The idea that "As Trae Golden goes, Tennessee goes" is not 100 percent accurate. Ninety percent is probably more like it.
All basketball teams are heavily influenced by the play of their point guards but there is an especially strong link between Golden's success and the Vols' success.
"As long as Trae's playing well we have a great chance of winning," teammate Jordan McRae said this week.
Golden's play looms even more larger than usual in today's regular-season finale against visiting Missouri, since his matchup will be against Phil Pressey, one of the NCAA's premier point guards.
"I'm kind of excited to see it," Tennessee's Josh Richardson said. "They're both guys that can get in the lane. They can both score. They can both distribute. They're both quick. Trae's definitely going to have to step up. We're all going to have to step up."
Pressey has earned his reputation. As a sophomore last season he averaged 10.3 points per game, leading the Big 12 Conference in assists (6.4 per game), steals (2.1 per game) and assist/turnover ratio (2.6 to 1). This season he's averaging 11.9 points and 7.0 assists per contest.
Golden is eager to face the high-profile foe, noting: "He's a good point guard. He's a pass-first guy, really quick in transition. He's a guy we've got to keep out of the lane and make sure we corral at all times. But I'm looking at him just like any other point guard ... ready to attack and be aggressive."
Whereas Pressey is a pass-first point guard, Golden is the polar opposite.
"I'm a scoring point guard who tries to make the right plays," he said. "That's pretty much it."
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Vol junior finds "As Trae goes, Tennessee goes" more amusing than flattering.
"I don't know about that," Golden said with a laugh. "There's been games we won where I didn't necessarily have the best night. I'm going to play my game. That's the biggest thing for me: Don't try to over-think things and just let things come."
Basically, he believes his influence is no greater than that of any point guard on the success of his teammates.
"I'm the quarterback of the team, so obviously they're going to react to me," he said. "I just try to make sure, above anything, that I'm always in attack mode and getting guys involved. That's what I try to do."
Perhaps he's being modest. Or perhaps he's resisting the idea that Tennessee can win only if he plays well. Regardless, the correlation between his performance and the team's success is obvious. Consider:
He played a near-flawless game Nov. 26 against Oakland, finishing 7 of 9 from the field en route to 18 points, 7 assists and just 1 turnover in 31 minutes as Tennessee romped 77-50.
He was the winning edge Dec. 13 against Wichita State, producing 25 points and 5 assists as the Vols upset the No. 23 Shockers, 69-60.
He went 3 of 10 from the field and fouled out Jan. 9 against Ole Miss as Tennessee lost by 18 points on its home floor.
He came off the bench Jan. 19 against Mississippi State to contribute 10 points and a season-high 9 assists in a 72-57 Vol romp.
He produced 3 turnovers and just 1 assist as Tennessee lost a Jan. 24 rematch with Ole Miss in Oxford.
He played the best basketball of his college career between Feb. 10 and Feb. 26 — averaging 18.7 points and 4.3 assists during a stretch that saw Tennessee post six consecutive victories.
He went just 1 for 10 from the field and scored a mere 4 points last Saturday in Athens as Tennessee suffered a 78-68 loss to Georgia.
He bounced back Wednesday night, producing 21 points, 6 assists and just 1 turnover in a crucial 82-75 win at Auburn.
"We've got other guys that can step for us," Richardson noted, "but when Trae's playing well that makes things a lot easier. It lets other guys get out and run a little more, get transition buckets. He's a scoring option, too, at the one spot."
Golden might not be so vital if the Vols had a backup point guard. They don't. When he is winded, off his game or foul plagued, Tennessee's Plan B is to move McRae from the wing to the point. This hinders McRae's scoring prowess, essentially weakening the Vols at two positions.
Asked if he feels pressure to play every minute of every game due to the lack of depth behind him, Golden shook his head.
"I don't feel any pressure from anything like that; I honestly don't," he said. "I just look at it that I'm going to play my game and whatever happens, happens. I don't read too much into it. My job is just to play the way I know how to play."
Simply put, Golden is the key to Tennessee's hopes of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. A win today and a win or two in next week's SEC Tournament should clinch one.
"It's exciting," he said. "It's one of those things where you control your own destiny. We obviously know what's at stake. I'm ready to play my game and play on The Big Stage."
Actually, he'll be on a pretty big stage today. He'll just be sharing it with Phil Pressey.
GAME NOTES: Tennessee brings an 18-11 overall record and a 10-7 SEC mark into today's game. Missouri is 22-8 and 11-6.... The Tigers have been invincible in SEC home games (9-0) but paper tigers on the road (2-6).... Vol redshirt freshman Quinton Chievous is the son of Missouri's all-time scoring leader, Derrick Chievous. Nicknamed "Band Aid," he scored 2,580 points from 1985-88 before being a first-round pick in the 1988 NBA Draft. He scored 18 points as a freshman against Tennessee on Dec. 14, 1985 but the Vols prevailed 67-54. The teams haven't met since.... This is Senior Day for Tennessee, with Skylar McBee, Kenny Hall, Dwight Miller and Rob Murphy making their final regular-season appearances in Thompson-Boling Arena.... The Vols are 17-8 in home finales at TBA.... Today's game will be televised by ESPN with a 4:05 tipoff.