Dec. 6, 2006
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl and the youngest team he's ever coached cruised to their first big win of the season.
Chris Lofton scored a career-high 34 points as the Volunteers built a big lead in the first half and beat No. 16 Memphis 76-58 on Wednesday night.
Tennessee (7-2) dropped out of the Top 25 after a disappointing trip to Madison Square Garden and exposure on national television, losing to Butler and then-No. 2 North Carolina in the NIT Season Tip-Off over Thanksgiving.
Wednesday's win mirrored a shocker early last season at Texas when Tennessee was mostly considered an afterthought in Pearl's inaugural season. The Vols then swept eventual national champion Florida in earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
"We talked about trying to get better as a team. That's been our focus," Pearl said. "Tonight doesn't happen without the whole cast of characters, making progress and getting better (and) then allowing a great player like Chris Lofton to win your basketball game."
The Tigers (6-2) looked vastly different than a year ago without leading scorers Rodney Carney, Shawne Williams and Darius Washington, who helped them to the Conference USA championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Unlike their earlier loss to Georgia Tech in the Maui Invitational, Memphis trailed nearly the entire game.
Tennessee led by as many as 23 points in the first half. Lofton scored 21 points before halftime while Memphis went 9-of-40 from the field. The Tigers were 22-of-77 for the game.
The Tigers opened the second half with an 11-2 run that cut it to 12 on Chris Douglas-Roberts' 3-pointer. Lofton then scored eight straight points in a minute. His fifth 3-pointer put the Vols ahead 55-38 with 11:49 remaining. The Tigers didn't rally again.
Douglas-Roberts led Memphis with 19 points while Robert Dozier had 13. Joey Dorsey grabbed 13 rebounds.
This cross-state rivalry became more heated when Pearl became Tennessee's coach last year. Memphis coach John Calipari has made it clear he would rather not continue the series.
The Tigers agreed to a contract to play for several years only after the Vols agreed to play in football, too. Pearl has said no program respects Tennessee less than Memphis. The Vols struggled in mediocrity before Pearl's arrival while the Tigers have excelled.
"I don't worry about it. I know I respect them. I respect their program and John and the job that he does," Pearl said. "You have to respect how hard our kids played."
Both programs butted heads in the recruitment of point guard Willie Kemp, a native of Bolivar, Tenn. Kemp eventually chose Memphis, but his high school teammate, forward Wayne Chism, picked the Vols.
Tennessee fans booed Kemp when he was introduced before the game.
"This game if it's on TV is a good game for us. If it's not on TV it's not a good game for us because we use our scheduling for recruiting," Calipari said.
Kemp was the only Memphis player who stopped to speak to reporters after the game.
"Chris is a great player. He makes shots all over the court," Kemp said. "Coming into this game we knew he was a great shooter and we had a hand in his face, but he still made them."
The Vols used a 12-2 run in the first half to break a tie at 15 and take a 27-17 lead. Chism banked in a 3 to start the run and Lofton capped it with another 3 and a driving layup.
Calipari promptly called a timeout. The Tigers then had a turnover and Crews missed a dunk at the other end but was fouled. He was called for a technical after he yelled in the face of Memphis' Andre Allen. Jeremy Hunt made the second of two free throws for the technical, cutting the lead to nine.
The Tigers couldn't get any closer and scored only two more baskets the rest of the half.
"We deserve to get beat by 20 because of how we play," Calipari said.
Lofton was 12-of-18 from the field, including 6-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Memphis trails in the series 7-11 but had won two straight.
The Tigers' 88-79 win last season in Memphis was the first time the teams had met since 2001. Carney, Williams and Washington combined for 50 points in the game.
The Tigers haven't won in Knoxville since 1994.
They were 10-1 on the road last season, and Wednesday was the first time they had played in an opponent's arena this season.