What a difference a year makes.
Almost a year ago, an "injured" Tony Harris sprinted 50 feet in street clothes to join a scuffle in a 103-95 loss to Kentucky that symbolized an entire disappointing season.
Last night, a much less talented and much more determined Tennessee team defeated the No. 10 Wildcats 76-74 in overtime.
Not bad for a team with a seven-man rotation during the last 22 minutes of the game. "We just played hard the whole game," said junior forward Marcus Haislip, who dominated the post all night for a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds. "A lot of people doubted us about getting this win tonight. But we knew we could do it."
After finding out earlier in the afternoon that starting center Brandon Crump would miss the game because of the flu, the Vols had to be wondering if they would have enough players to play the game.
In his first start of the season, senior guard Del Baker made his presence felt on the defensive end, limiting All-American forward Tayshaun Prince to 2-of-9 shooting from behind the arc.
Junior guard Jon Higgins, who along with Haislip and Vincent Yarbrough played over 43 minutes, said that nothing could deter these resilient Vols from their biggest victory of the season.
"We weren't worried about (depth) tonight," Higgins said. "Yeah, we're thin, but we've been that way all season. We've learned how to adjust when things go wrong."
Higgins' status was questionable heading into the game because of a pulled lower back muscle. He did not practice on Tuesday.
While the Vols have had a thin bench all season, things began to look ridiculous at the 16:40 mark in the second half.
Senior guard Jenis Grindstaff came out on fire in the second half, sinking four straight layups to cut the Wildcat lead to 41-38. Grindstaff's reward for outstanding play was a knee injury on the other end of the court seconds later.
The Vols fought to take a 66-60 lead with 2:06 remaining in the game. Victory seemed certain.
But then late-game disaster seemed to rear its ugly head at the Vols once again. Wildcat guard Gerald Fitch drilled two 3-pointers in the final 17 seconds, one at the buzzer, to send the game into overtime.
"We just had to regroup," Haislip said. "We knew that we were going to do whatever it took to win that ballgame. We were not going to be denied."
As Prince launched a potential game-winning 3-pointer as time expired in overtime, Haislip said he knew it wasn't going in.
"I just had a feeling," Haislip said. "So many things have gone against us this year that I knew it was our turn."
Kentucky plays ball
Published: Thu Feb 07, 2002 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 04:03 p.m.