Can Vols handle prosperity?

Tennessee's 66-59 defeat of fourth-ranked Florida last Saturday ranks as the biggest win of the Buzz Peterson era. And that's what has Peterson worried.

''This is a challenging week for our ballclub,'' he said at his Tuesday news conference. ''I hope we can come down off the high of the Florida game.''

That will be no simple task. Tennessee's upset of Florida represented the first time UT had beaten a top-five program in 10 years ... when a Wade Houston-coached Vol team stunned second-ranked Kentucky (coached by Rick Pitino) 78-77 in February of 1993.

In addition, the defeat of Florida did the following:

1) extended Tennessee's winning streak to six
2) improved the Vols' overall record to 15-6
3) bumped their SEC record to 7-3
4) added another quality win to UT's NCAA Tournament resume'
5) elevated the Vols into the national limelight

Peterson wants his troops to put all of that behind them, however, as they prepare for a Wednesday night test at South Carolina (7:30 tipoff) and a Saturday afternoon showdown with visiting Alabama (2 p.m.).

''That (Florida game) is behind us,'' Peterson said. ''Now we're eager to face a very good South Carolina team that has turned around here of late. They've won three straight.''

Indeed. On the heels of a seven-game losing streak, the Gamecocks recently beat Vanderbilt 84-72 in Nashville, beat Clemson 76-59 in Columbia and beat Arkansas 72-65 in Columbia.

The key to Carolina's turnaround is the return of Chris Warren, a 6-5 guard who was injured when USC suffered a 60-56 loss to UT in Knoxville on Jan. 29. Warren scored 23 points last Saturday against Arkansas -- hitting 6 of 6 from 3-point range in the second half. He provides the outside threat Carolina was missing the last time it faced Tennessee.

''Chris Warren has really been a big boost for them,'' Peterson said. ''He's given them a lot of confidence and another outside threat. He's an athletic young man who can guard people. It's a different ballclub than what we saw last time.''

Whereas Warren's return will make Carolina tougher this time, Tennessee should be tougher this time, as well. Ron Slay, limited to 20 minutes in the earlier meeting because of foul trouble, is the hottest player in college basketball. He was SEC Player of the Week each of the last two weeks after scoring 21 points against UMass, 33 against Georgia, 23 against Arkansas and 20 against Florida. and named him National Player of the Week for his work against Arkansas and Florida.

''It was kind of a strange game last time we played them,'' Peterson said. ''Slay got in foul trouble and both teams were trying to find somebody to give their team a lift.''

Carolina brings a 10-11 overall record and a 3-7 SEC mark into the game. The Gamecocks are 9-3 at home this season, including a tough 77-75 loss to Florida.

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