``We were sharp,'' Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
No kidding. The Vols hit their first six 3-point attempts. They started the first half hitting 12 of 16 shots. They started the second half with a 16-2 run.
``Don't ever ask me if our team is ready because I never really know,'' Pearl said. ``But our strength coach said, `I don't know what's going on, but these guys are ready.'''
Tennessee took a commanding lead early and hardly let up.
``Part of it was the experience of a year ago,'' Pearl said. ``We felt like we left something on the table.''
A year ago, the Vols slipped past Winthrop in the first round before losing to Wichita State in the next game, denying the team a trip to the Sweet 16.
Maybe Tennessee was simply satisfied to be the SEC East Division champions and No. 2 seed a year ago.
But there is no sense this team is satisfied at all.
While Long Beach State was horrific on defense, you've got to give Tennessee credit for executing. They hit 14 of 27 treys. They had 25 assists and six turnovers, an astonishing ratio, particularly in postseason play.
``I'm proud of our kids,'' Pearl said. ``Long Beach State is a dangerous matchup for some teams in the tournament, but not us.''
The 49ers actually wouldn't be a dangerous matchup for many – if any – teams in the SEC. You think they could beat South Carolina, which drilled Tennessee in Columbia? Think they could beat LSU? Or Auburn?
Nevertheless, Tennessee finds itself one step away from the Sweet 16, thanks in part to a precocious group of freshmen. The 49ers had seven seniors. UT had four freshmen. The freshmen played like seniors.
Ramar Smith had 22 points, six assists and no turnovers.
Duke Crews had a double-double – 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Josh Tabb had seven points, five rebounds and three steals.
The freshmen combined for 51 points, 21 rebounds, nine assists and six steals.
So much for inexperience.
Pearl was particularly pleased with Ramar Smith, whose mother was in attendance to see her son play for the second time this season.
``He's growing,'' Pearl said. ``He's maturing.''
While Ramar Smith's play was encouraging, JaJuan Smith's play was more important. JaJuan Smith played poorly against LSU and it cost the Vols. If he plays against Virginia like he did Long Beach State, UT will be hard to beat.
JaJuan Smith's line: 24 points in 23 minutes, six rebounds, no turnovers.
Guard play will be key against a Virginia team that tied for first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
``Those guards are sensational and pro like,'' Pearl said. ``Those guys are getting looked at by the NBA.''
Reynolds and Singletary might be the best pair of guards the Vols will have faced this season. No doubt, they are explosive on offense.
Defensively, they might not be as efficient.
But you know this – you don't tie for first in the ACC without having a defense, a defense much superior to that defenseless bunch from Long Beach State.
So don't expect the Vols to score 121 against Virginia.
Don't expect 81.
The Vols shouldn't get a false sense of confidence based on the Long Beach State game. They should realize the NCAA Tournament really starts Sunday.
And it starts when you say A-C-C.