Just on the basketball side of things, just for a moment.
Tennessee has now beaten #3 Kansas, #10 Texas, and #1 Alabama. It’s February 15.
That’s good, because last year’s team beat #6 Arizona, #4 Kentucky, #3 Auburn, then #5 Kentucky again for good measure. In 2019, the Vols beat #1 Gonzaga and #4 Kentucky twice. Throw in the 2020 win at Rupp Arena over #6 Kentucky, and that’s 11 wins over Top 10 teams in the last five years.
We are good at basketball.
It’s the kind of good where, even without two starters against the number one team in the nation, you get it done. And not because you were lucky: Tennessee shot 26.1% from the arc against Alabama and missed nine free throws. The Tide shot 37.5% from three and 16-of-20 at the line.
But Tennessee won because they were Tennessee: relentless defense, taking the ball away 19 times. And in a game when every rebound was fiercely contested, the Vols grabbed 13 on the offensive end. Alabama was number one for a reason; getting it back on 32.5% of misses was huge. Put those two things together, and the Vols had 15 more shot attempts than the Tide.
And Tennessee was consistent. Alabama made a number of big shots to keep things within reach throughout the second half. But after a Zakai Zeigler free throw made it 44-40 Vols with 12:37 to play, Alabama never got within one possession. When the Tide closed again to four points with 3:30 to play, it was an offensive rebound – one of four from Jonas Aidoo – that pushed Tennessee back in command. When Santiago Vescovi missed the front end with 1:19 to play, a sequence that led to Alabama with the ball down six just 30 seconds later, he created a turnover – one of three steals on the night – then hit two free throws to effectively, appropriately, end it.
Five Vols scored between 9 and 15 points. Jahmai Mashack didn’t score, but Rob Lewis at Volquest notes he led the team in +/- thanks to his exceptional defense. Tennessee didn’t shoot it great against a great Bama defense, but they played with purpose on that end of the floor, and cleaned up enough of their misses to do what needed to be done. Defense, championships, etc.
We’ll see what championships are out there for this team to win, but tonight affirmed what’s probably always been true, only blurred by buzzer beaters: we’re good. Good enough to beat anybody. Great enough defensively to make it really hard to beat us.
That’s a few words of the many, many this team, its coaching staff, and tonight’s effort deserve, on their own.
As a…what do we call it? A bonus? A gift? A not-sure-we’ll-see-this-again-so-let’s-celebrate-it-madly?
Tennessee beat #3 Alabama in football four months ago, then beat #1 Alabama in basketball tonight.
Whatever your question, not just in football but in apparently the entire athletic department, you can believe the answer can be yes.
Tennessee is good. And, especially tonight, at our best when we’re ourselves.