Vols please fans and ESPN

It took Bernard King 30 years to return to the University of Tennessee once he left; it won't take the ESPN broadcasting crew nearly that long. The Vols' crowd-pleasing style of play will ensure that.

"Do you think ESPN likes what they saw? I promise they do," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said moments after his team upset No. 20 Kentucky 89-85 Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. "ESPN will continue to come back if we can continue to deliver this kind of basketball, and that's going to continue to bring good student-athletes to campus.

"This is what I was hoping for (when he took the UT job nearly two years ago)."

Pearl expends a tremendous amount of energy during the course of a basketball game. Still, he seemed even more spent than usual following the defeat of the Wildcats. The retirement of King's No. 53 jersey, plus the introduction of former UT standouts Ernie Grunfeld and Tom Boerwinkle, former Vol coaches Ray Mears and Don DeVoe, along with beloved broadcaster John Ward, made for an incredibly emotional evening.

"Words can't even describe how much it meant for us to be able to celebrate the history and tradition – to honor Coach Mears and Coach DeVoe, the guys before that laid the foundation," Pearl said.

In addition to some of the great moments in recent UT history, Tuesday night's game produced one of the great wins in recent UT history. Pearl and his staff believe there are many more great wins in Tennessee's future because of the commitment the administration, the athletics department, the donors and the fans have made to the basketball program.

"You have to deserve victory," Pearl said. Then, after praising the school for "its commitment to renovate the facility, build a practice facility, bring back the lettermen and the marketing to have a crowd like this," he added that a special event like Tuesday night "doesn't happen without that."

The defeat of Kentucky represents another building block in the restoration of Tennessee basketball to national stature. It also represents another step – a significant step – in the Vols' march toward an NCAA Tournament bid. Tennessee, 18-8 overall and 6-5 in Southeastern Conference play, now boasts so-called "quality wins" over Memphis, Oklahoma State, Texas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Tuesday's win doesn't guarantee the Vols a bid to "The Dance" but it certainly improved their chances a great deal.

"This one helps," Pearl said. "This is our second nationally ranked victory (in the past five days). Vanderbilt was ranked, Kentucky was ranked. These are the things you need as far as a resume'."

Whether the Vols get an NCAA bid or not, though, beating two long-standing rivals such as Vandy and UK in the same week is an accomplishment that stands on its own merit.

"I think the significance was that this week we beat Vanderbilt and Kentucky," Pearl said. "That's what the great Tennessee teams have done."

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