The Vols beating the Bulldogs in basketball has been as much of a certainty as death and taxes the past few years. And that gives Tennessee's players a little extra confidence heading into today's 5 p.m. tipoff in Athens.
"It's a lot of confidence," Chism conceded, "but they're an improved team. They've got a new coach (Mark Fox) who's got them playing well. It's going to be a tough road win for us down there because they always play us tough at home. We have a lot of confidence going into the game but we've still got to be focused against those guys because they are an improved team."
The eighth-ranked Vols (15-2) are riding high. If their mastery of Georgia (8-8) is to continue today, however, they need to quit stumbling out of the starting gate.
In its last three games Tennessee trailed Auburn 28-17 early, trailed Ole Miss 18-6 early and trailed Alabama 7-1 very early. The Big Orange rallied to win each game but you can only tempt fate so many times before it bites you in the butt.
"We've got to start games and halves better," Pearl conceded. "We got ourselves in a little bit of a hole against Alabama."
A "little bit of a hole" today could be disastrous against a Georgia team that is alternately very good and very bad. The Dawgs were good enough to beat Georgia Tech and Illinois, yet they were bad enough to lose at home to Wofford.
Georgia stands 0-3 in SEC play, playing well for 35 minutes each time only to implode down the stretch.
"All three games were lost in the last minute of the game," Pearl noted. "Against Mississippi State (last Saturday) they led by 13 with four minutes to go."
Conversely, Tennessee has won seven games in a row and seems to have a tremendous team chemistry going.
"I think team chemistry is good," sophomore wing Scotty Hopson said. "Guys are knowing their roles and their positions on the floor and knowing who to get the ball to at times."
The Vols are 3-0 in SEC play and coming off a big road win at Alabama. Another road win today would provide great momentum going into crucial home games against Vanderbilt (Jan. 27) and Florida (Jan. 31).
"It's definitely going to be big," Hopson said of today's game. "We're coming off several wins, and we have to continue to progress and get better. We love to win on the road. It prepares us for tournament time. We need to really get this one."
Although he started last year's game in Athens - scoring 13 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in 28 minutes - Georgia native Cameron Tatum (Lithonia) may not see the floor today. Suspended Jan. 1, he returned to the team this week but did not play Tuesday vs. Alabama and may not see action today, either.
"It'll be the same situation it was against Alabama," Pearl said. "I did think about putting Cameron in a time or two in that game but just decided to stay with it (regular rotation) because of the way Scotty (Hopson), Skylar (McBee) and J.P. (Prince) were playing.
"Scotty had a really good game, made some big plays for us, stepped up. J.P. is effective out there because of his ability to penetrate and create for others. I think we need that creativity on the floor because he's one of the few guys that can do it.
"And Skylar just plays so solid defensively. He just doesn't get beat very often defensively. And, of course, he's always a threat out there on offense to shoot the ball. He got fouled from 3 twice, made five out of six free throws. His man has got to extend on him. It's like our offense can run better with him out there because he's got to be guarded.
"Although I thought about it (using Tatum) a couple of times because of fatigue, I never felt like we needed to go there. If we'd picked up two fouls in the first half, we would've gone there."
GAME NOTES: Tennessee's 6-9, 245-pound Wayne Chism has made his last 18 consecutive free throws - all in SEC play. Another surprise: He ranks second among SEC players in steals (3.3 per game) in league action only.... Trey Thompkins, a 6-10, 247-pounder, leads Georgia in scoring (16.7 points per game) and rebounding (8.1 per game).... Six-foot-4, 202-pound Travis Leslie is second in scoring (13.6), second in rebounding (6.3) and second in assists (2.3).... Georgia's other starters are 6-11, 265-pound Albert Jackson (3.9 points per game), 6-1, 184-pound Ricky McPhee (9.8 points) and 5-11, 182-pound Dustin Ware (8.1 points, 2.9 assists).... Today's game will be televised by FoxSportsNet.