Vols must avoid letdown

Coming off an upset of the top-ranked team in college basketball, Tennessee should be able to handle an Auburn team that is coming off a home-floor loss to South Carolina.

Basketball is a game of emotion, however, and the Vols may have spent theirs in upsetting No. 1 Kansas last Sunday. That's a legitimate concern as Thursday night's 7 o'clock tipoff at Thompson-Boling Arena approaches.

"This is one of them games where you just beat the No. 1 team in the nation but you don't get too cocky," senior point guard Bobby Maze said. "You don't be too excited. We have the opportunity of a lifetime. Last year we lost a key game (at Auburn) that caused us to play Oklahoma State first in the tournament."

The upset of Kansas can be a stepping stone if the Vols use it to build momentum. If they have a letdown Thursday night, however, their momentum will be lost.

"After a win like this, you just keep building on it because in the long run our ultimate goal is to win the national championship," Maze said. "We can't slack up now. We just have to keep focusing on our next opponent - which is Auburn - and prepare the same way we prepared for Charlotte and Kansas."

Freshman guard Skylar McBee echoed those sentiments.

"That was a big win but we have to get right back to work, going into SEC play," he said. "The Kansas win doesn't mean as much if Auburn comes in and beats us Thursday. We definitely have to get back to work and keep the same mentality of staying together, being a family and working as hard as possible."

After losing four players to suspension on Jan. 1, Tennessee was seen as a team on the decline. Thanks to the upset of Kansas, though, opponents again are gunning for the Vols.

"I think so," McBee said. "We beat the No. 1 team in the country, so if they can beat us it's kind of like they could (beat the No. 1 team). After the Kansas win I think we're slipping out of the underdog role. People see that even though we are short-handed we can play with anybody in the country."

Head coach Bruce Pearl concedes that the Kansas win - monumental as it was - loses a lot of luster if the Vols lose their intensity.

"It's all about where do we go from here?" he said. "If this is it, it doesn't say much. We have to find a way to understand that when conference play starts it's (ultra intense) every night you've got to strap it up."

The Vols are riding high after beating Kansas, much as they were last March after posting consecutive road wins at Florida and South Carolina to clinch the SEC East title. That has Pearl worried.

"The last time we had success like this," he noted, "was nine months ago, when we came back from a road trip where we beat Florida and South Carolina to win the SEC East and clinch the No. 1 seed, then we came home and lost to Alabama."

Pearl recognized that the Vols were not focused as they prepared to face the Tide but his warnings went unheeded.

"I knew what we were facing that Sunday morning," he recalled. "I delivered the message a year ago, and it didn't make any difference. The message will get delivered again (prior to facing) Auburn, and I hope it makes a difference."

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