There's no place like home

Asked this week what he'd be looking for in Saturday's game with South Carolina, Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl quipped that he'd be looking for Thompson-Boling Arena because he couldn't remember where it is.

By the time the Vols take the floor Saturday at 6 p.m., it will have been 13 days since they last played on their home floor. It probably seems longer, though, since Tennessee is winless in three games since then.

If it's any consolation, the Vols (13-5 overall, 1-2 SEC) are facing the ideal opponent for snapping out of a skid. The Gamecocks (10-6, 0-3) have lost four games in a row – all by double-digit margins – with three of the four at home. They fell 70-54 to Kansas, 80-56 at Georgia, 84-50 to Florida and 87-49 to Kentucky.

For those keeping score at home, those four losses came by an average margin of 28.0 points per game. By comparison, the losses in UT's three-game skid came by an average margin of 2.0 points.

"South Carolina is struggling right now," Pearl noted. "We've lost three, they've lost four. Both teams are gonna try to get on track. They're a young team like us."

Tennessee's youth has been exploited during its three-game losing streak. The Vols' lack of patience has enabled them to shoot just 41 free throws, compared to 65 by their three opponents. Moreover, Tennessee made just 18 of its 41 foul shots (43.9 percent), whereas the opponents made 50 of their 65 (76.9 percent).

Tennessee is 1-3 on the road and 3-2 on neutral floors but a perfect 9-0 on its home floor this season.

"I'm amazed at how well they've done this year," Carolina coach Dave Odom said. "Their defense is as good as last year. Their returning players have all improved and have stepped up. Their team is every bit as good as they were last year at this time."

That's debatable. The Vols were 15-3 through 18 games a year ago and wouldn't suffer their fourth loss until Game 23.

Still, Tennessee's problems seem minor compared to Carolina's. The Gamecocks average just 62.6 points per game, nearly 22 fewer than the Vols.

"They're patient," Pearl said, "and they shoot the basketball."

The problem is, the Gamecocks don't shoot it WELL. They're hitting just 41.7 percent from the floor, 31.1 percent from 3-point range and 64.8 percent (same as Tennessee) from the foul line.

Following Saturday's game, the Vols hit the road again. They play at Ole Miss on Wednesday and at Kentucky next Sunday.

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