UT to get 'whupped' again?

Even with just six scholarship players available, ninth-ranked Tennessee (12-2) has enough talent to beat Auburn (9-7) tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena. The question is: Do the Vols have enough toughness?

They didn't last year at Auburn. Jeff Lebo's team outmuscled the Big Orange en route to a 78-77 win at Beard-Eaves Coliseum. Dominating the inside action, the Tigers hit 53.7 percent from the field and outrebounded the taller Vols 34-21. Attempting mostly layups, Korvotney Barber sank 8 of 8 shots. Moreover, 14 of Auburn's rebounds came off the offensive glass.

"Last time we played Auburn we beat 'em (94-85) in the SEC Tournament," UT coach Bruce Pearl recalled, "but the time before that we got beat at Auburn. And when I say we got beat, I mean we got beat physically. We got whupped, and our guys will be hearing about that."

After watching video of that game, Pearl came away convinced that Tennessee must be much tougher - physically and mentally - in tonight's rematch. Noting that he saw "Auburn pushing us all over the court," he added: "Is there a concern? You better believe there's a concern."

That may sound like coach-speak given that the Vols are coming off one of the biggest wins in program history - last Sunday's 76-68 upset of No. 1 Kansas. But Pearl isn't inclined to put much stock in a single performance by his team, no matter how impressive it was.

"I feel a little bit better," he said, "but I'm all about the next game. I should've coached in Missouri because it's all about 'Show me.'"

Although Tennessee's players have closed ranks and responded well to the dismissal of Tyler Smith and the suspension of three other key players, the team is still vulnerable.

"Beating Kansas was gratifying," Pearl said, "but we still live in a very turbulent time. We all need to continue to be mindful of the state that we're in."

Much like Pearl's early teams at UT, Lebo relies on a small, scrappy lineup that overcomes its lack of size with hustle and determination. Pearl expects to see plenty of hustle of determination from the Tigers tonight.

"This level of intensity that we played at (against Kansas) will be matched now that we're into conference play," the Vol coach said. "It's conference time, and I've got to find a way to make sure our players understand that the level of intensity from the opponents will be even greater."

Although Lebo's SEC record is a mediocre 29-51, he has split the last four meetings with Pearl - winning 83-80 at Auburn in 2007 and 78-77 last February.

"They've always played well against us," Pearl said.

The Vol coach expects more of the same from the Tigers tonight.

"They're athletic," he said. "They play real hard. They've got a couple of guys that can really shoot the ball from 3. They turn you over a lot."

NOTES: The Tigers' top scorer, 6-1 guard DeWayne Reed, averages 15.9 points per game. He sank just 9 of 28 shots in the two games vs. UT last year, including 3 of 15 from beyond the arc.... Auburn's other projected starters are 6-1 Frankie Sullivan (13.6 points per game), 6-2 Tay Waller (12.8), 6-6 Lucas Hargrove (13.3) and 6-8 Johnnie Lett (2.3). Hargrove leads in rebounds (7.3 per game), while Reed leads in assists (4.7 per game).... ESPN2 will televise tonight's game.


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