|Tennessee's historic season falls short of making NCAA tourney history|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 28 March 2008 12:52|
Just not as much as they wanted.
The winningest season in Tennessee history also included the first No. 1 ranking - for men's basketball, anyway - and the first outright Southeastern Conference championship in four decades.
But the Vols failed in their quest for their first NCAA regional final, coming up short for a second straight year in the round of 16 with a 79-60 loss to Louisville on Thursday night. Coach Bruce Pearl doesn't want that to take away from the finest season in the history of Tennessee basketball.
``No team has accomplished the things these guys accomplished this year, and I'm awfully proud of them,'' he said.
With all the success of the program in the three seasons under Pearl, fans now worry how many schools will try to lure the coach away with offers of more money.
Pearl said he plans on remaining a Volunteer.
``I absolutely anticipate - if Tennessee will have me - being back at Tennessee. I think they'll have me,'' he said.
Athletic director Mike Hamilton said Friday he had not fielded any requests by other programs to interview Pearl and that he expects Pearl to remain at Tennessee.
``He's excited about being here,'' Hamilton said.
Pearl's talented Tennessee squad, led by seniors Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith and newcomer Tyler Smith, finished with a record 31 wins and only five losses.
Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Jordan Howell went 14-17 as freshmen. Lofton finished his career by setting school and SEC records and by climbing to third on the NCAA chart with 431 career 3-pointers.
``It was great to be here for the last four years. I wish we could have went farther, but we weren't lucky enough,'' the soft-spoken Lofton said after the loss to Louisville.
The Vols may have peaked one month too soon. They knocked off then-No. 1 Memphis with a 66-62 road win Feb. 23, grabbing the top spot in The Associated Press poll two days later for the first time ever.
They enjoyed it for just over 24 hours before losing to Vanderbilt 72-69 in Nashville.
Though the Vols won their next three games to close the season, two of those were tight, including an 89-86 victory at Florida that clinched the SEC regular season outright for the first time since 1967.
They never seemed to recover from a tough schedule that included nonconference wins over West Virginia, Western Kentucky, Xavier and Gonzaga - all NCAA tournament teams, with three of those reaching the round of 16.
The Vols managed to advance, barely, to the SEC tournament semifinals, where they fell to Arkansas 92-91 on a last-second shot by the Razorbacks, continuing their conference tourney woes of the past two decades.
That was enough to keep the Vols from their first No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament after spending several weeks ranked atop the RPI. They wound up instead with a second No. 2 seed in a regional that included the overall No. 1 seed, North Carolina.
The Vols beat American and needed overtime to defeat No. 7 seed Butler 76-71 before succumbing to Louisville's size and pressure.
Pearl will have to replace his top two scorers next season in Lofton and JaJuan Smith. Tyler Smith, who spent one season at Iowa and another at a junior college, hasn't decided whether he'll turn pro.
The Vols will have forward Wayne Chism back along with J.P. Prince, Ramar Smith, Duke Crews and Brian Williams.
Tennessee will get guard Cameron Tatum back from a knee injury that kept him on the bench for most of his freshman season. Pearl also signed two top recruits, guard/forward Renaldo Woolridge and center Philip Jurick.
Pearl's contract will be the immediate topic of discussion with Hamilton. His deal, worth $1.3 million, runs through 2013, but he likely earned a pay raise and extension with this season.
The coach who appears at pep rallies and is known best for his orange blazer and goofing off for national television crews has helped build this program to new heights.
He seems to want to stick around for more.
``It's great to be a Tennessee Vol,'' he said.