Backs to the wall

After six losses in their last eight games, the Tennessee Vols will be facing a must-win situation Tuesday evening against LSU. The Tigers know the feeling, having dropped their last five in a row.

While Tuesday's winner will keep its flickering NCAA Tournament hopes alive, the loser will probably slide off the bubble and into contention for an NIT bid.

Clearly, the stakes will be high when the Vols and the Tigers tip it off at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

"I think both teams have got their backs against the wall, as far as making the Tournament," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl conceded. "Both teams are going to come in knowing they really need this win."

Tennessee (15-8 overall, 3-5 in SEC play) is 3-0 in SEC home games but 0-5 in SEC road games. The Vols cannot afford to lose at home if they want an invitation to the Big Dance. LSU (13-9 and 2-6) can scarcely afford a loss anywhere at this point.

The Vols already posted one must-win victory on their home floor, beating Georgia 82-71 last Wednesday. The Bulldogs made the task easier, however, by coming in overconfident. The reeling Tigers won't make that mistake.

"Georgia came in having had a great deal of success, having won five out of six," Pearl noted. "They beat LSU at the buzzer; they beat Kentucky at home. They had two big wins, then they came in here."

Whereas the Dawgs were swaggering as they took the floor at Thompson-Boling Arena, John Brady's Tigers will be limping. That could make them more dangerous.

"This team's coming in differently, and I think you'll see that from the start," Pearl said.

After losing by 20 at Arkansas and by 11 to Vanderbilt, LSU dropped a 57-54 heart-breaker at Georgia on Jan. 28, then lost a 73-70 squeaker to Alabama on Jan. 31. The Tigers faded late in an 85-78 loss at Mississippi State Feb. 3.

"Even though they've struggled," Pearl said, "in the last three games they've played well. They led Georgia almost the entire first half on the road. They led Alabama in the second half and they were up at Mississippi State in the second half, as well.

"They're playing well. They just haven't been able to get over the hump."

No wonder. It isn't easy getting over the hump when your back's against the wall.


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