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Boulder says it all; UT men now No. 1

Boulder says it all; UT men now No. 1

By: By Beth Rucker, Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE (AP) — The Rock said it all: 1.
The gigantic boulder on which Tennessee students have been painting “happy birthday” messages and praise for Volunteer victories since the ’60s bore only that number painted in orange against a black backdrop on Sunday morning.
It’s the ranking the No. 2 Volunteers likely will ascend to Monday on the heels of their 66-62 victory over top-ranked Memphis on Saturday night, their first victory over a No. 1 opponent since 1969.
The Rocky Top faithful are ready to celebrate.
A few hundred fans chanting, “It’s great to be a Tennessee Vol!” greeted the Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville when they arrived at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
But the Vols (25-2) have little time to share in the excitement. They have four games left to wrap up the Southeastern Conference schedule, starting with a trip Tuesday night to No. 20 Vanderbilt and another sold-out crowd.
Sophomore guard Ramar Smith said the only way to top being No. 1 would be to win the school’s first national championship in men’s basketball.
“Of course, we know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” he said. “We’ve got to take it and deliver and step up. That’s really what it’s all about right now.”
Teammate Tyler Smith, who scored back-to-back buckets to put the Vols ahead to stay in Memphis, relishes being No. 1 but knows work remains.
“We’ve got a big game coming up Tuesday with Vanderbilt. We’re back in conference play, and that’s where we’ve got to take care of (business),” he said.
That didn’t stop coach Bruce Pearl from soaking in the Volunteers’ victory.
“It’s not the time to reflect other than to be proud of who you are and where you’re from and just feeling very, very blessed…,” Pearl said. “This is the land of opportunity. What a great country. So right now we’re taking full advantage of it.”
Tennessee snapped Memphis’ run at perfection, handing the Tigers their first loss in 27 games this season and stopping the nation’s longest home winning streak at 47 games.
And they did it in a hardworking style at the FedExForum with Priscilla Presley watching from a front-row seat and Tennessee alum Peyton Manning in a luxury box.
The Vols outworked Memphis on the boards and denied the drives to the basket that key the Tigers’ offense.
The Vols became the fifth No. 2 to down an instate No. 1 on the road.
Not bad for a coach who spent 14 years as an assistant, then nine working at Division II Southern Indiana.
Tennessee basketball has had its moments, including the Ernie and Bernie show of the 1970s featuring Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King. And the Volunteers have 15 NCAA tournament appearances, including two straight.
But a Final Four? The Vols have never gotten past the regional semifinals, losing four times, including last year to Ohio State.
That is why Pearl visited with a couple groups within two hours of tipoff Saturday night, including a pep rally where he predicted the Vols were only 40 minutes from the first No. 1 ranking in Tennessee’s history.
He said he wasn’t going to let success change him, not when he still has work left to build the Vols into a national program like Tennessee has in women’s basketball and football, which has overshadowed men’s basketball — until now.
Pearl sees fan support on the road as a key.
“That’s huge. The Lady Vols have been going to NCAA tournaments and no matter what city in the country they go to … they have more fans on the road. We’ve got to try to get our fans around the country to come out and follow us as we get ready to go into the NCAA tournament,” Pearl said.
But first things first.
The Vols visit Vanderbilt, then host Kentucky in a week and retire Grunfeld’s jersey with a trip to Florida.
“It just doesn’t get better,” Pearl said.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Memphis contributed to this report.


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