Pearl likes UT's direction

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl is always looking for progress, and he certainly saw plenty in Saturday's 111-105 defeat of Texas. In fact, the Vols went from awful to awesome during the course of the afternoon.

The Big Orange was lousy in the first half, excellent in the second half and brilliant in overtime. Consider:

Tennessee shot just 30.6 percent in the first half and trailed by 15 points (50-35) at the break. It appeared the Vols were going to be the victims of a Texas Buzzsaw Massacre.

Tennessee warmed up to 50 percent in the second half, however, and outscored the Longhorns by 15 (54-39) to finish regulation tied at 89-all.

Tennessee was near-perfect in overtime – shooting 85.7 percent from the field (6 of 7), 100 percent from 3-point range (2 of 2), 80 percent from the foul line (8 of 10) and outscoring Texas by 6 (22-16).

Pearl noted afterward that the crowd of 20,778 was "phenomenal" but that his players were still drowsy at the time of the game's noon tipoff. As a result, the half-awake Vols trailed by 17 points (52-35) early in the second half before launching their dramatic rally.

Despite the horrendous start, Pearl felt confident once his team tied the score and forced the overtime. After all, the Longhorns were struggling with fatigue and foul problems.

"They were in some foul trouble, and I thought our depth was good," Pearl noted. "We shared the minutes with eight guys. We shortened up one – to eight – and our guys handled it."

Pearl's confidence was shared by Tennessee's players as the extra period approached. He discovered as much during the short break following regulation.

As he recalled: "I said, 'All right, you've got a five-minute game against Texas with the score tied. Would you take it?' They all say, 'Sure, you take it.'

"Can we win a five-minute game against Texas? You better believe we can, especially when it comes down to conditioning. That's why you run the hills. That's why you run Gate 10."

Tennessee's come-from-behind victory surely ranks with the most exciting – and most bizarre – in program history. The Vols had to overcome a number of imposing obstacles to get the W. For instance:

- All-America guard Chris Lofton sank just 8 of 24 shots.

- Senior forward Dane Bradshaw played just eight second-half minutes – 23 minutes overall – due to shoulder problems and fatigue.

- Starting point guard Jordan Howell missed the game with a fractured hand.

The fact Tennessee overcame a 17-point deficit to win under such adverse circumstances says a lot about the team's heart, poise, conditioning and maturity.

Or, as Pearl put it: "This team is going in a nice direction."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories