'I can't make that pain go away'

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl is trying to handle a sharp pain with an even sharper wit. He's succeeding … for the most part.

Pearl admitted at his weekly news conference that he continues to struggle with the double-whammy of losing 92-91 to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament semifinals on Saturday, then being denied a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

"Losing to Arkansas and then not being a 1 seed … 18 hours later, I can't make that pain go away," Pearl said.

To his credit, though, the Vol coach is trying to use humor to soothe the wounds.

Tennessee's long-standing futility in SEC Tournament action has been well chronicled in recent days, yet Pearl raised the topic again in order to set a light-heartd tone at the start of his news conference.

After losing 11 consecutive quarterfinal-round games in the tourney, the Vols broke through and won in the quarters this year, edging South Carolina 89-88. Hours later, however, a tornado ravaged the 26,000-seat Georgia Dome, forcing Saturday's semifinals to be held at tiny Alexander Coliseum with virtually no UT fans in attendance.

Pearl jokingly blamed the incident on "some Divine Intervention," noting that "an SEC Tournament victory on Friday somehow got the wrath of God involved where the Vols' fans just were not going to see their team play on Saturday."

Then, citing some famous plagues from the Old Testament, he added: "I wasn't sure whether there was boils or hail or vermin or lice or what plagues were brought upon the city of Atlanta but it was amazing."

Pearl's smile disappeared, however, when he returned to the topic of the loss to Arkansas and the subsequent slight from the NCAA selection committee. Given UT's 29-4 record, its No. 4 national ranking and its No. 1 rating in RPI, he's convinced the Vols were snubbed.

"I don't know that we have one of the 10 best teams in the country," the Vol coach said. "I don't know if we're one of the 20 best teams in the country. But I still believe that, based on what we did in the regular season, we should've been a 1 seed. That's how I feel."

Minutes later, though, with an inadvertent assist from this writer, Pearl managed to end his conference on a humorous note.

Assuming Tennessee beats American University Friday in Birmingham, the Vols' likely second-round foe is Butler. The Bulldogs stifled Tennessee 56-44 last season, limiting the Vols to their lowest point total of the Pearl era. Apparently, I touched a sore spot when I asked the coach what Butler did that gave Tennessee so much trouble.

"I don't know yet," Pearl said. "I can tell you about Alabama. I couldn't tell you about Butler. I mean, I can't. One of my assistants could answer that question for you in a couple of days."

Thinking he had misunderstood the question, I hastened to add:

"I'm talking about last year's game, when they limited you to your lowest point total of the year."

With a nod and a smug grin, the coach replied.

"Yeah. I was there."

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