He might have even said that before he had to suspend four key players, but without them, an upset seemed very, very unlikely.
He got that something "very, very special," though, from several surprising sources, and the Vols pulled what will be the shocker of the season with a 76-68 victory over the Jayhawks.
"We had three walk-ons play 45 minutes," Pearl said, referring to Skylar McBee, Josh Bone and his son, Steven. "We obviously hit some very special shots and made some very special plays, and stars have to align a little bit to beat the No. 1 team in the country."
Chism played only 19 minutes and scored eight points. Prince played only 14 before fouling out and also scored just eight points.
Those 14 points were special.
Then there was McBee.
McBee turned down scholarship offers from smaller schools so he could walk on with the Vols. He hit two big three-pointers against the Jayhawks, the last coming with the shot clock running down in the game's final minute.
"Was McBee's shot worth how many hours in the gym?" Pearl asked rhetorically after the game. "When other kids were doing everything else, you could see McBee in the gym practicing all night long."
The win over Kansas was the second over a top-ranked team in the last three seasons for Tennessee. The Volunteers beat then undefeated Memphis in February of the 2007-08 season, assuming the top perch themselves for a few days.
Senior F Tyler Smith, who had been suspended indefinitely with three of his teammates following the New Year's Day incident in which guns and marijuana were found in a car they were in when stopped for speeding, was dismissed from the team at midweek. Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins, and Brian Williams remain on indefinite suspension, coach Bruce Pearl said.
ON THE SPOT: Poor free throw shooting nearly cost the Vols the upset of Kansas. They were only 15-of-29 from the line against the Jayhawks after going 12-of-14 in the previous game, an 88-71 win over Charlotte.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When things are not going your way -- and I am talking about Renaldo Woolridge and Kenny Hall -- you have got two choices: You can pack your bags and leave and go try to find greener pastures somewhere else, sort of quit on the situation. Or you can stick around because your opportunity is going to come. I give the assistant coaches great credit, and I give Woolridge and Hall, and their families, tremendous credit for hanging in there." -- Coach Bruce Pearl, praising the two previously little-used backups for their play against Kansas.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Despite a roster that now has only six scholarship players and is filled out with three walk-ons, the Vols improved to 12-2 with the win over Kansas. They have won their last four games since losing by 22 points at Southern California a week before Christmas.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Wayne Chism, F Renaldo Woolridge, G Scotty Hopson, G Bobby Maze, G J.P Prince. Key Subs -- F Kenny Hall, G J.P. Prince, G G Skylar McBee.
GAME REVIEW: Tennessee 66, Memphis 59 Tennessee 88, Charlotte 71 Tennessee 76, Kansas 68 GAME PREVIEW: vs. Auburn, Thursday, Jan. 14. vs. Ole Miss, Saturday, Jan. 16. at Alabama, Tuesday, Jan. 19. at Georgia, Saturday, Jan. 23. vs. Vanderbilt, Wednesday, Jan. 27.
IN FOCUS: The Vols will be tested in the backcourt in both of their next two games. Auburn's DeWayne Reed, Tay Waller and Frankie Sullivan and Ole Miss' Chris Warren, Zach Graham, and Terrico White all can fill it up from three-point range.
ROSTER REPORT: --Sophomore G Scotty Hopson scored 17 points in each of the last two games in going 14-of-22 from the field. He is 3-of-8 on three-pointers after missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc against Kansas.
--Sophomore F Renaldo Woolridge has gone 8-of-14 from the field in two games since stepping into a starting role. He had 10 points and seven rebounds against Charlotte and 14 points and eight rebounds against Kansas.
--Freshman F Kenny Hall, who averaged eight minutes on the court in his previous 10 games, logged a season-high 23 minutes against Kansas, scoring four points and grabbing five rebounds. He also had a block and a steal. He played 20 minutes in the win over Charlotte and scored a season-high 12 points. He has had 10 rebounds in his last two games after grabbing 22 in the previous 10.