Tennessee and Memphis will play for just the 25th time tomorrow night in Thompson-Boling Arena, and then who knows when we'll see each other again. With Memphis backing out of contract negotiations, a good rivalry will return to the shelf. The Vols and Tigers played every year from the 1989-2002 seasons before the series was last halted for four years. But it resumed just in time, as the rivalry was renewed during Bruce Pearl's first season in Knoxville. What we've seen in the last eight years has been great basketball and a growing rivalry thanks to John Calipari, Bruce Pearl, and both programs rising to new heights.
With the rubber match set for tonmorrow night, here's a look back at the other eight meetings in the most recent chapter of this rivalry:
January 18, 2006: #4 Memphis 88 Tennessee 79 (Memphis)
In BruceBall Year One the Vols had just suffered their second loss of the season at LSU and were still outside the Top 25. Memphis was rolling behind Shawne Williams (who had 21 and 14 in this one), Rodney Carney and a young Chris Douglas-Roberts. In Dane Bradshaw's homecoming, he didn't disappoint: 21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals. Bradshaw took a vicious charge and was taunted by the crowd all night; Tennessee pulled even with less than seven minutes to play but a 10-0 spurt from Memphis ended the threat. Pearl put Bradshaw back in to the crowd's delight in the final minute, raising his arm like a boxer at the scorer's table. Memphis would make the Elite Eight; Tennessee's breakthrough would come the very next game at home against Florida.
December 6, 2006: Tennessee 76 #16 Memphis 58 (Knoxville)
For my money, this is the best game of Chris Lofton's entire career. He had some three point exhibitions that were extraordinarily memorable, most notably what he did at Rupp Arena as a sophomore in leading the Vols to victory. But this was a complete basketball performance: 34 points on 12 of 18 shooting, 6 of 11 from the arc, only four points coming at the line. This was a fully healthy Lofton at the height of his powers, and this game was a blowout from the tip. Tennessee led by 21 at halftime, and when Memphis cut it to 12 in the second half Lofton went on an 8-0 run by himself. Had the Vols not lost in the final seconds to Ohio State we would've had a rematch in the Elite Eight.
February 23, 2008: #2 Tennessee 66 #1 Memphis 62 (Memphis)
We voted this the best moment of the last decade for all of Tennessee sports. It was at the time the most watched college basketball game in the history of ESPN, carrying with it all the hype of a big football Saturday mixed with a prize fight. Calipari's Tigers were undefeated and, this late in the season, could seriously think about heading to the tournament that way. This was a superstar team with Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey, and Robert Dozier. Standing in their way was Pearl's most talented team. This was 40 minutes of hyperventilation: Memphis jumped to an early lead with ridiculous three point shooting, but JaJuan Smith kept Tennessee close. West Tennessee natives Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince were huge in this game, but it was Tyler Smith who hit the biggest shot, a tough turnaround with 28 seconds to play to give the Vols the lead. Memphis shot just 47.1% at the line, was outrebounded by 16, and Robert Dozier said after it was over, "They just out-toughed us. They got every loose ball, every offensive rebound. They just outplayed us."
January 24, 2009: #22 Memphis 54 Tennessee 52 (Knoxville)
The return match featured both teams in rebuilding mode. Tennessee never led in the second half but pulled within one with 2:34 to play. Neither team made a shot from there; Tyreke Evans (17 points) hit one free throw to put the Tigers up two, and a halfcourt heave from Josh Tabb came up empty. This was only Tennessee's second non-conference and fourth overall home loss of the Pearl Era, and would be Calipari's last appearance in this rivalry.
December 31, 2010: #14 Tennessee 66 Memphis 59 (Memphis)
In their second game after a stunning 22 point loss at USC, the Vols were looking to find themselves. In Wayne Chism's final appearance in the rivalry the senior had 15 points and 9 rebounds as Tennessee overcame a 2 for 13 evening from the arc by outrebounding Memphis by 19. J.P. Prince added a dozen. The game was quickly overshadowed by the events of the following day, as four Vol players were pulled over in a car with guns and drugs. That would make this Tyler Smith's final appearance in a Vol uniform; as you know, the team would play through the suspensions to beat #1 Kansas ten days later en route to the first Elite Eight in program history.
January 5, 2011: Tennessee 104 #21 Memphis 84 (Knoxville)
With Tennessee having plummeted out of the Top 25, losers of four of six against the likes of Oakland, Charlotte, USC, and Charleston, and Bruce Pearl coaching his final game before an eight game suspension, the Vols and the Pearl Era took one last bow in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee opened the game on a 28-12 run and never looked back; the Vols shot 12 of 21 from the arc and Tobias Harris had a double double as Tennessee embarrassed Memphis. Probably the last night we felt one of Pearl's teams could still be special.
November 22, 2011: #8 Memphis 99 Tennessee 97 (2OT) (Maui)
No Pearl, no problem? A day after hanging around against Duke, Cuonzo Martin almost pulled off a huge upset against #8 Memphis in the Maui Invitational. In one of the best college basketball games played last season, Jeronne Maymon had 34 points and 20 rebounds in this sensational double overtime affair. In the end the Vols could never find the one basket they needed in either overtime to finish the job, and Memphis escaped by a deuce. Though momentum would soon be lost in the month of December, this game proved Tennessee Basketball wasn't going away without Pearl.
January 4, 2012: Memphis 69 Tennessee 51 (Memphis)
The last night before the team really bought in to Cuonzo, I think. The Vols were down eight at halftime and it escalated quickly from there behind 19 points from Antonio Barton, wasting a 22 point effort from Trae Golden. To the shock of everyone, three days later the Vols crushed Florida in Knoxville.