As usual the Vols went all out to try to beat their hated northern border rivals. I sat in Thompson-Boling Arena and watched as legendary UT coach Ray Mears was hononred in a ceremony at halftime in 2006. The following year, Bernard King had his number retired. This past March, Allan Houston had his jersey raised to the rafters. You don’t even have to ask who the opponent on the schedule will be when the time comes for them to do something for Chris Lofton.
Yep, whenever there’s big basketball doin’s in Big Orange Country, you can best believe it will be done when Big Blue is in town. This year, the only difference was that it took place on the court DURING the game, instead of during the half. Jarnell Stokes was unleashed, big surprise, and the early graduating true freshman was ready to play. At a rugged 6’8″ 250 pounds, I compared him to Wes Unseld from a physique standpoint. He hit his first two shots, sending the home fans into a frenzy and giving UT a big spark. His 9 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes cancelled out Terrence Jones’ 10 and 5. He out toughed Terrence in a few one on one situations, baited him into an offensive foul, and appeared to be in TJ’s head a little bit, or at the very least had him flustered.
The Vols led by as many as eight in the second half before UK reeled them in and passed them up, holding on for a 65-62 win. It wasn’t pretty, but it was one of those tough, character building wins on the road that you need if you’re going to be a really good team come March. This was the Cats second win on the road in league play, already matching their total on the road all of last year. Hopefully they’re multitasking, winning and moving on to the next one, while learning as they go at the same time. This is a young, talented team. It has superior talent, but it’s not dominant talent yet. Could it become dominant? If they continue to gel, mature, and progress, there’s a good chance the answer could be yes. But it will take work and it won’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual progression. Included in the multitasking is continuing to learn that winning on the road is hard, and learning that teams will absolutely refuse to lay down for them, they are going to have to beat them.
The learning lessons continue tonight as Mike Anderson brings his Arkansas Razorbacks into Rupp Arena. It’s a home game, but it won’t be easy. Arkansas put up 98 on Mississippi State, possibly the best team in the SEC West, 10 days ago. Both teams can’t wait to get up and down tonight and this could bring back memories of some of those Cats-Hawgs track meets from the mid 90′s. Just as soon as you exhale, it’s time to take a deep breath and jump right back into it.
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