published Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Vols on alert

Pearl, UT players wary of Arkansas


by Wes Rucker
  • photo
    Tennessee's J.P. Prince (30) shoots past Kentucky's Patrick Patterson (54) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010 in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 74-65. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

KNOXVILLE -- It's simple logic.

The 16th-ranked University of Tennessee men's basketball team was good enough to defeat then-No. 1 Kansas and then-No. 2 Kentucky this season in Thompson-Boling Arena, so it should be able to beat Arkansas in Wednesday's home finale.

It sounds simple.

But it's not, according to the Volunteers and coach Bruce Pearl, who points to several tough tussles with the Razorbacks in recent years.

"They're just a good, hard, tough team, and they've matched up well against us," UT senior wing J.P. Prince said. "They like to play a fast-paced style, too, so it's usually a fun, exciting, close game.

"You can't just show up and beat those guys. They make you earn it."

The Vols (21-7, 9-5 SEC) needed a tough, midrange Bobby Maze jumper in the final five seconds to beat the Razorbacks (14-15, 7-7) last season in Fayeteville.

Arkansas avenged a blowout loss in Knoxville two seasons ago by stunning the Vols, 92-91, on a runner from 7-foot center Steven Hill -- a defensive specialist -- in a thrilling SEC tournament semifinal game.

UT senior forward Wayne Chism still doesn't like talking about Hill's shot, which inched over Chism's fingertips before banking into the basket.

"You're going to do that? You're going to go there?" Chism said when asked about the shot Monday night. "Come on, man. That was two years ago."

Pearl's second season featured a comeback 83-72 win in Fayeteville, but the coach's first UT team lost to Arkansas in Knoxville.

"They usually get beat by the top teams in the SEC, but they always come back wanting revenge," Chism said of the Razorbacks. "And they're good enough to beat you, too, if you don't take care of your business."

Then there is the massive hangover potential from UT's win over Kentucky on Saturday.

"(Arkansas) is a dangerous team and, obviously, in a dangerous place on the schedule," Pearl said. "They're one of the better offensive teams in our league."

The Razorbacks rebounded so well from a poor nonconference performance that they are tied for second in the SEC Western Division standings despite have lost their past three games, and four of the past five. Vanderbilt left Arkansas on Saturday with an 89-72 win.

"Vanderbilt played tremendous basketball at Arkansas on Saturday, and Arkansas did not play bad at all," Pearl said. "I looked at the score and thought maybe Arkansas had struggled some, but they hadn't.

"Arkansas is a team that won five straight SEC games (earlier this season), but they haven't played as well on the road as they have at home."

Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey said Wednesday's emotional atmosphere won't make his team's task any easier.

"We've got a very difficult road game coming up at Tennessee," he said. "They're one of the better teams in our league, and that's certainly a great environment. It won't be much fun playing them on their senior night. They have great senior leadership, and those young men have accomplished a lot in their time there.

"That will just make it all the more difficult for us."

The Razorbacks don't have much quality depth but do possess one of the SEC's most potent trio of young players.

Sophomore point guard Courtney Forston has typically been a force when off-court issues haven't prevented him from playing. Sophomore Rotnei Clarke is one of the nation's best long-range shooters, having shot 95-for-225 (44.2 percent) from 3-point range this season. Versatile forward Marshawn Powell has emerged as one of the SEC's best freshmen, averaging 15.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

Arkansas senior big man Michael Washington had had plenty of moments the past few seasons, too, though a recent ankle injury has rendered him less than 100 percent effective.

"He's a great, skilled player," Chism said. "He's been like that ever since our AAU days. He's a really good player. ...They've got a lot of good players. They're a tough team."

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

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Vandy said...

I don't like UT. I was born and raised in KY. That said, I enjoy watching students hone their abilities at college and become good ball players as they work toward graduation. Coach Cal didn't do that at Memphis and he won't change at UK. It was nice to see the upperclassmen take the one year flashes to task before they leave UK for the NBA. PS - You can tell where I went by my name. I will enjoy watching our players for the full four years play and grow.

March 2, 2010 at 7:54 a.m.
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