"We're still managing to fight our way through some things and getting better," Johnson said earlier this week. "We're certainly not playing pretty basketball; we're certainly not playing efficient basketball but this is the time of year when we're in a spoiler role and hopefully we can go into Nashville, compete at a high level and see what happens."
After winning the SEC regular-season title with a 13-3 record in 2009, the 2010 Tigers started SEC play 0-13. They won two of their last three games to finish 11-19 overall. Tennessee, which went 11-5 in league play, brings a 23-7 record and No. 15 national ranking into today's game. The Vols are on a roll, having won five of their last six contests.
"Obviously, there's a challenge in front of us - a Tennessee team that's playing very, very good basketball," Johnson said. "Watching them play Mississippi State on Senior Night in Starkville was very impressive from start to finish. This is the time of year when you want to be playing your best basketball, and it seems like Tennessee is."
LSU is playing its best basketball of the season, too, but that isn't saying much for a team that started league play 0-13. The Tigers didn't quit, though, and UT's coach thinks Johnson deserves a lot of credit for that.
"I'm impressed that Trent's been able to keep those guys playing hard and improving throughout the season, not worrying about their record," Bruce Pearl said. "As a coach that knows how tough it can be, I can relate. I'm just happy that they finished the regular season playing better and feeling better about themselves."
Although LSU's depth is non-existent, Pearl says the Tigers have three of the league's better players on their roster.
"It starts with Tasmin Mitchell, Bo Spencer and Storm Warren," the UT coach said. "Tasmin Mitchell is a guy you've got to game-plan for. They've got really, really strong weapons. The supporting cast is obviously improved with greater experience."
Mitchell, a 6-7, 245-pound senior forward, leads LSU in points (17.0 per game) and rebounds (9.5 per game). Spencer, a 6-2 junior guard, averages 14.9 points per game. Warren, a 6-7, 230-pound sophomore forward, averages 11.6 points and 7.2 rebounds. Rounding out the starting lineup are 6-11, 230-pound Garrett Green (2.1 points per game) and 6-1 Chris Bass (2.3 points, 3.1 assists per game).
NOTES: Bruce Pearl is 9-4 in games played at Nashville and 7-1 in games at Bridgestone Arena (previously known as the Sommet Center and Gaylord Entertainment Center). UT has won its last six games at the facility.... Wayne Chism scored 20 points as Tennessee beat LSU 59-54 in the regular-season meeting at Baton Rouge on Feb. 4. Spencer scored 25 points for LSU that night, while Mitchell added 13 points and 17 rebounds. The Vols shot just 40 percent from the field but limited LSU to 30.5 percent.... Today's other first-round matchups find South Carolina facing Alabama at noon Central, Auburn facing Florida at 6:30 and Georgia facing Arkansas at 8:45.... All of today's SEC Tournament games will be aired on the SEC Network.