KNOXVILLE -- Seconds before the Tennessee men's basketball team took the floor at Mississippi State on Saturday night, highlights from the Volunteers' Southeastern Conference tournament title game loss to the Bulldogs filled the Humphrey Coliseum video board.
"Big mistake," UT senior wing J.P. Prince said.
The Vols scored the first 17 points of their regular-season finale and won 75-59.
After watching the video of that game, LSU coach Trent Johnson said it was "very, very impressive, from start to finish."
That's because the Vols were very, very motivated, according to senior point guard Bobby Maze.
"It wasn't just a little bit about revenge," Maze said. "It was a lot about revenge."
This week's conference tournament will be a headband of a different color, however. Fifteenth-ranked UT (23-7, 11-5) won its most recent matchup against each of the five teams in its half of the bracket, starting with Thursday's first-round game against LSU (11-19, 2-14).
A Thursday triumph would set up a second-round matchup with Ole Miss, which lost a late lead and fell in overtime to the Vols in January. If UT also tops the Rebels, it would then play Kentucky, South Carolina or Alabama in a Saturday semifinal. The Vols topped that trio on Feb. 27, Feb. 20 and Jan. 19.
"We have absolutely no revenge factor this week," coach Bruce Pearl said Monday afternoon. "All the revenge factor is against us in Nashville."
Pearl reminded his cheerful Vols of that fact during their short bus ride from Humphrey Coliseum to the airport.
"I told them, '(Revenge) may have worked for us a little bit here at Mississippi State, but let's go into this week understanding that that's a card we cannot play,'" he said. "What this week will be about is quality of play. What this is about is our team and our preparation and all that we've been through -- and the fact that, at this point, we don't have a championship to our name."
Contrast that with last season, when the Vols turned their early SEC tournament games into a mini-vengeance tour by beating Alabama and Auburn, which had stunned them at the buzzer in regular-season losses.
"Last year, it was all about payback," the Vols' Scotty Hopson said. "Now the motivation, I guess, is just to win it. A lot of teams have payback (in mind) for us, but we still have to come at them like we have payback for them.
"Our desire and our willingness to win is what's going to drive us."
LSU lost several close games during its 0-13 start in league play, including 59-54 against UT in Baton Rouge on Feb. 4. The Tigers trailed 51-37 with less than eight minutes left that night, but they pulled within 55-54 with 17 seconds left. Maze and Hopson made four free throws that ultimately provided the difference.
"They made some big shots, and they definitely made a big run at us, and their crowd got into it at the end of the game," Hopson said. "But we stayed poised. ...We'll have to the same thing this time, because nobody wants their season to end."
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