Vols vs. Cats, part III

Homespun humorist that he was, former Texas Longhorns football coach Darrell Royal liked to say: "You got to dance with the one that brung you."

Loose translation: When you're nearing your goal, keep doing what got you there.

That's the approach 15th-ranked Tennessee (25-7) is taking as it prepares for today's noon Central Time tipoff against second-ranked Kentucky (30-2) in the SEC Tournament semifinals at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. The Vols advanced with a 76-65 defeat of Ole Miss in Friday's quarterfinals; the Cats advanced with a 73-67 defeat of Alabama.

Tennessee is one of only two teams to beat the Big Blue this season - South Carolina being the other. The Big Orange prevailed 74-65 Feb. 27 in Knoxville, avenging a 73-62 loss in Lexington two weeks earlier.

When asked the key to beating Kentucky, Tennessee's players basically paraphrased Darrell Royal.

"The way to beat Kentucky is just play basketball," senior Wayne Chism said. "I mean, a lot of teams probably get scared to play these guys but, obviously, when you go out and play somebody bigger and better on your schedule you just come out and play basketball because that's one thing you know how to do. If you come out and play different than what you usually do, it's going to be a big mistake."

Sophomore teammate Cameron Tatum added a hearty amen to that.

"I think he said it best," Tatum said. "You know, just go out there and play your game. Play what's got you to this point. Don't try to do anything out of the ordinary. Play great team ball. Play hard, great team ball."

Tennessee did that Feb. 13 in Lexington and led Kentucky until the final 10 minutes, when the Wildcats rallied furiously to win. The Vols followed the same script Feb. 27 in Knoxville, this time making a finishing kick of their own.

"You let everything fall in its place," Tatum said. "Everybody knows they're a great team and that if you try to get out of your element and try to do things you're not accustomed to doing, then everything's going to fall apart, and they're going to attack that and take advantage of that."

"The best thing you can do for that is continue to play hard. Pay attention to the scout, whatever your coaches have prepared for you, and like I said, just play basketball."

The crowd breakdown for today's game in Nashville probably will be closer to the Lexington meeting than to the Knoxville meeting. Kentucky fans travel very, very well ... especially when there's an SEC title at stake. So, even playing in their own state, the Vols are expecting to see far more blue than orange when today's game tips off at noon Central.

"When we play Kentucky tomorrow, we've really got to be focused because they're going to have the whole arena," Chism said following UT's Friday game. "You seen that today when they played (Alabama). They had the whole arena. So we've really got to come out and be very patient against these guys because they're going to have the crowd on their side."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories