No team has dominated the Vols in recent years like the Crimson Tide. And no one knows this better than senior point guard C.J. Watson, who is 0-4 against Bama with the losses coming by an average of 17.8 points.
Watson came closest to beating the Tide on his first try. The 2003 Vols were 15-7 and apparently headed for an NCAA Tournament bid in Buzz Peterson’s second year at coach. Bama killed that dream by beating Tennessee 76-71 in Knoxville.
The Tide toyed with Tennessee in 2004, winning 83-70 in Tuscaloosa, then annihilating the Vols 84-49 in the SEC Tournament in Atlanta.
The Vols had the home-court advantage in last year’s meeting but it didn’t matter. The Tide waltzed out of Thompson-Boling Arena with a 72-54 victory, its sixth consecutive win in the series.
So, why has Alabama been such a tough match-up for Tennessee?
“They’re a long team,” Watson said. “They always play zone, and we struggled against a zone sometimes.”
The Tide is even longer than usual this season. Bama starts an imposing frontline of 6-10 Jermareo Davidson, 6-9 Evan Brock and 6-8 Richard Hendrix. And, as Watson noted, the Tide’s long-armed zone defense has given UT fits in past seasons.
Senior forward Andre Patterson, a transfer from UCLA, has faced the Tide just one time. But he remembers how dominant Bama was last year in Knoxville.
“They manhandled us,” he recalled. “It’s a big concern for us. This is one of our biggest challenges of the year. When they lost Chuck Davis (to an early-season injury) a lot of people thought they were going to be bad, but they’re actually playing a lot better without him.”
Bama (14-9 overall, 7-4 SEC) has been erratic on the road but almost unbeatable in Tuscaloosa. Since losing its SEC opener to Ole Miss, the Tide has won every game on its home floor – beating Arkansas, Mississippi State, LSU and Vanderbilt.
That doesn’t bode well for Tennessee (19-3, 10-1), which has lost 15 of the last 16 games played in Tuscaloosa.
“This year is probably going to be different,” Watson said. “We’re going down there with a different mentality.”
The Vols are going down there with a different tempo, too, a tempo that could test a Bama squad that relies heavily on its top six players.
“We’re pressing, and I think they’re going to have trouble with the press,” Watson said. “Some of their players play so many minutes that I don’t think they can handle our tempo.”