The Vols beat a very good Virginia Commonwealth team and a seventh-ranked Villanova team in New York City. They whipped No. 3 Pitt in Pittsburgh and subdued a truly gifted Georgia team in Athens. They outplayed No. 8 UConn for much of a 72-61 loss at Hartford. Even in a 49-48 loss at Charlotte the Vols were spectacular defensively, limiting the 49ers to 30.2-percent shooting. Ultimately, Tennessee's only poor effort on the road came in a 68-65 loss at Arkansas.
Conversely, the Vols were abysmal in home-floor losses to Oakland, Southern Cal and College of Charleston. They barely squeaked by against mid-majors Missouri State, Belmont (twice) and UT Martin. They trailed virtually all game in an overtime loss to Florida and had to rally from 17 down to nip Vanderbilt. The only quality performances Tennessee has given on the home hardwood came against Chattanooga (82-62), Memphis (104-84) and LSU (75-53).
It's obvious to those who follow Big Orange hoops that the Vols play with more energy, more passion and more focus on the road than they do at home. Tennessee fans don't understand this trend but, with road games upcoming at Ole Miss on Saturday and at Auburn on Thursday, they're hoping it continues for one more week.
Meanwhile, asking the Vols why they're more intense and successful on the road yields a variety of responses.
"We just know going into road games that you have to be high-energy," senior point guard Melvin Goins said. "You have to not only match the team's intensity but also the crowd's intensity. Everything's against you going on the road, so you have to be focused and on top of your game.
"You're going to make mistakes because the crowd's loud and you're not going to be able to hear Coach sometimes, so you just have to keep fighting on the road. I think we've learned that through these tough road games we've had, so I think we'll be ready to go Saturday."
Junior wing Scotty Hopson suggests that the satisfaction of beating a team in its home gym provides extra motivation.
"I think we relish the opportunity to go into somebody's house and take that game away from them," he said. "We have the focus that we want to out-tough them. Guys know what we're up against (on the road) and we try to take advantage of that."
Sophomore guard Skylar McBee thinks there's a sense of desperation attached to road games that may force the Vols to dig a little deeper.
"I think it's that feeling that your back's against the wall," he said. "It's always tough to go on the road and win. That's always in the back of your mind, and it's a challenge to us. We took care of that so far and, hopefully, we'll go to Ole Miss and take care of it again."
"There's an us-against-the-world mentality," he said. "We're in the hotel together, bonding. We know we have to play well. Winning in conference play is tough but our guys have played well on the road all year.
"The game we lost at Charlotte we held Charlotte to 30-percent shooting, We played well; we just couldn't throw it in the ocean (on offense).
"I anticipate us continuing to play well on the road."
UT-AUBURN ON NATIONAL TV
Tennessee's Feb. 3 game at Auburn has been designated for national telecast on ESPN2. The Vols and Tigers will tip-off at 8 Central (9 Eastern) at the new Auburn Arena.