KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Sometimes it’s the games you’re supposed to win that can be the toughest, and Tennessee coach Rick Barnes knows that better than anyone.
“I think our guys understand this game Saturday will be as hard as any game we’ve played all year,” Barnes said Friday at Pratt Pavilion. “We know we can’t be thinking about anything but this game.”
The No. 18-ranked Vols (19-6, 9-4 SEC) are starting to get more attention as one of the Cinderella stories of the season after being picked to finish 13th in the league in October.
Georgia, coming off an overtime win at Florida, could shatter the Vols’ glass slipper with a victory at Stegeman Coliseum. The Bulldogs (14-11, 5-8) own a four-game win streak over Tennessee, and the 6 p.m. Saturday in Athens is a sellout.
This will mark the sixth straight time opponents have sold out their arena to see the Vols.
Tennessee, with its gaudy No. 13 RPI rating has become a bigger target — something Barnes notes not all teams can handle.
“You look around the country, a lot of teams are getting beat,” Barnes said, citing Purdue’s 3-game losing streak and Ohio State getting blown out by Penn State. “Other teams are getting better, and some teams are playing with house money, saying what do we have to lose.
“That’s where you admire the teams that can stay on top all year long because of the mental stress of knowing that wherever you go, you’re a resume builder.”
Tennessee hasn’t looked like the team that reeled off six straight wins in its past two games, losing at Alabama 78-50 and squeezing out a 70-67 win against South Carolina.
Barnes said it’s important the Vols get their momentum back, but it’s not as easy as flipping a switch.
“You want to be playing good this time of year, and you want the mindset to be right,” Barnes said. “This is what you work for, you’ve had a long year, and everyone has.
“Everyone wants to get it going right now, and it’s hard.”
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