Handling prosperity

The South Carolina Gamecocks thought being the first team this season to beat Kentucky - winning 68-62 on Jan. 26 - was a glorious achievement. Instead, it proved to be a Cat-astrophe.

Unable to handle prosperity, Darrin Horn's team promptly went into the tank. Carolina has dropped six of eight games in the aftermath of the UK win, including home-floor setbacks to Tennessee (63-55 on Feb. 20) and Mississippi State (76-63 last Saturday).

Not surprisingly, the Gamecocks' collapse has the attention of UT coach Bruce Pearl, whose Vols became the SECOND team this season to beat Kentucky when they stunned the Big Blue 74-65 last Saturday.

Naturally, Pearl is determined that his team won't fold the way South Carolina has. That's why he had Tennessee's players lifting weights at 6:30 Monday morning and put them through one of their most rigorous practices of the season Monday evening.

Simply put, Pearl hopes to ensure that his team will not go flat after its emotional upset of the Wildcats ... as South Carolina did.

"It's human nature, after a big win, to have a letdown," the Vol coach conceded. "We obviously brought great energy as fans, coaches, players (into the UK game). But we have to understand we're playing the top two teams in the West right now."

That would be Arkansas Wednesday night in Knoxville and Mississippi State Saturday night in Starkville. Keeping his team looking ahead to the Razorbacks and Bulldogs - and not looking back on the Big Blue - may be Pearl's toughest task this week. That's why he's working the Vols even harder than usual.

"This morning we lifted at 6:30, and I asked for a different level of intensity in the workout," the coach said earlier this afternoon. "Today we'll have one of the tougher, harder practices of the year. We're going to try and pick up the pace a little bit, see if we can't build some momentum."

Obviously, he's talking about positive momentum, not the kind of negative momentum South Carolina is riding these days. The Gamecocks essentially have fallen apart since bouncing the Big Blue.

"Kentucky has won 44 SEC championships, so when you beat them it means a great deal to your fan base and has implications with the (NCAA) Selection Committee," Pearl conceded. "But, more importantly, it's a program win. We're glad we could get it, and now we hope to take advantage."

Of course, that's what South Carolina was hoping back in late January. Horn never dreamed his team would follow its upset of Kentucky with an emotional letdown that would produce a 2-6 record over the next eight games. But that's what happened to the Gamecocks, and there's a chance a similar fate could await the Vols.

"There is always, emotionally, a big worry," Pearl said. "You do everything you can to combat it, yet it still exists. You cannot help but feel good about what you've accomplished because what you've accomplished is so difficult and something that's going to stay with you for the rest of time.

"But it's over now. We've got to focus on becoming a better basketball team. It is hard to do. I've experienced it (emotional letdown following a signature win), being around a long, long time.

"There's obviously something to it. So we'll look at it, we'll address it, we'll face it.... I'm hoping there's enough senior leadership on this team to deal with it."

As monumental as beating Kentucky was, Pearl believes his team has put that game behind it.

"I don't think we're going to celebrate our win Saturday to the point where we're not going to compete," he said. "But you just can't lose that edge."

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