"I would've preferred the momentum of a victory," Pearl said earlier today. "I would've preferred the momentum of finding a way to beat a team differently."
Tennessee found a way to beat a Mississippi State team that starts four guards 81-76 on Feb. 25. It found a way to beat a Florida team that features superior perimeter shooting 79-75 March 1 at Gainesville. Then it found a way to beat a South Carolina team blessed with perhaps the league's best backcourt 86-70 in Columbia last Thursday.
In each of those games the Vols managed to counter the opponent's strengths and exploit its weaknesses.
"We'd won three in a row," Pearl noted. "Mississippi State, Florida and South Carolina were all different matchups. I thought, game by game, we continued to play better and better."
Alabama presented yet another matchup challenge. The Tide is big enough and athletic enough to limit penetration and force opponents to fire from outside. Tennessee fired and fell back on Sunday, making just 1 of its first 13 three-point tries en route to a 43-31 deficit. The Vols spent themselves clawing their way back into the contest only to give the game away at the free-throw line by going 6 of 16 in the second half.
"Alabama would've been another matchup that would've been different to find a way to win," Pearl said.
After playing its best game of the year last week at South Carolina, Tennessee played one of its worst against Bama. In addition to their woes from the 3-point line and the foul line, the Vols struggled even to make inside shots against the long-armed Tide inside players. To win a game while playing so poorly would've provided a lesson in resourcefulness. But the Vols weren't very studious on Sunday, and the lesson went unlearned.
Pearl has emphasized the importance of developing "the ability to grind out a victory ... to win in spite of the fact not everything is going your way."
The Alabama game presented a golden opportunity to do just that but the Vols simply couldn't make the clutch plays down the stretch.
Perhaps the Bama game is a moot point, though. The Vols always seem to bottom out in the SEC Tournament, whether they enter the event playing like champs or playing like chumps.
Still, Pearl would like to have a four-game winning streak heading to Tampa.
"I would've preferred to go in there with some momentum," he said.