Did Vols peak in December?

The Tennessee Vols played like champions in December, going 7-0 with upsets of two nationally ranked teams – Memphis and Oklahoma State. After winning their first game in January, however, they have dropped four of five.

"As good as December was," senior captain Dane Bradshaw mused, "that's how bad January's been so far."

Still, he isn't ready to concede that the Big Orange peaked in December.

"Not at all," he said. "There's three months of basketball (left). We're all aware of what's going on with us. We just need a win to get back on track."

The Vols also need to grow up - literally. Like Kentucky, they will start one senior in Sunday's game at Lexington (1 p.m. tipoff on CBS). That's where the lineup similarities end, however.

The rest of Tennessee's starting five consists of three freshmen and one junior. The rest of Kentucky's starting five consists of three juniors and one freshman. Put another way: The Big Orange lineup averages 1.0 seasons of college experience per man, whereas the Big Blue lineup averages twice that – nearly 2.0 seasons per man.

Tennessee doesn't have much experience on the bench, either. Bradshaw is the team's lone senior. With Chris Lofton nursing an injured ankle, starting guard JaJuan Smith and reserve guard Jordan Howell are the Vols' only juniors.

"Right now our upperclassmen are Dane Bradshaw, JaJuan Smith and Jordan Howell," head coach Bruce Pearl noted. "Those are the only juniors and seniors I have active on this roster. That presents you with some challenges."

Those challenges will be greatly magnified during Sunday's visit to Rupp Arena, where keeping your composure amid an ear-splitting decibel level is a must. The youthful Vols lost their composure – and the game – Wednesday night at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, which isn't nearly as imposing a setting as Rupp.

Still, Bradshaw says the Vols are eager to enter the Wildcats' den and put the Ole Miss mishap behind them.

"Rather than be depressed and be saddened by the loss – which we have in the past – we have to be motivated and act like the defending (SEC East) champions that we are," Bradshaw said.

Although the recent defeats didn't shatter Tennessee's confidence, they shook it a bit.

"It affects you," Bradshaw noted. "But, at the same time, we're not losing our confidence. We believe in what we do. We know what got us here. The worst thing you can do is lose confidence in your system. We've got faith in what we do.

"At the same time we need to get a win as badly as anybody. And there's no opportunity like (a game) at Kentucky that can really turn a season around."

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