Vandy typically tough, atypically athletic

Tennessee guard Josh Bone, a senior from Nashville, knows a lot about Vanderbilt basketball.

Josh Bone and the Vols claim they're ready for the most athletic Vanderbilt team they've faced.

And he knows these Commodores seem different from most of their predecessors.

“I grew up watching them a lot, and I know Coach (Kevin) Stallings well, and he’s never had a team this athletic,” said Bone, a former Brentwood Academy star. “But they are.”

Vanderbilt has typically been a tough, savvy team with a few athletes sprinkled around a solid corps of shooters.

“All our upperclassmen have a lot of respect for them,” UT freshman point guard Trae Golden said. “That says a lot.”

But let’s say a little bit more.

It’s quite possible that these Commodores are better than the previous ones UT respected.

These Commodores (12-3, 1-1 SEC) are one of the SEC’s most athletic teams — more athletic, one could argue, than the Vols (10-6, 0-2).

And, as Bone said, “they still have good and great shooters.”

Cameron Tatum said the Vols "just can't" open SEC play with three consecutive losses.

“Since I’ve been here, they’ve been a shooting team, but I think that’s changed,” UT senior center Brian Williams said. “They’re mixing it up now with both physicality, and they’ve got shooters. They’ve got every aspect of the game you need to win.

“In my personal opinion, they were the best (SEC) team coming into the season besides us.”

Neither is in first place right now, though. And if the Vols lose today, they’ll be three games off the pace after just three games.

“There’s got to be a sense of urgency,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said Friday night. “I asked the team, ‘Are we playing for a conference championship tomorrow?’ Why wouldn’t we feel like we’re playing for a conference championship? Vanderbilt is a team that’s going to compete for it. We’re a team that competes for it. You can’t look back. You’ve got to look forward.

“We’ve got to play like our lives depended on it.”

Pearl was then asked if he worried about putting too much pressure on his team before a game that was hosting ESPN’s College Gameday.

“I’m much more, ‘It is what it is,’” Pearl said. “I’d rather not hide behind, ‘Well, let’s not tell them this is a very important game, because that way they’ll have more confidence.’ My biggest focus is, ‘Are we playing for a championship? Are we practicing like we’re playing for a championship? Are we planning on winning the SEC East?’ If so, we’ve got to win this game. That’s all there is to it.

“If that’s pressure, ...well, welcome to the real world.”

Scotty Hopson: "Our guys respond to pressure, respond to adversity."

Junior guards Scotty Hopson and Cameron Tatum didn’t try to diminish the importance of tomorrow’s game. Quite the contrary, actually.

“It’s very important,” Tatum said. “When I say it’s just another game, I mean it’s just another game as far as the lights and all of that, but this game is very important for us. We don’t want to go down 0-3 to start the SEC season. We need to go out there and have a great showing to show the SEC and show the world that we’re not going down.”

Hopson said he welcomed the pressure because he and his teammates “don’t fold.”

“When it’s the big stage and the big game, we’ve showed up, for the most part,” Hopson said. “We need something to motivate us to get us into the mode that we need to get a win. Anything we can do to motivate ourselves, motivate each other to prepare harder (is good).

“Whatever it takes to get this win, man.”

It’ll take a lot.

But the Vols claim they understand that. And they’re ready for it.

As Tatum said, “They’ve got great athletes, but so do we.”

“They’ve got some athletes, and they’ve got some strong, physical guys, and they’ve got some good, capable shooters, and they’re pretty well-coached,” Tatum added. “They bring a lot of different aspects to their game that might present us with some challenges, but we’re ready to meet those challenges, and we’re ready to play.”

Hopson agreed.

“Our guys respond to pressure, respond to adversity,” Hopson said. “We’ve definitely responded positively to adversity in the past, so why not put that pressure on yourself? It should be like that every game. You should always put pressure on yourself to get that ‘W.’

“So let’s go out there with that attitude into tomorrow’s game.”

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