The Tennessee men's basketball team will host SEC rival LSU Wednesday night. The Vols are looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss on Saturday at No. 5 Connecticut.
The Vols' first- and second-half performances Saturday were complete opposites, as the Vols did an excellent job defending and holding the Huskies' star player, Kemba Walker, scoreless for nearly the game's first 15 minutes, but Walker, as well as four other Huskies, would go on to finish in double-figures, and the Vols never led in the second half.
Many consider Wednesday's matchup a must-win game for the Big Orange. The Vols' 12-7 (2-2 SEC) record matches the worst 19-game record of any team coached by Bruce Pearl.
The 2008-09 UT team held the same record, and despite winning the SEC East regular season title, lost in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament to Oklahoma State.
Still, junior Cameron Tatum believes the team has a the ability to finish the season strong.
"We had time to think about the loss on Sunday," Tatum said. "Yeah, it hurt because it was a missed opportunity. The guys all understand we can still take the SEC."
Pearl is looking at things less optimistically.
"We've got to win every game we're capable of winning," said Pearl. "Then we've got to get a couple we maybe aren't expected to get. That will put us in position to go to a sixth-consecutive NCAA tournament, which is something that's never happened in the history of Tennessee basketball."
The Vols will have their hands full with a team that is much improved from its 2-14 conference record last season.
LSU relies heavily on its 2010 recruiting class, which includes the team's two leading scorers, swingman Ralston Turner and point guard Andre Stringer. LSU also returns Storm Warren, the team's leading rebounder, whose play was one of the few bright spots last season, including against the Vols in the 2010 SEC tournament. Warren led the Tigers with 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting in that game.
The Vols will have to rely heavily on its key players against LSU. The Vols' leading scorers, Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris, will play a major role in UT's matchup against the Tigers.
Harris and the combination of John Fields and Brian Williams off the bench must work together to keep rebounds away from Storm Warren off the glass, a task which Williams has been much more successful at achieving since coming off the bench.
With Turner expected to be out with a foot injury, the Tigers will rely heavily on freshman Stringer.
Containing Stringer will be a key role for Tatum, as well as Josh Bone.
"We'll just have to look at it as another great player to play against," Bone said of Stringer replacing Turner. "We play good players and good teams every single game, so it's nothing different. We have to key in on him more and be able to contain his points, and hopefully we'll come out with the win."
In the past few games, the Vols have seen an increase in playing time from Bone and Skylar McBee. They have created a greater threat from beyond the arc coming off the bench.
According to McBee, hard work in practice and a desire to prove his newly given scholarship drives his game to reach greater heights.
"You have to come into practice every day to get better," McBee said. "I've just been getting into the gym, working and trying to get an extra shot. I've started to find a new level of confidence, and that's helped us win more games."