Looking out for No. 1

There is no bigger challenge than facing the country's No. 1 team and no bigger thrill than defeating it. Tennessee gets the opportunity to do both this weekend.

The 16th-ranked Basketball Vols (11-2) host top-ranked Kansas (14-0) Sunday at 4:30 in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee stands just 3-11 all-time against No. 1 teams but has won three of the last five meetings - beating Kentucky 69-62 at Knoxville in 1966, beating South Carolina 55-54 at Columbia in 1969 and beating Memphis 66-62 at Memphis in 2008.

Although Friday's dismissal of star forward Tyler Smith may have diminished Tennessee's shot at victory a bit, the Vols are excited about the opportunity before them.

"Oh, man, I'm ready," freshman post Kenny Hall said. "I'm ready and I'm waiting. I'm excited to play against the No. 1 team in the nation. It's going to be a good game. We're going to get out there and take care of business and hopefully succeed. We're expecting to come out with a victory."

Sophomore forward Renaldo Woolridge is eager for Sunday's tipoff, too.

"It's another great opportunity for us to show what we have as men," he said. "We're a family, and we're going to stick together in this battle and, hopefully, get the victory. It'll be a fun game."

Woolridge gets excited about playing basketball, even when the opponent is a nobody. Naturally, the opportunity to play college basketball's premier somebody has taken his enthusiasm to a new level.

"This is an amazing feeling," he said. "This is what we all hope for - getting a scholarship to play college basketball, then having the opportunity to play the No. 1 team on national TV. That's great. We're all excited and we're all working hard so we can have a good showing."

Win or lose, just getting a team of Kansas tradition to visit Thompson-Boling Arena is a coup for a Tennessee program that is trying to establish itself as a perennial national contender.

"As we try to build our program, one of the (key) things is bringing teams like Kansas to Knoxville," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "You're going to get to see the best team in the country and one of the best coaches in the country.

"We just hope we can play as well as we played (former Texas Longhorn) Kevin Durant, when we saw the No. 1 college player in the country. This is how we try to schedule, and I'm just pleased that Kansas is coming to Knoxville to play a college basketball game in the regular season."

Two Vol seniors - post Wayne Chism and wing J.P. Prince - were part of the 2007-08 Vol squad that knocked off No. 1 Memphis on the road. The rest of UT's players will be facing a top-ranked team for the first time.

"The young guys are going to love the matchup," Chism noted, "because this is their opportunity to beat the No. 1 team in their career."

And that's an opportunity that doesn't come along every day.

TENNESSEE VS. NO. 1

Feb. 8, 1949: Kentucky 71, Tennessee 56 (Lexington)

March 5, 1949: Kentucky 83, Tennessee 44 (Louisville)*

Feb. 17, 1951: Kentucky 86, Tennessee 61 (Lexington)

Feb. 16, 1952: Kentucky 95, Tennessee 40 (Lexington)

March 1, 1952: Kentucky 81, Tennessee 66 (Knoxville)

Jan. 23, 1954: Kentucky 97, Tennessee 71 (Knoxville)

Jan. 22, 1955: Kentucky 84, Tennessee 66 (Knoxville)

Feb. 28, 1959: Kentucky 69, Tennessee 56 (Knoxville)

Feb. 26, 1966: Kentucky 78, Tennessee 64 (Lexington)

March 5, 1966: Tennessee 69, Kentucky 62 (Knoxville)

Dec. 6, 1969: Tennessee 55, South Carolina 54 (Columbia)

Feb. 3, 2007: Florida 94, Tennessee 78 (Gainesville)

March 22, 2007: Ohio State 85, Tennessee 84 (San Antonio)**

Feb. 23, 2008: Tennessee 66, Memphis 62 (Memphis)

* SEC Tournament

** NCAA Tournament


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