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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Geogg Caulkins - Message to Tigers and Vols: Just win on Wednesday, baby

Message to Tigers and Vols: Just win on Wednesday, baby
By Geoff Calkins
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It was our own Dan Wolken who pushed Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl over the edge.

Wolken -- who covers Memphis basketball for this newspaper -- logged on to Monday's SEC teleconference. He asked if it would be hard for Pearl and John Calipari to keep their teams from looking ahead to Saturday's game between Memphis and Tennessee.

It was the third question about Memphis on the SEC teleconference. Pearl was not amused.

"I'm on an SEC conference call, and we have three or four Memphis questions," Pearl said. "The Auburn Tigers, this week, are the most important game on our schedule because it's an SEC game."

And if you believe that, I've got a bright orange bridge I'd like to sell you.

Or a copy of Pearl and Calipari's new book collaboration, "Best Friends."

Tennessee's most important game this week is against Memphis. Memphis' most important game this week is against Tennessee.

The game is silly big. It's stupid big. And Monday, it got bigger still.

That's when the Associated Press and the ESPN/USA Today polls were released.

The AP poll:

1. Memphis.

2. Tennessee.

The ESPN/USA Today poll:

1. Memphis.

2. Tennessee.

So, uh, coach Pearl, care to comment on the potential challenges posed by Quan Prowell?

He plays for Auburn. And I think I speak for everyone when I say: Who gives a flip?

Just don't lose to Auburn Wednesday night, Tennessee. Don't screw this thing up.

And don't you lose to Tulane Wednesday night, Memphis. Not after so many things had to go right to arrive at this moment in time.

Calipari had to take a program that was in shambles and lift it to No. 1 in the land; Pearl had to take a program that was in shambles and lift it to No. 2.

Really, what are the odds? Memphis and Tennessee, in that order, atop the college basketball universe.

No North Carolinas in between them, no UCLAs or Kentuckys or Ohio States.

At this point last week, Kansas and Duke both ranked ahead of Tennessee in the polls. Somehow, both Kansas and Duke lost.

"ESPN's behind it, it's a conspiracy," Calipari said.

Nope. Calipari and Pearl are behind it. And two teams doing astonishing things.

The latest astonishing thing came Saturday at UAB, where the Tigers rallied from seven points down with 1:30 left.

"We won with what we thought we'd win with," Calipari said, "free-throw shooting."

Calipari laughed. Because what else was there to do? At some point, this stuff becomes impossible to explain.

How did Memphis escape UAB? I don't know. How did the Tigers win 44 straight regular-season games? How did the state of Tennessee become the epicenter of college basketball? How did a coach who can't keep his shirt on turn Knoxville into a basketball town? How did a fast-talking Yankee lift a Conference USA program to a place above any and all BCS conference schools?

"I'll leave that to y'all," said Memphis forward Chris Douglas-Roberts. "I'm focused on Tulane."

Of course he is. Just as Pearl is focused on Auburn. They're a player and a coach. What else do you expect?

Memphis and Tennessee created Saturday's epic match-up by winning single game after single game after single game.

"What Memphis has done to build this streak is to take it one game at a time," Pearl said. "Obviously, we're going to do the same thing."

So for Tennessee, it's Auburn. For Memphis, it's Tulane. No peeking. No looking ahead at history.

"We're only looking at Tulane," said Douglas-Roberts.

Uh-huh. Sure you are. Remind us again, who plays for Tulane, Chris?

He laughed.

"I don't know," he said.

To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or e-mail

No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 2 Tennessee

When, where: 8 p.m. Saturday at FedExForum


Tickets: Sold out

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