894. The approximate number of times we heard the word "perfect" or some variation thereof during the hours leading up to, and throughout, last night's showdown between the No. 1 Memphis Tigers and the No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers. The Tigers were well on their way to joining the ranks of the elite and earning the lofty label of Perfect.
Memphis retailers could sell thousands of blue I Hate Orange t-shirts to zealous fans. The University of Memphis athletic department could deny ESPN's request to pack out the FedEx Forum with half Tiger fans and half Vol fans and instead limit admission to 3,500 Memphis fans. They could even somehow orchestrate a distribution of tickets to Tennessee fans such that no two orange outfits would be contiguous to each other.
And that's not all. Memphis head coach John Calipari could intentionally refer to Memphis native J.P. Prince as "P.J." instead of his rightful name, attempting to relegate his importance to something approximating the utility of nightwear. Sticks and stones, coach. Sticks and stones. Memphis players could even devote an entire evening to wrapping Chris Lofton up in a tight little taquito shell and hold him to 2-11 shooting from the field and 0-4 shooting from behind the arc.
They could do all of that, but they could not be Perfect.
To be fair, Tennessee couldn't do everything it wanted to, either. But the Tennessee team aspires not to be perfect, but Pearlfect, to reach that state in which one player's weaknesses, whether permanent or temporary, are offset entirely by a teammate's enduring or fleeting strengths.
This night belonged to J.P. Prince, and that was only fitting on an evening when the media was unashamed of its infatuation with the
daughter former wife of the King of Rock and Roll. Prince's talents, wildly inconsistent and imperfect for much of the season, this night demanded the spotlight. Call him Flannel Pajamas if you wish, coach Cal, but J.P. was the opposite of flame retardant at your place, and he lit you up, sir, shooting 5-8 from the field and 3-4 from the stripe and adding to the stat sheet four offensive rebounds, four defensive rebounds, one block, and two steals on his way to 13 points. Imperfect on the season, Pearlfect Saturday night.
That's just the way this team operates. When one player comes up short, another steps up strong in some unexpected manner. So while Dick Vitale was fawning over the future NBA stars on the Memphis roster, Memphis native and Volunteer big man Wayne Chism was stepping out beyond the three-point line and knocking down shot after shot after shot. When Chism wasn't raining threes, JaJuan Smith was. When Juanny wasn't getting open, Tyler Smith was driving to the bucket. When Chris Lofton wasn't hitting shots for the entire game, no one panicked, and yes, there he was at the end, securing the game-winning rebound and icing the game with free throws.
That, my friends, is Pearlfection.*By the way, I must hat tip my wife for coming up with the term.