Making the hill a little steeper for Tennessee is the return of the Zags' Josh Heytvelt, who is on the watch list for the Naismith Award. The 6-11, 238-pound junior missed considerable time with a stress fracture in his right ankle this season but returned to action Dec. 20, scoring 5 points in a 15-minute relief stint against Oklahoma.
Gonzaga is 8-3 and unranked but the Zags should benefit considerably from the return of Heytvelt. They also should benefit from playing at KeyArena in Seattle. It's a safe bet that thousands of their fans will make the 230-mile trek from Spokane to Seattle, giving the Zags something of a homecourt advantage.
Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. Pacific (4 p.m. Eastern) with television coverage provided by ESPN2.
Tennessee, 11-1 and ranked No. 11 nationally by The Associated Press, is expected to open with its usual lineup of 6-7 Tyler Smith and 6-9 Wayne Chism at forward, 6-2 JaJuan Smith and 6-2 Chris Lofton at the wings, with 6-3 Jordan Howell at the point.
Arizona transfer J.P. Prince has emerged as the Vols' super sub. The 6-8 swing man is averaging 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game since gaining his eligibility three games ago. He's shooting 60.7 percent from the field and proving to be a catalyst for the UT transition game.
Gonzaga also utilizes a three-guard lineup. The Zags are expected to start Abdullahi Kuso (6-9, 241) and David Pendergraft (6-6, 223) at forward, with Jeremy Pargo (6-2, 219), Matt Bouldin (6-4, 214) and Micah Downs (6-8, 190) at guard.
Kuso averages 6.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Pendergraft averages 9.0 and 4.9, Bouldin 12.5 and 4.4, Downs 10.7 and 5.3. Pargo is a stat-line standout, averaging 12.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He's on the watch list for the Wooden Award.
An interesting sidelight of the game is the coaching matchup. Gonzaga's Mark Few and Tennessee's Pearl rank 2-3 among active NCAA coaches in winning percentage. North Carolina's Roy Williams leads at .803. Few (220-55) is second at .800. Pearl (374-104) follows at .782. Ohio State's Thad Matta (.773) and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan (.770) round out the top five.