I figured last week that the three games facing the University of Tennessee men's basketball team would one of the more difficult stretches they would encounter this season. Then after losing to a good LSU team and number 4 ranked Memphis both on the road, I was afraid that Vol fans might have to be satisfied with moral victories in those games.

That was on my mind Saturday when the ranked #2 Florida Gators arrived to showcase their undefeated team in front of over 24,000 Vol fans packed into Thompson-Boling Arena.

Talk about David meets Goliath, this was it. Florida knew they were playing for the #1 national ranking prior to the tip off, as Duke had lost to Georgetown earlier in the day.

But this is not the old Tennessee team; no, this is the new and improved Bruce Pearl's brand of basketball. The result: Tennessee 80, Florida 76.

If ever any of you doubted this coach, I dare say now many of you are fast becoming Bruce Pearl disciples.

How exciting can one game be?

Tennessee, seemingly out manned, playing with four guards against Floridaís huge front line down the stretch, matched them point for point, holding the lead most of the last 8 minutes of the game. Then, to make things more difficult, point guard C.J. Watson fouls out. No problem, enter Jordon Howell to run the show.

How did he do? Well, he ran the offense flawlessly and added four critical points. But the real stars this night were Chris Lofton with 29 points, Andre Patterson (10 points and 10 rebounds), who at 6-7 was the tallest Vol on the floor for most of the second half, and the gutsy play of 6-4 Dane Bradshaw.

Bradshaw has been huge all year and has really flourished under the coaching of Bruce Pearl. Remember, you can measure the size of a player but not the size of their heart. This team, under this coach, plays with a huge heart.

This has to rank up there as one of the biggest victories ever in UT basketball. For Bruce Pearl to take this team and mold them into a TEAM with a NEW system in several short months is nothing short of amazing. There is a love affair brewing in Tennessee between this coach, this team and the fans that will not be extinguished in the foreseeable future.

Coach Pearl told the students waiting to enter the arena before the game that the team had not done anything yet to deserve this kind of support. I beg to differ with you Coach; you gave Tennessee Vol fans something to get excited about and after a dismal football season, it came at just the right time.

The entire Big Orange Nation can carry their head a little higher this week, thanks to Coach Pearl and the Vol basketball team.

As for the Florida Gators, well, they will not soon forget their first taste of the new and improved Tennessee basketball. I am sure they will not be looking forward to their next trip to Knoxville.

The men move to 12-3 and 3-1 in the SEC. I am sure that when the latest rankings come out this week, Tennessee will be in the top 25. Wonder what ole Tubby up there in Kentucky is saying about Coach Pearl's brand of ball now? He will get a look at it up close when the Vols make a house call to the Cats in early February.

Looking for some more positive news?

How about Pat Summitt and her 900th coaching victory!! How sweet it was and coming against that other SEC school in Nashville made it even better. I look forward to seeing her posting the next milestone victory, 1,000. A mark I doubt will never be eclipsed.

Speaking of this last game, it was a great atmosphere for a college basketball game.

A Big Orange thank you goes to the many Lady Vol fans that made the trip to Nashville to support the team and Pat Summitt on this historic night.

The Lady Vol faithful helped to fill the arena; Pat Summitt said that it sounded like a home game crowd at times that night. The extra people in attendance helped put money in the Vanderbilt athletic department's coffers. So in the end, it was a great night for women's college basketball.

Monday night the Lady Vols will travel to Duke where they will most likely play their toughest game of the year against the second ranked Lady Blue Devils.

On their home court, it will be a tough game to win, but if any team can pull it off, this Lady Vol team has what it takes. By the time you read this, we will know just how things turned out in Durham.

In closing, let me remind you UT fans that a great resource of UT basketball history can be found daily on Main Street inside of Mitchell's Drug Store. Bob Mitchell loves to talk UT sports and if you stop by and coax him, I am sure he will share a story or two with you.

Until next time, stay safe and don't forget your local Jet and Lady Jet basketball teams.

Have you been there to see them play yet? Many of you turned out last Friday night to see both teams win. The gym was three quarters full; come on, let's pack the gym for at least one game this year! This is the one thing that my fellow columnist, Jim Butler, and I can agree on.

Oh by the way, speaking of Jim Butler, he will not only hear a lot of Rocky Top on Nov. 18 this year, but I suspect will have his fill of the Michigan fight song on Sept. 2 as well!! GO VOLS!!

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Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent, and his column appears periodically.

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