Coach Pearl told us when he first signed on that he and we were looking at two first years, meaning that he would have a real first year last year and then the equivalent of another first year this season with a bunch of new, young players. So while we were disappointed at the team's showing at Madison Square Garden, losing badly to both North Carolina and Butler, we weren't really surprised.
But last night, in a 76-58 victory over the Memphis Tigers, you could see it all beginning to come together. Starter Duke Crews approached coach Pearl before the game and suggested that fellow freshman Wayne Chism start in his place because he'd be playing against an old high school teammate. Chism answered the bell by opening the game with a tone-setting defensive move, taking a charge. He may have gone one of six for a total of three points and five rebounds after that, but he was solid defensively. When Crews came off the bench to sub for Chism, he responded by hitting half of his shots and 75% of his free throws, coming within one point of a double double.
Dane Bradshaw, hero of last year's loss to Memphis, also had a good game, missing a double double by one rebound and guiding the team to an emotional 18-point victory. What does that make it, a near double double-double?
But the story of the night was Chris Lofton, who scored a career high 34 points, 21 of which came in the deciding first half. He finished 12 of 18 (six of 11 on three-point attempts) and hitting all four of his free throws. The Discombobulator was not only draining treys, he was driving to the basket and finishing layups, basically just toying with the No. 17-ranked Tigers.
Check out the Chris Lofton Hour Highlight Show, courtesy of UTSports.com. Don't miss the sequence at about the 1:37 mark, where Memphis misses three dunk/layup tries on a single possession before UT finally pulls down the rebound, at which point Lofton drives the length of the court and makes good on his layup.
You should also listen to the post-game Bruce Pearl Show, also courtesy of UTSports.com. They have even more at their game breakdown page.
This resounding victory over the Tigers brought back memories of last year's surprising win over Texas, which sparked a mystical season ending with a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance. We probably ought not get caught (watch me rhyme!) up in believing we're going to repeat what we did last year, but last night's game sure gives you reason to think it's possible.