KNOXVILLE -- Bruce Pearl spent the early part of the week preaching identity and toughness to his University of Tennessee basketball team.
But if the coach of the Volunteers were grading his team for its performance in Wednesday night's 75-53 Southeastern Conference win over LSU, he'd give an incomplete.
"Part of my discussion the other day about what our identity is was as much for what's coming up. It really wasn't about LSU," Pearl said after practice Thursday afternoon. "LSU's teams play physical, but that message has got to continue and have some legs."
UT (13-7, 3-2) cruised past the undermanned Tigers (10-10, 2-3) with little difficulty, and Saturday's trip to Ole Miss will bring a much better report on UT's efforts to rediscover its identity.
"The real barometer," Pearl said, "for the toughness and the real barometer for where we are as we progress defensively is Ole Miss on Saturday. Offensively, they're good [and] they're hard to guard. That whole identity thing is really going to come into play."
The Rebels (13-7, 1-4) have had all week to prepare for the Vols after a 27-point thrashing at LSU last Saturday broke a four-game losing streak to open conference play.
"They entered SEC play and opened up with four teams in the East and Mississippi State -- that's a tough draw," Pearl said. "Their record is no indication of what kind of team they're going to be. They will compete for the SEC West championship."
The Vols didn't have to tough out a win against LSU, and the Tigers gave UT plenty of physicality in the first half. LSU scored 10 second-chance points in the first half off 10 offensive rebounds.
UT held LSU to just three such points and two such rebounds after halftime.
"[I was] disappointed a little bit in the first half," associate and acting head coach Tony Jones said after the game Wednesday. "We talked about that, keeping [LSU] off the glass. We put pressure on the basketball in the second half, got some steals, got some run-outs. We got back to a part of Tennessee basketball."
On the offensive end UT didn't have to deal with any full-court pressing or pressure defense, as LSU sat in its 2-3 zone the whole game while the Vols drained 10 3-pointers and continually got quality shots with ball movement.
"We scored well against the zone," Pearl said, "and that's the best thing we did because that's LSU's strength. Defensively we did what everybody else has done -- that's hold LSU down. They've been held down before."
The Vols will go through a light practice this afternoon before flying to Memphis and busing to Oxford for a quick shootaround tonight.
"We decided to go today," Pearl said. "Normally a day after a game we wouldn't, but we just felt like tomorrow's going to be a long day. It was good [and] they were sharp."
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