Jan. 10, 2007
Tennessee may be on its longest winning streak in six years, but the 16th-ranked Volunteers will need to avoid looking ahead when they visit Vanderbilt on Wednesday.
The Volunteers have won nine in a row, their longest streak since opening the 2000-01 season with nine straight wins. They haven't won 10 consecutive games since beginning the 1999-2000 season with 11 victories in a row.
Tennessee (13-2, 1-0 SEC) has already beaten two ranked teams and has another big contest coming up when it visits No. 5 Ohio State on Saturday. The Volunteers, though, will be careful against Vanderbilt after nearly getting upset by Mississippi State in their SEC opener on Saturday.
The Bulldogs led by as many as five points in the second half and stayed close before Tennessee pulled away for a 92-84 win.
"That means every SEC victory will be a precious one," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "They have exceeded my expectations with what they did in December, but we have some real issues we have to fix on the defensive end. I think we can.
"If we can't do a better job of guarding in our transition defense then we're going to continue to get exposed. That's going to be our focus right now."
The Volunteers play five of their next six on the road and have only two home games this month. While they are 1-0 in true road games, this will be the fourth time they have played in Nashville this season. Tennessee won two games as part of the NIT Season Tip-Off, then knocked off then-No. 15 Oklahoma State 79-77 with a putback in the final seconds on Dec. 18.
While Pearl is concerned with the defense, there's been no problems with the Tennessee offense. The Volunteers have scored at least 90 points in four straight games and are averaging 85.9 points, first in the SEC and sixth in the country. Guard Chris Lofton leads the conference in scoring at 22.2 points per game.
The Commodores had won nine of their previous 10 before losing 68-65 to Auburn in their SEC opener on Saturday. Vanderbilt (10-5, 0-1) shot only 37.9 percent, its second-lowest percentage of the season.
"It's hard to win games when you're missing layups," Vanderbilt forward Shan Foster said. "We missed a number of layups; we missed a number of free throws. It's hard to win on the road when you don't take advantage of easy opportunities. That's what happened tonight."
Vanderbilt has won six straight at home, including a 73-64 victory over then-No. 25 Georgia Tech on Dec. 9. The Commodores have allowed only 43.5 points in their last two home games, winning those contests by an average of 37.5 points.
"They shoot the ball extremely well," Pearl said. "They have four guys out there who can shoot the 3-pointer. They are second in the league in 3-point shots. That lets them play effectively inside, too. They have good balance, and they play well at home."
Tennessee has won eight of the last 12 meetings with Vanderbilt, including both matchups last season. The Volunteers rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit to win 68-59 on the road in the last meeting on March 4.
Tennessee leads the all-time series 104-65, but the Commodores are 48-35 at home.