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Tennessee's Grant Williams, second from left, is cheered by teammates after scoring against Lipscomb during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (Caitie McMekin/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

KNOXVILLE — One near miss against a top-10 opponent has Tennessee's basketball team ready for another crack at one.

The Volunteers had to wait one week and navigate a couple of midweek games against in-state opponents between the 73-71 loss at then-No. 7 North Carolina last Sunday and today's clash with No. 8 Gonzaga in Nashville.

Even with visits from Tennessee Tech and Lipscomb, some Volunteers admitted they had the "Battle on Broadway" at Bridgestone Arena circled in the wake of the narrow defeat to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

"I'm ready," leading scorer Robert Hubbs III said after Tennessee beat Lipscomb on Thursday night. "It's just another great opportunity, and that's how I look at it. I think our team is ready. I've still got the bad taste on my tongue from last year, so we're just going to go out there and do what we do."

The Vols and Zags met in Seattle last season, when Gonzaga jumped out to a 19-point first-half lead before letting Tennessee erase a 16-point halftime lead and take a brief lead with a little less than 10 minutes left.

Gonzaga outscored Tennessee 11-4 in the final minutes to win 86-79.

"We fought hard," sophomore forward Kyle Alexander recalled Saturday.

"With more depth this year, if we compete like we did when we played UNC, if we compete harder like we did in the second half against Lipscomb, I think we can be a team that can go in there and shock people."

Tennessee had no answer last season for Domantas Sabonis (36 points and 16 rebounds) and Kyle Wiljter (24 points), but Gonzaga's core is different this season.

The Zags start a trio of transfers in Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Memphis native Johnathan Williams III (Missouri) and Jordan Mathews (California), and the four returning players who played against Tennessee last season combined for only 10 points in the game.

In 18 seasons as Gonzaga's coach, Mark Few has guided the Zags to the best start in program history.

"They've been good for a long time," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "They've got a winning tradition in their program, and Mark's always had good guard play, he's always had size and he has that again. They went the route of having some transfers come in, but he's got a nice team and maybe as good a team as he's had.

"If you look at where he is right now with where he's done in nonleague and traditionally rolled through that league, he's setting himself up for a great year and a great seed in the postseason play."

Hubbs is playing the best basketball of his career. His 21 points were key to Tennessee's upset bid against North Carolina, and he followed it up with 25- and 22-point games this past week. He's among the SEC leaders in field-goal percentage (.556) and has missed just two free throws in 36 attempts.

The senior is expecting more than 300 people from his West Tennessee hometown to be in Nashville to watch him play.

"I want more," Hubbs said. "I want to go out and I want to win the big games also, too, so I'm really looking forward to Sunday. We've got a tough opponent on hand, but we're going to be ready to play."

After competitive showings in three previous games against ranked opponents, Tennessee is hoping to land a breakthrough win against Gonzaga.

"That (North Carolina) game really gave us confidence," Alexander said. "That was a championship-game team, and the fact we could go in there and we had the lead for most of the game and to be able to compete with them really shows our capability and the future that we could have this year."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

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