The desire to be a history-making team is a recurring theme among Tennessee's players these days. Determined to go where no Vol team has gone before, they began that journey by becoming the fastest squad in program history to reach 20 wins (doing so in Game 22). They made history again by achieving the first No. 1 ranking in program history. They made more history by winning UT's first outright regular-season SEC title since 1967 and made still more history by breaking the single-season record for victories (28, and counting).
Those accomplishments merely whetted the Vols' appetite, however. Now they want to make even more history by becoming the first UT squad since 1979 to win an SEC Tournament title, then by becoming the first Vol team ever to reach an NCAA Final Four.
Given these lofty goals, it isn't surprising that Tennessee's players tend to change the subject whenever they are asked about the program's long-standing futility in SEC Tournament play.
"The only thing we're looking at is making history," senior guard Jordan Howell said. "We know we've done something that hasn't been done in 41 years (outright SEC title) and now the next step is to win the SEC Tournament. That's all we've talked about all year: Let's be a team that goes down in Tennessee basketball history."
Even if the Vols drop their SEC tourney opener (Friday at 1 vs. South Carolina) they're assured at least a No. 2 seeding for the NCAA Tournament. They insist they will not go through the motions in Atlanta, however, due to their desire to make history.
"I think that's big enough," Howell said. "I think everybody will be motivated by that alone. We feel like we have the pieces to do that, and then advance in the NCAA Tournament."
All-America guard Chris Lofton, another senior, may be even more focused on historic pursuits than his teammate.
"We know our SEC Tournament resume' is not good," he said, "but we're trying to make history (by changing that). That's all this team is about."
Asked why the Vols have struggled so mightily in the league tournament, Lofton shrugged and returned to a familiar theme.
"I have no clue," he said. "Hopefully, we can get over that and make history."
VOLS TO FACE GAMECOCKS ... AGAIN
Tennessee will be trying to avoid a 2006 flashback when it plays South Carolina Friday at 1 in second-round SEC Tournament play. The Vols whipped the Gamecocks twice during the '06 regular season but lost 79-71 when the teams held meeting No. 3 in the SEC tourney.
Now, as then, the Vols come into the tourney match-up having swept the regular-season meetings – winning 80-56 at Columbia and 89-56 last Sunday in Knoxville.
South Carolina (14-17) advanced into Friday's quarterfinal play with a 77-73 defeat of LSU on Thursday. All five Gamecock starters scored in double figures. Mike Holmes and Evaldas Baniulis produced 16 points each, Dominique Archie15, Zam Fredrick and Devan Downey 12 each.
Forward Anthony Randolph (22 points) and center Chris Johnson (13 points, 14 rebounds) paced LSU. The Tigers dominated on the inside – outrebounding Carolina 42-27 – but they did not protect the ball. LSU committed 19 turnovers, whereas the Cocks turned the ball over just eight times.