No. 7 Vols bring streak of big wins into Alabama matchup

·4 min read

Seventh-ranked Tennessee aims to remain unbeaten when it takes on Alabama in a Southeastern Conference matchup on Saturday night in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Volunteers (7-0, 1-0 SEC) have won each of their past five games by at least 20 points, and the average winning margin during the stretch is 34.2.

The latest impressive triumph was a 73-53 road win over No. 12 Missouri on Wednesday to open SEC play.

Santiago Vescovi, who scored 15 points and made three 3-pointers during the victory, maintained that the strong performance wasn't about delivering a message to the rest of the conference.

"I don't think it's about showing people anything, it's just showing to ourselves what we can really do," Vescovi said. "We showed it. At some points I think we could have done a better job. We have a lot of room to improve. But I think we did a really good job in terms of effort and all the guys were on the same page. I think that's what really helped us."

Alabama (6-3, 1-0) also won its conference opener by rolling past visiting Ole Miss 82-64 on Tuesday.

Jahvon Quinerly came off the bench to score a career-best 24 points in 32 minutes. The sophomore is averaging 19 points over the past two games to raise his season average to 13.1, second highest on the squad.

Jaden Shackelford is averaging a team-leading 13.4 while Herbert Jones is contributing 12.1 points and a team-best 6.3 rebounds. John Petty Jr. also is in double digits at 12.1 points per game.

Petty wasn't in the starting lineup against Ole Miss after serving a one-game suspension and missing the previous contest against East Tennessee State. He scored 13 points against the Rebels and made three 3-pointers while playing 27 minutes.

"That was Coach's decision," Petty said of Nate Oats deciding to bring him off the bench. "He felt like that would have been the best lineup to start the game out with, and honestly, I think that was the best lineup to start. They brought a lot of energy and set the standard for us coming off the bench.

"I'll take on whatever role the coach gives me, no matter if I'm a senior or not. That really doesn't even bother me. I wasn't even paying attention to that."

Oats insisted that he has no issues with Petty despite the recent disciplinary action.

"That's 100 percent in the past," Oats said. "It really was an in-house deal that really wasn't that major of a deal. I think some people, from what I heard on social media, blew it way out of proportion. He's a good kid that means well and wants us to win, and we just had to get him focused in on what he needed to get focused in on. I think he's right where he needs to be."

The Crimson Tide's defensive focus could be split on the Volunteers' three double-digit scorers: Victor Bailey Jr. (12.6 points per game), John Fulkerson (11.7 points, team-high 6.3 rebounds per game) and reserve Jaden Springer (11.7 ppg). Vescovi chips in nine points per game and has a team-best 15 3-pointers.

One of Tennessee's more valuable players is Yves Pons, who averages 8.3 points and six rebounds and has a team-leading 11 blocked shots. Pons impressed coach Rick Barnes with a solid all-around outing of 13 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots and his typical solid defensive play versus Missouri.

"He wants to be good at it, which I think is the best thing about him," Barnes said of the 6-foot-6 Pons. "He really wants to take pride in it. What I will tell you is that he can get so much better at it. He's a player that we know can guard all five spots."

Tennessee has won three of the past four meetings with Alabama, including a 69-68 road win last season.

--Field Level Media