Tennessee hasn't relinquished the momentum it built a year ago, either. The 2006-07 Vols carry a 9-2 record into Saturday's rematch with Texas, the team that catapulted them to national prominence 12 months ago.

"That was our first big signature win," Pearl recalls, "and it obviously elevated our program nationally. The next week we were in the top 25 nationally for the first time in four or five years.

"More than anything, it brought our team to understand this is what we were capable of. If there was anybody believing it (success) wasn't possible, after the Texas game I think they were all on the same page."

Junior guard Jordan Howell says upsetting the Longhorns in Austin was "huge," because it gave the Vols a new level of respect for their head coach.

"Going down there and getting that win, first off, we knew that our coach was for real, that he knew everything about this game," Howell recalls. "He's the best coach I've ever been around, and we knew that day that he's a competitor. We know he's on our side and, when we've got our backs to the wall, he's right there with us."

Pounding Texas in Austin not only made the Vols believe in their coach; it made them believe in themselves. That was a major accomplishment for a team coming off a 14-17 record the year before.

"I think that was the biggest thing – developing confidence in our team and knowing we could win the big games," Howell says. "We didn't know how good we were because the year before we weren't very good.

"The year before we got just destroyed by a lot of teams, so coming into last season we didn't think we were going to be as good. We had lost Scooter McFadgon and Brandon Crump, and we thought our talent level wouldn't be as good."

This perception changed radically on that fateful afternoon 12 months ago, when the lightly regarded Vols earned their spurs by doing a Texas two-step all over the Longhorns.

As Howell puts it: "When we went to Texas and got a W, we knew that in our new system we were going to be able to compete with the top teams in the country."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories