This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Tennessee’s softball season kicked off this weekend with doubleheader wins on Valentine’s Day against Eastern Kentucky University in Knoxville. Rain forced cancellation of the Kickin’ Chicken Classic in Conway, South Carolina, prompting the Lady Vols to move opening day to Sunday. The team opened 2021 with a 10-0 victory in five innings before a 3-2 win shortly after.
Baseball season also begins this week with a series against Georgia Southern on the road. Play opens Friday for a three-game series before returning to Tennessee for midweek matchups with Arkansas Pine Bluff on Feb. 23 and 24.
Meanwhile, basketball seasons continued as Kellie Harper and the No. 16 Lady Vols (12-5, 6-3 SEC) lost to No. 6Texas A&M (19-1, 10-1 SEC), 80-70, on Sunday after Rick Barnes and the No. 16 Vols (14-5, 7-5 SEC) lost to LSU (13-6, 8-4 SEC) on the road Saturday afternoon.
As the latter seasons continue and the former ramp up, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at moments this week in UT sports history:
Feb. 15, 2006
Riding a seven-game win streak, Tennessee’s men’s basketball team returned to Rocky Top with much fanfare after road victories against Kentucky and Georgia. A high-powered offense looked to take down Auburn at home. The No. 8 Vols accomplished that goal, setting a school record by sinking 16 three-point shots on the way to a 105-89 win.
Tennessee, with a 10-1 conference record, allowed Auburn to shoot 66% from the field in the second half. Despite defensive struggles, the Vols’ offensive effort helped them outscore the Tigers 64-63 in the second half, largely thanks to star sophomore guard Chris Lofton’s efforts.
After scoring only three points in the first half, Lofton erupted for 22 points after halftime. JaJuan Smith picked up a career-high 19 points to add to the box score total.
The Vols had led 42-25 in the first. And even with the century mark-passing point total, head coach Bruce Pearl found fault with his team’s performance.
“That was a game of two completely different halves. I was thrilled with the way we played in the first half. I was very disappointed by the second half,” Pearl said. “…We took the press off after 10 minutes of the second half and went with our half-court defense. It was not very good.”
Pearl said Auburn deserved credit for making shots and not giving up the game. He remained disappointed with his defense in the last few minutes, saying his team failed to guard the post and did not rebound.
With Pearl saying he was “not real happy about how [Tennessee] played,” his players focused on problem areas rather than a stellar offensive effort. Six players scored 10 points or more, but defense became the narrative.
“It was not fun at all,” Lofton said. “If we’re hitting and they’re missing, that’s something, but when both teams are hitting, that’s not real fun for us because we know Coach is going to let us know about our defense.”
However, few could ignore the point total. C.J. Watson scored 18 points, followed by Andre Patterson with 15, Major Wingate with 12 and Stanley Asumnu with 10.
Those numbers drew praise from Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo, who noted Tennessee’s confidence. Citing Lofton’s “hot shooting” and Tennessee’s swagger, Lebo spoke at length postgame about the difficulty of defending the Vols.
“They are making perimeter shots. Some of the shots they are making, especially Lofton when he gets going, he makes unbelievably difficult shots,” Lebo said. “It is nice to have a guy out on the floor who you can get a bucket from without even needing to create it. We were right in his face, and in fact, he shoots it better when you are right in his face.”
Lebo had missed Auburn’s matchup before heading to Knoxville. He stayed in the locker room at Arkansas, sick with the flu. However, he could not be sick over his team’s play after a hard-fought battle in the second half, save for feverish turnovers.
Pearl’s team went on to a 22-8 overall record that season. Tennessee exited the NCAA Tournament in the second round. Following NCAA violations, the Volunteers parted ways with Pearl in 2011.
Pearl took over at Auburn in 2014, leading the Tigers to the NCAA Final Four in 2019. Auburn faces a self-imposed postseason ban for 2020-21 following an FBI investigation into college basketball corruption, which implicated former assistant coach Chuck Person.
Meanwhile, Tennessee will look to rebound against South Carolina tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. in Knoxville following a 78-65 road loss at LSU.
Feb. 21, 2010
Four years after Tennessee’s basketball team weaponized its offense for wins, the baseball team came out swinging for the fences to do the same. Following a 16-6 win against Xavier on Feb. 19, 2010, the Vols put up a 7-6 win in Game 2 before ultimately dominating the diamond to close the series in Knoxville with a 17-1 victory.
That opening weekend, 40 runs propelled Tennessee to a 13.33 runs-per-game average against Xavier. Sophomore Charley Thurber hit the program’s first grand slam since 2003 in the series finale. The pinch-hit slammer gave the Vols four of 17 runs on only 13 hits. The performance set the bar high for head coach Todd Raleigh’s team.
“Xavier has a good program. They didn’t lose three in a row at all last season. That was a great sweep for us,” Raleigh said. “It’s important for our guys to learn how to play all three days…We have some young guys, but we have some with a lot of experience, too. Sweeping this series definitely gives us a lot of confidence.”
The 3-0 start excited Vol fans hoping to see hard hits all season long. Unfortunately, their next game after the 17-1 win put the score in reverse. Oregon State beat Tennessee 17-1 just five days later.
Tennessee scored in the double-digits 15 times during the 2010 season, earning a season-high 25 runs twice. The Vols scored 25 against Presbyterian on March 31 before taking down the Dawgs of Georgia in Athens, 25-5, on May 8. The Vols scored 14 against the Bulldogs the next day, making for their best SEC series.
The Volunteers struggled in 2010, earning a 30-26 overall record (.536 pct). Barely squeaking out a winning season, that year marked the last before a program decline. Tennessee fell to 25-29 overall the next year, 24-31 in 2012 and 22-30 in 2013 before a rebound in 2014 (31-23, 12-18 SEC).
Tennessee opens 2021 play this Friday, Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m. against Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Georgia. ESPN+ will stream the game.