KNOXVILLE -- Bruce Pearl claimed to share similar feelings with thousands of fans watching his Tennessee men's basketball team get blown out of Southern California's Galen Center last Saturday afternoon.
New season. Same players. Same story.
UT's 77-55 loss at Southern Cal -- a team not considered a legitimate NCAA tournament contender -- was an eye-opener for those who thought the 16th-ranked Volunteers (8-2) had put last season's mediocrity behind them.
The Trojans more than doubled UT, 43-21, in rebounds. The Vols turned the ball over just five times, but they had a season-low eight assists. They were 2-for-22 on 3-point shots, and they attempted just 36 inside the arc.
Most importantly, the veteran-laden Vols showed little fight throughout the most lopsided defeat since Pearl became coach.
"That's just something that you don't want from an experienced team," he said Monday. "This experienced team had the same challenges last year, and it wasn't until the end of the year that we were able to fix it, so your hope is that it wouldn't come back and rear its ugly head.
"Let's just say that some of the things we saw Saturday are some of the same things we saw a year ago," Pearl said. "It was that thought of, 'Uh-oh, here we go again. We really haven't grown to be a championship team.' It certainly was embarrassing."
Pearl said the Vols haven't consistently practiced well this month, and he was disappointed that his warnings fell on deaf ears.
"I don't like to be proven right, but I have not been able to get them to train," he said.
Tonight's opponent, North Carolina A&T (4-7), is a meager appetizer preceding a tough stretch with home games against Charlotte and top-ranked Kansas, as well as a Dec. 31 visit from in-state rival Memphis. The Southeastern Conference schedule looms as well.
"We're trying to get that loss behind us and come up with a different attitude as far as working harder," UT sophomore guard Scotty Hopson said. "I think guys are ready to play. We want this game so bad. We're going to refocus and bounce back from this."
Pearl would like to see his seniors -- particularly All-SEC forward Tyler Smith -- display similar attitudes. Pearl took the rare step Monday in publicly challenging his captain to take charge on the floor.
Smith, a naturally unselfish player, has been prodded by Pearl in the past to take a more aggressive approach. Smith has struggled to emerge as a pure scoring threat in the Chris Lofton or JaJuan Smith mold, despite being considered a versatile NBA prospect for years.
That must change, Pearl said.
"We'll look at different ways to utilize him, but Tyler's got to work harder offensively to get himself open and take advantage of his matchup," Pearl said. "He's got to be more aggressive in looking for ways to be productive. I know he feels badly afterwards, but that needs to translate to the game. He's our playmaker, and he's got to be able to make plays for himself.
"Normally, you go as your point guard goes, but we go as Tyler goes. He's our best player. If Tyler struggles, we're going to struggle as a team."
And the Vols can't struggle their way to the top, Pearl pointedly stated.
"We really haven't grown enough to be a championship team. We still have some time to get that going, but obviously we're running out of time," Pearl said.
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