Following their 82-75 win over Auburn on Wednesday, the Tennessee Volunteers (18-11, 10-7 SEC) will look to finish off the regular season strong against the Missouri Tigers (22-8, 11-6).
For a bubble team like Tennessee, every game is huge, but against a team like Missouri who is a top 50 RPI opponent, the significance of this game weighs a bit more than other games.
“We all know it’s important,” sophomore guard Josh Richardson said. “We all know what’s on the line here so if that doesn’t get us motivated I don’t know what will.”
This game will not only be important because of the highly rated team the Vols will play but also because it is Senior Night for Kenny Hall and Skylar McBee and as junior guard Trae Golden said, the biggest thing on Saturday will be getting in a win for those two.
“They have meant a lot,” Golden said. “I’m really good friends with them so just playing for them and getting a win for them is probably the biggest thing.”
A win for the Vols will be big in their attempt to get a bid into the NCAA Tournament, but junior guard Jordan McRae said that the team is trying to win for other reasons.
“We just want to win the game,” McRae said. “Not because of those reasons (getting into the NCAA Tournament) but just because it’s a game we want to win to better ourselves for the SEC Tournament.”
The Vols should be better suited to come away with this game if the defense is able to lock up Missouri’s point guard, Phil Pressey, who averages 11.9 points and 7.1 assists this season.
“He’s a great player,” Richardson said. “He sees the floor really well, he’s a little, quick guy so we can’t let him get in the middle of the floor in transition, that’s where he does a lot of damage.”
Since switching to a four guard lineup for the Vanderbilt game on Feb. 13 the Vols have gone 6-1, but the in that span the Vols haven’t really played a team with the interior presence that Missouri has with Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers. With that said, Golden believes that Missouri will be forced to switch their gameplan more than Tennessee will.
“I think what we are doing is working," Golden said. “I don’t think we really need to change anything. If anything, I think that they need to change their gameplan, instead of us changing our gameplan, so we’re going to go in looking to attack the same way we always do.”
In the game against Auburn, Golden showed why he is so valuable to the team when he stepped up for 21 points on a night where McRae didn’t shoot particularly well from the floor.
“I’m the quarterback of the team so obviously they are going to react very well to me,” Golden said. “I just try to make sure that, above anything, I’m always in attack mode and just getting guys involved and that’s what I try to do.”
A large crowd is expected at Thompson-Boling Arena for when the game tips off at 4 p.m.
“Guys just feed off the energy from the crowd,” Stokes said. “Jordan and Trae are definitely two of those guys who are very emotional when it comes to the crowd, they just feed off of it and you can tell by the way they play. As a team, we play much better at home.”