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This Week in UT Sports History – Feb. 1st — Feb. 7th

(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

The men’s basketball team got back on track when No. 15 Kansas (11-6) came to Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville on Saturday. Part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, the matchup marked the sixth all-time meeting between the programs. No. 18 Tennessee (12-3) took the win, 80-61, improving to 2-4 against the Jayhawks.

Meanwhile, the No. 20/22 Lady Vols improved to 12-3 (6-1 SEC) with a win against Florida, 79-65. They will need the momentum as they embark on a three-game road stretch starting Thursday night against Mississippi State.

As February begins, the Tennessee softball and baseball teams prepare for their seasons to commence. The Lady Vols look forward to the first pitch in the Coastal Carolina Tournament on Feb. 12 one week before head coach Tony Vitello and the Baseball Vols take on Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Georgia. The 2020 baseball team got off to one of the hottest starts in Tennessee history, going 15-2 before COVID-19 forced season cancellation.

Before the spring teams add to the record books, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at moments this week in UT sports history:

Feb. 3, 2012

Last week, Tennessee defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley accepted a position on the defensive staff of the Los Angeles Chargers. Ansley departs as new Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel, hired by new athletic director Danny White last week, looks to build a staff. Ansley joined former coach Jeremy Pruitt’s staff in 2019.

The 2019 season did not mark Ansley’s first on the Shields-Watkins Field sideline. Former head coach Derek Dooley announced Ansley’s appointment as cornerbacks coach on Feb. 3, 2012. He came to Rocky Top off a stint at the University of Central Florida, also the last home of Heupel. He landed at SEC East competitor Kentucky following Dooley’s termination on Nov. 18 of the same year.

“Derrick is a bright young coach with an incredibly high ceiling in this profession,” Dooley said at his press conference. “He worked with Sal Sunseri for two seasons and will be able to bring some systematic continuity to the defensive staff.”

When Jeremy Pruitt looked to fill his staff in 2019, Ansley stood out as an obvious choice. Pruitt gave Ansley his first SEC opportunity while serving as Alabama’s secondary coach in 2010. Ansley had also previously coached at Tennessee with former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

“Working with Coach Pruitt was probably the ace in the hole for me,” Ansley said at his media availability in 2019. “…He kind of gave me my start as a graduate assistant…He and I have a very, very strong and unique bond. I consider him one of my biggest mentors.”

That season, his defense allowed an average of 334.5 yards per game, good for a top 25 spot nationally. Pass defense in particular grabbed attention. The Vols allowed only 194 yards per game compared to 222.9 a season prior. Ansley’s defense also grabbed 15 interceptions that season, good for No. 13 in the country.

Ansley signed a three-year deal worth $1 million annually in February 2019. In 2020, the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Blake Toppmeyer reported Ansley stood among eight Vol football assistants who declined pay cuts during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused major financial losses for universities, their athletic departments and college towns.

Heupel now looks to fill the crucial defensive coordinator position in addition to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after parting ways with Chaney and Chris Weinke.

Feb. 2, 1987

The Lady Vols gave 100% effort against Georgia Tech at home in 1987. Pat Summitt’s high-wired offense hit the century mark, finishing the game with a perfect 100 on the box score. They beat Georgia Tech, 100-74.

The win followed a close loss to Ole Miss at home. Just two days prior, the women from the border state won by four points, 69-65, to end a four-game win streak for Tennessee. That game marked the last win for the Rebels in Knoxville. The 2020-21 team stretched the home win streak against Ole Miss to 20 straight on Jan. 28. Kellie Harper’s team held on for a 68-67 win, not too far removed from the 1987 score her mentor sought to forget.

Fans in Knoxville hoped for another win streak following the Lady Vols’ dominant bounce-back  performance.

No such luck.

Tennessee lost a heartbreaker to in-state rival Vanderbilt in Nashville, 77-76. Another loss came five days later after a win against Louisiana State. The Lady Vols had stayed in Louisiana to face the Lady Techsters in Ruston on Feb. 9, 1987. Louisiana Tech won, 72-60. Of course, Tennessee had the last laugh at the end of the season. Summitt’s Lady Vols won the program’s first of eight national titles against Louisiana Tech, 67-44, on March 29.

Eight games remain on the regular-season slate for the 2020-21 Lady Vols, all in conference. Tennessee faces Mississippi State in Starkville at 8 p.m. (SECN+ streaming).

The men’s basketball team also travels to Mississippi this week. The Vols will face Ole Miss in Oxford at 7 p.m. (ESPN 2). They, too, look to finish off eight remaining conference games before the SEC Tournament currently set to take place at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville beginning March 10.

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