Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl is looking forward to returning to
the sideline, even if it is for only one game. He may not be so
anxious to watch Connecticut star Kemba Walker in person.
Pearl is allowed to coach the Volunteers on Saturday because
they are facing a team from outside the SEC, and he’ll look to lead
them to their fourth win in as many tries against a ranked opponent
this season when they visit the No. 8 Huskies.
Pearl received an eight-game suspension from conference play for
lying to NCAA investigators, and he has served half of that ban as
the Vols have gone 2-2 to open their SEC slate.
“I try to treat it like an injury,” Pearl said. “We’re a man
down, now we’ve got somebody back. We got healthy, and we’ll be
back down a man come next week.”
Pearl is only prohibited from being with the Vols (12-6) on game
days against an SEC opponent through Feb. 5, and he said he’s been
analyzing his team’s play and taking notes while watching the games
“I’m as much a fan as any Vol fan at the end,” Pearl said. “The
pad and paper are long gone by the time the game’s over. I’ve long
since left my couch, and I’m up there screaming and cheering and
praying just like every other Vol fan.”
He’ll get the chance to do those things from the bench Saturday
while trying to figure out a way to contain Walker, who is second
in the nation with 25.5 points per game.
Walker struggled with his shooting against No. 7 Villanova on
Monday, going a season-worst 6 for 18 from the field, but he still
managed to score 24 points and hit a 10-foot floater with 2.5
seconds left that gave the Huskies (15-2) a 61-59 victory.
“It was one of those games somebody was going to win and as I
said to the kids in the huddle, ‘It might as well be us,'” coach
Jim Calhoun said. “Kemba made sure that we did win the game.”
The Vols know they likely need to slow Walker to have any chance
of winning, but they don’t want to forget about the rest of the
“Once you focus on Kemba the whole game, the other players go
off,” senior center Brian Williams said. “We’ve got a good game
plan going into the game, so we’ve just got to focus to the best of
our ability and play great defense.”
Tennessee’s past four games have all come down to the wire, and
it managed to post last-minute wins at home against Vanderbilt and
at Georgia in its last two.
Williams made a buzzer-beating shot off a rebound as he was
falling to the floor to give the Vols a 59-57 victory over the
Bulldogs on Tuesday night.
“We’ve had probably more close games this year than the last
three or four years combined because of the (slower) tempo of the
game and fewer possessions,” Pearl said. “Therefore each possession
Tennessee also beat Villanova this season and has victories over
then-No. 3 Pittsburgh, which handed UConn its first loss, and
then-No. 21 Memphis in Pearl’s last game.
The Vols were the 11th-ranked team in the nation when they faced
the No. 20 Huskies in their only previous meeting, a 65-51 victory
for Tennessee in the second round of the 2000 NCAA tournament.