''We're stepping out of conference with UMass,'' Vol head man Buzz Peterson said earlier today. ''It's one of those games that could mean a lot if there's any kind of postseason for this basketball team, so I don't want any letdowns at all.''
UMass starts two freshmen, a sophomore, a junior and a senior. Its record is 8-12 overall and 2-6 in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
''Yes, they are 8-12 but they're better than 8-12 if you watch tape,'' Peterson said. ''They're very talented. The reason they're 8-12 with their talent is that some of their talent is pretty young. They start two freshmen.
''The big kid inside (6-8, 217-pound Jackie Rogers) can move (Ron) Slay around. The point guard (Anthony Anderson) is quick. (Michael) Lasme can shoot it, do a lot of things and penetrate to the hole ... a lot like Thaydeus Holden.
''Even though we're stepping out of conference, we don't overlook this ballgame by no means.''
The Vols stand 11-6 overall and 4-3 in SEC play after sweeping South Carolina (60-56) and Auburn (60-57) by virtually identical scores last week. They have an excellent chance to extend that winning streak to five games, since the next two games (UMass and Georgia) are at home, and Arkansas (Feb. 12 at Fayetteville) is limping along at 6-11 overall and 1-5 in SEC play.
''We're trying to stay mentally focused, no matter who our opponent is,'' Peterson said. ''We want to make sure we come out and play with a lot of energy, a lot of intensity.''
The Vols did that last Saturday at Auburn, knocking off a Tiger team that was 15-4 prior to tipoff.
''I really feel like the road team has to come with the energy from the start,'' Peterson said.
For the most part, Tennessee has played with tremendous energy this season. There's probably a good reason for that.
''I give the credit to the seniors, especially (Jon) Higgins and Slay for what they've done to get this team ready to play every single game ... the mental part of it.''