Grudge rematch

The Tennessee Vols have two dates marked on the calendar – January 10 and February 10. The former is the day they lost 82-81 to Vanderbilt on Shan Foster's tip-in at the buzzer. The latter is the day of the rematch.

It's safe to say that no Southeastern Conference game this year had as much impact on both the winner and the loser. Vandy, which had lost to Appalachian State just two weeks before, was so spurred by the victory that it won five of its next seven games. Tennessee, which had won nine in a row, was so devastated by the loss that it dropped four of its next five.

Even the Vols admit that the gut-wrenching nature of that loss in Nashville sent their season into a downward spiral.

"Yeah, it did," junior guard Jordan Howell concedes. "It was an emotionally draining game. Duke Crews made a dunk with a couple of seconds left and we thought we had it won, so that loss really took all the energy out.

"Then, on the three-hour bus ride home, all you can do is think about what happened."

With both Vanderbilt (16-7 overall, 6-3 SEC) and Tennessee (16-8, 4-5) on the bubble for NCAA Tournament bids, a sweep of UT would give the Commodores a leg up when the NCAA bids go out. That makes Saturday's 1 o'clock meeting at Thompson-Boling Arena a big one for Tennessee.

"It's huge," Howell says. "That's the first thing Coach Pearl said in the locker room: We owe them one because they beat us on a last-second shot there. Now they're coming in here and we've got to protect our home court. That's what we're planning on doing here Saturday."

With All-American Chris Lofton slowed by a sore ankle, the Vols struggled to subdue LSU 70-67 Tuesday night. They must play better to beat a Vanderbilt team that broke their spirit with that fateful tip-in on Jan. 10.

"I think we've bounced back," Howell says, "and we plan on handing them one on Saturday."


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