Wiedmer: UT season now officially 'great'

Wiedmer: UT season now officially 'great'

February 28th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Opinion Columns

KNOXVILLE -- Because every University of Tennessee basketball story is vastly improved by at least one quote from senior forward Wayne Chism, we'll begin coverage of the Volunteers' monumental 74-65 victory over Kentucky with a few of Wayne's words.

Asked when he knows UT coach Bruce Pearl is excited, Chism said, "He be red."

The Vols could have painted their town red, orange or any other color they liked Saturday after making the nationally second-ranked Wildcats see red and feel blue inside Thompson-Boling Arena.

Just as UT made top-ranked Kansas disappear 48 days earlier, the Vols similarly vaporized a UK squad that entered with a 27-1 record and eight straight wins.

"You don't get too many opportunities to beat two (potential) No. 1 seeds, and we've done that," Pearl said. "I think our team and our program was on display tonight."

What Tennessee again best displayed against the Cats was Pearl's genius against highly ranked foes. Especially John Calipari-coached teams.

Just as Bruce Almighty frustrated Kansas in early January despite playing just six scholarship players and three walk-ons, much as he stunned Calipari's top-ranked Memphis Tigers two years ago on the road, he bamboozled UK with a rare (for UT, anyway) matchup zone defense and an offense built around his undersized but quick guards driving the ball to the rim.

"We played some man (defense)," said UT senior point guard Bobby Maze, who scored nine points, handed out five assists and committed only one turnover in 26 minutes. "But we went zone about 90 percent of the time."

Added senior wing J.P. Prince, who led the Vols with 20 points, including eight of UT's final 13: "We wanted them to have to shoot 3s one foot farther outside than they wanted. If they hit them, you say, 'Good shot.' But they didn't."

Indeed, continuing an alarming trend for UK fans that now has reached three straight games with the Cats hitting three or fewer treys, Big Blue missed 20 of 22 3-pointers against the Big Orange. It marked the eighth time this season that UK has displayed such ineptness from long range, a stat that could augur a short NCAA tourney run.

"We hit them in practice," said John Wall, the UK freshman sensation who led the Wildcats with 19 points but committed five turnovers.

But they couldn't hit them against Pearl's zone and they couldn't stop the Vols from hitting six of them, including the shot of the game from Kentucky native Scotty Hopson, whose deep triple off the left wing with 38 seconds to play gave UT a 70-65 lead.

Said Chism of that shot, which made the sophomore Hopson a winner over Kentucky for the first time in four tries: "He's fixin' to talk some trash when he gets home."

No one of these Vols can talk trash more than Prince, the fifth-year senior from Memphis who tormented Calipari when he was coaching the Tigers.

"(Cal's) watched me play since the seventh grade," said Prince, who first became annoyed with Calipari two years ago when the coach insisted on calling him P.J. instead of J.P. "He's always going to challenge me. That's why I play so well against his teams."

He played particularly well on a spin move that resulted in a dunk against UK freshman Eric Bledsoe late in the second half.

"The White Station (High) spin move," Prince said with a grin. "I'll take my chances against anybody one-on-one with that move."

Taking your chances in the NCAA tournament against the Vols (21-7, 9-5) is beginning to look more and more a risk. Formerly suspended players Melvin Goins (7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists), Cameron Tatum (9 points) and Brian Williams (7 rebounds, 2 points, 2 blocks) all contributed mightily to this victory, which included nine UT players playing at least 12 minutes each.

The Vols led by 19 five minutes into the second half and closed on a 9-0 run against a UK squad Maze called "the best final-five-minutes team in basketball."

Said Calipari: "They just wanted it more."

If they did, it all began with Pearl, who told his team before the opening tip, "It's not going to be a great season unless we beat Kentucky."

That mission accomplished, UT be golden.