Both Bruce Pearl's 12th-ranked Vols (18-4 overall) and Kevin Stallings' 22nd-ranked Commodores (17-5 overall) stand 6-2 in SEC play, one game behind division leader Kentucky (7-1). Vandy holds the upper hand on Tennessee, however, by virtue of having won in Knoxville 13 days ago. The Dores, like the Wildcats, are unbeaten at home in SEC play, whereas the Big Orange has that one costly setback.
Avenging that loss tonight at Memorial Gymnasium would vault the Vols back into the SEC East title chase. To do so, however, they must play a lot better defense than they did in Knoxville, when Vandy shot 50.9 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from 3 en route to an 85-76 victory. The 85 points scored by the Dores represents the high for a UT opponent this season.
"We just want to have our mindset that we're going in there and play hard-nosed defense so they can't score 85 again," senior post Wayne Chism said. "They have a good defense, too, so we have to go in there and be patient with our offense, too."
Offensive patience will be needed but the overwhelming key tonight will be what Tennessee does at the other end of the floor.
"I think we're going to defend them better," senior point guard Bobby Maze said. "Our defense broke down last time we played 'em. They shot over 50 percent. It's a proven fact; every game that we've won (except one) we've held the team under 50 percent."
When Tennessee's defense is good, Tennessee's offense benefits. When the Vols force opponents to take bad shots, long rebounds and fast-break opportunities often follow.
"The key going into this game is defense," Maze said. "We've got to defend them, get out and run to transition baskets. That's what happened (in Saturday's 79-53 defeat of South Carolina). We made them shoot contested jump shots, and we was able to get down the other end and get some fast-break layups.
"We need that again."