KNOXVILLE -- Bruce ball is back.
It just needed seemingly insurmountable setbacks to resurface.
The University of Tennessee men's basketball team, with two of its six eligible scholarship players battling foul trouble, shocked top-ranked, previously-undefeated Kansas on Sunday in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Coach Bruce Pearl's depth-depleted Volunteers took to the stands in wild celebration with a sold-out crowd moments after the stunning 76-68 victory.
A UT win with a full roster would have been slightly surprising. A UT win considering the past week's circumstances was stunning.
Five of the Vols' top ten players from the preseason didn't play Sunday for various reasons. The two most experienced players left on the roster -- senior forward Wayne Chism and senior J.P. Prince -- both played less than 20 minutes and scored less than 10 points.
"When bad things happen, you can ask yourself, 'Why is this happening to me?' or 'What am I going to do about it?' Today, we went out and did something about it," said senior point guard Bobby Maze, whose 16 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and suffocating defense played a pivotal role in the upset.
"Think about it," Maze continued. "We just beat the No. 1 team in the country, and we didn't even play our best basketball, in my opinion. But I think we still just showed the world that we're still Tennessee, and we're still good enough to beat anybody."
UT (12-2) needed several things to happen for a win over Kansas (14-1), and many of them happened. The Vols got quality minutes -- more than even coaches anticipated -- from three walk-ons. They had young players turn potential into production. They made a handful of circus shots as the shot clock expired, including walk-on freshman guard Skylar McBee's Herculean heave to give them a 74-68 lead with less than 36 seconds left.
But make no mistake, UT's defense won the day. The Vols corralled Kansas's impressive collection of NBA talent and Final Four experience, forcing All-Americans like point guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich into several mistakes down the stretch.
"We obviously hit some very special shots and made some very special plays, and stars have to align a little bit to beat the No. 1 team in the country," Pearl said. "But we did what we had to do, and I couldn't be any prouder of my players, my staff, our great fans and everybody else who loves Tennessee basketball.
"This says we have got a basketball program here. This sends an important message."
UT also took advantage of Kansas coach Bill Self's inexplicable decision to delay full-court pressure defense until the final minutes. Several Jayhawks missed clean looks they'd usually make, too.
"Tennessee deserved to win the game," Self said. "They outplayed us, without question. It was a total lack of us being 'as one' today. I thought we were guys on islands. I thought we were looking out for ourselves. From a toughness standpoint, from a competitive standpoint, we did not deserve to win the game.
"When you talk about all the stuff they have been through, I do not think Tennessee was a team until this past week. I do not think Kansas is a team yet. ...You do not want to say we played so poorly; it takes away from them outplaying us. We got what we deserved."
Kansas was steady at the start, despite deafening noise from Thompson-Boling's 21,936 Rocky Top Rowdies. The Jayhawks responded to Chism's game-opening 3-pointer with a 14-3 run.
But UT quickly and aggressively fought back. Three 3s on three consecutive possessions from sophomore wing Renaldo Woolridge tied the score at 19, and sophomore guard Scotty Hopson slashed to the rim to give the Vols a 27-21 lead with 4:59 left in the first half.
"If you give me good looks, I'm going to take them, and I'm confident in my ability to shoot the ball," said Woolridge, who finished with 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
The Jayhawks rallied to tie the score at 33-33 at halftime, but another Chism 3-pointer gave the Vols a 46-39 advantage early in the second half.
UT's lead swelled to its largest point -- 53-44 -- when walk-on guard Josh Bone connected from long range midway through the second half, but Kansas pounced on a handful of errors and ultimately clawed back within 71-68 on a Brady Morningstar triple with 1:14 left.
Defensive stops then set up McBee's answered off-balance prayer, and more defensive stops set up the post-buzzer party.
"We've got a long way to go and a lot of things to improve on to get where we want to be -- but I can't lie, man, this feels pretty good," said Hopson, who led the Vols with 17 points. "We're going to enjoy this one here for just a little bit before we move on. We deserve this, and we earned it the hard way."
UT's next game is Thursday night's Southeastern Conference opener against Auburn in Thompson-Boling.
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