Hallowed ground

There are a few places that even cynical sports fans consider to be hallowed ground – Yankee Stadium in New York ... Soldier Field in Chicago ... Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Tennessee's basketball team will play in such a sports shrine this afternoon when the Vols visit historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. Named for the legendary figure who served 39 years as the Kansas Jayhawks' head basketball coach, the 16,300-seat fieldhouse was dedicated in 1955. It features a court named for the game's inventor, James Naismith, and has been home floor to some of the greatest players in basketball history.

"I've talked to 'em (UT players) about where we're going – Phog Allen, where James Naismith coached and taught ... the fieldhouse," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl noted earlier this week. "And we're playing against the defending national champions."

Being a basketball junkie, Pearl respects the rich tradition of Kansas basketball, Phog Allen Fieldhouse and James Naismith Court more than most.

"That's why we scheduled the game," he said. "That's why we chose Kansas. There's so much of the origins of the game of basketball there."

Today's 2 p.m. Eastern tipoff with the Jayhawks (9-3) is more than a cultural opportunity for the Vols (9-2), however. It's an opportunity to beat a big-name program on national TV (ESPN).

"That's why we choose that kind of game," Pearl said. "It's going to be on national television, and we're in a situation where we're trying to get this basketball program right there in the conversation with Kansas, Duke, Texas and North Carolina. The only way you can do that is to go into harm's way."

Tennessee won a lot of national respect by going 31-5 last season and enjoying a brief stint as the nation's No. 1 team. A win today would further solidify UT's status as a rising program.

"We want to represent Tennessee basketball, and we're trying to maintain a level of competitiveness on a national scale," Pearl said. "It's a great opportunity for us. But we have got to play our best basketball to beat them."

Tennessee's players are understandably excited about the prospect of playing in college basketball's most famous facility.

"It's an honor for us to be out there, especially playing against the defending national champs," junior guard Josh Tabb said. "But it's a new year and new teams. They're young, just like we're young. It's going to be tough but we've just got to go play our hearts out."

Junior wing J.P. Prince is pumped, as well.

"I'm looking forward to it so much," he said. "I love road games. That's what I thrive on – playing on the road and silencing the other team's crowd. Hopefully, we'll come out with a victory and it will be a great game."

The obvious question: Are the Vols' key freshmen ready for such a pressure situation?

"They're used to it," Tabb said. "They've played big games in AAU ball, and Scotty Hopson played in the All-American Game. I think they're used to it but they've got to step up to the next level because I've heard that Kansas is a tough place to play."

He heard right. Bill Self's Jayhawks have won their last 31 games at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Can the Vols end that streak? Maybe.

"At times I think you've seen enough to know it wouldn't surprise you if we go out there and play well," Pearl said prior to leaving Knoxville. "It wouldn't surprise you if we DON'T look like a team that's ready to go to Kansas and face their 31-game home winning streak.

"Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins are a dominating inside player and point guard, and they've got really good athletes. But Kansas has not found itself either.

"I think we're ready."


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