UT stuns Kansas, 76-68

Of the 22,000 people in Thompson-Boling Arena Sunday afternoon, probably 15 thought Tennessee could knock off No. 1 Kansas. But those 15 were on the Vol bench ... and they were correct.

It didn't matter that Tennessee was down four scholarship players due to dismissal and suspensions. It didn't matter that starters Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince played less than a half each due to foul troubles. The short-handed Vols gave their best performance of the year and stunned the Jayhawks 76-68.

Moral of story: If you believe it, you can achieve it. And the Vols apparently believed they could win the game.

"Honestly, we did," sophomore forward Renaldo Woolridge said. "Little Pearl - Steven Pearl - told me 'We're the only people in this gym who know we're going to win this game.'"

Even the Vols had to be a bit worried, though, when Kansas whittled a 71-64 deficit to 71-68 in the final minute and had Tennessee on the verge of a shot-clock violation. Shooting purely in desperation, freshman walk-on Skylar McBee drained an off-balance 3-pointer from the left baseline that boosted the lead to 74-68 with 36 seconds left and brought the crowd of 21,936 to its feet. Woolridge and Bobby Maze hit a free throw each in the closing seconds to secure the final margin.

The game marked Tennessee's second consecutive defeat of a top-ranked team under head coach Bruce Pearl. The Vols beat a No. 1-rated Memphis team 66-62 at Memphis in 2007-08.

This game was sweeter, though. This one was at home and showed what a team with only six scholarship players can accomplish when everyone plays with hustle and heart.

"It's pretty amazing what chemistry can do when guys put their minds to something and know their backs are up against the wall a little bit," Bruce Pearl said. "They rally, they don't quit and they believe in themselves."

Big Orange fans may not have believed in the team when the game began but they showed their appreciation for its tenacity and toughness by raising the decibel level to unprecedented heights.

"The crowd was absolutely amazing," Pearl said.

Maze thought so, too.

"I don't think we could win this game without those fans," he said. "This was the loudest game by far I've ever played in my two years here. They stuck behind us, and I hope they continue to stick with us."

"Our fans did a great job of supporting us," sophomore guard Scotty Hopson said. "We fed off their energy and played hard."

Tennessee trailed 16-10 early but Woolridge drained three consecutive 3-pointers, single-handedly outscoring Kansas 9-3 as the Vols pulled even at 19-all.

Tennessee eased in front 27-21 but Chism picked up his third foul with 34.6 seconds left in the half and the game went to the break tied at 33.

With so many key players missing, the Big Orange attack was disjointed at times. Still, it showed a knack for scoring just as the 35-second clock was about to expire.

Woolridge hit a 3-pointer with one second left on the shot clock in the first half and hit another to give Tennessee a 49-42 lead with 14:02 left in the second half. Maze sank an 18-footer with three seconds on the shot clock that broke a 64-all tie with 3:50 to go, then McBee hit his game-clincher as the shot clock was expiring in the final minute.

"We obviously had some very special shots and some very special plays," Pearl said. "The stars have got to be a aligned a little bit in order to beat the No. 1 team in the country when you're so short-handed."

Hopson made 7 of 12 shots and scored 17 points to pace 16th-ranked Tennessee, now 12-2. Maze contributed 16 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and only 2 turnovers in 33 superior minutes. Woolridge chipped in 14 points and 8 rebounds for the Vols. Chism (19 minutes) and Prince (14) added 8 points each, despite their foul problems.

Point guard Sherron Collins scored 22 points to lead Kansas, now 14-1, but made just 7 of 20 shots, including 2 of 10 from 3. Six-foot-11, 250-pound Cole Aldrich was limited to 7 points but peeled down 18 rebounds and blocked 4 shots.

Tennessee lost the backboard battle 42-35 but hit 48.1 percent from the field, the highest Kansas has allowed all season. The Vols also committed just 8 turnovers. Conversely, the Jayhawks shot a paltry 37.7 percent from the field and committed 16 turnovers.

Tennessee surprised Kansas by playing a few possessions of zone defense, something the Vols almost never do. The ploy worked.

As Pearl put it: "We felt like if we could get Kansas to be a contested jump-shooting team, and then hang in there on the boards, we had a chance."

The 15 guys on the Vol bench were probably the only people at the arena who felt Tennessee had a chance. In the end, though, those were the only 15 that mattered.

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