published Monday, March 11th, 2013

Vols turn focus to SEC tourney

Tennessee forward Kenny Hall (20), guard Jordan McRae (52) and guard Trae Golden (11), left to right, celebrate the Vols' 64-60 win over Missouri in their NCAA college basketball game Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
Tennessee forward Kenny Hall (20), guard Jordan McRae (52) and guard Trae Golden (11), left to right, celebrate the Vols' 64-60 win over Missouri in their NCAA college basketball game Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Still relishing in the satisfaction of a comeback win against Missouri on Saturday evening, Jordan McRae had no idea who Tennessee would face in its SEC tournament opener.

Clearly the Volunteers' leading scorer didn't spend Friday night breaking down the 16 seeding scenarios involving his team.

"We're just trying to take one game at a time," McRae said after scoring 15 points, including the go-ahead tip-in, in Tennessee's rally past the Tigers. "We're going to play whoever we play Thursday and worry about that game. We're not going to try to look ahead on Friday and Saturday.

"We're just going to take it one game as a time. "

That approach, emphasized by coach Cuonzo Martin, makes even more sense in the postseason, where every game represents a one-game season, particularly for a team still chasing an NCAA tournament bid.

Martin said Saturday he believes Tennessee has done enough to warrant an at-large bid into the 68-team field, but the Vols go to Nashville later this week knowing their work's not done until they see their name in the bracket on Selection Sunday in six days.

"I feel like we're an older group," forward Jarnell Stokes said. "We know that we have to do damage in the SEC tournament. I'm not going to let another one slip away like we did last year.

"There's still work to do in our eyes regardless of whatever's on 'Bracketology.' The momentum we have right now, we feel like we can beat anyone. We just have to remember what got us here, and that's hard work and out-toughing teams."

Tennessee will open tournament play Thursday afternoon at 3:30 against the winner of the South Carolina-Mississippi State first-round game on Wednesday night. The Vols beat the 12th-seeded Gamecocks in Columbia to kickstart its late-season surge. Mississippi State, which rallied from a 13-game losing streak to win two of its last three to earn the 13th seed despite playing with seven or eight scholarship players all season, lost in Knoxville in mid-January.

A win Thursday would give Tennessee a third meeting with Alabama this season, the rubber match after both teams won on their home floors.

"All of them are must-wins," guard Josh Richardson said. "Every game from here on out's a must-win. We've got to step up to the plate."

The Vols have done that since early February, when they were mired in a 3-6 SEC start and facing must-win games every game.

"I think we have a level of toughness," Martin said. "We've got a tremendous level of togetherness as a team and a family. That's also the other reason we could win eight of the last nine.

"You have to come together as a team and figure out what's more important: the W or the stats. Our guys are more consumed with getting Ws, because it's no fun losing ball games."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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