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January 25, 2013Continuing their Southeastern Conference rematch tour, Cuonzo Martin's Tennessee Volunteers return home Saturday afternoon for another crack at surprising Alabama (12-6, 4-1).
Tip is 2 p.m. inside Thompson-Boling Arena, and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.
The Vols (9-8, 1-4), losers in five of their last six games but a factor in virtually each of those contests, return home for just the second time since Jan. 10. They do so less than 48 hours after a tough, come-from-ahead 62-56 loss at 23rd-ranked Ole Miss.
Tennessee fell 68-65 on Jan. 12 at Alabama, which earlier this week knocked off defending national champion Kentucky at home.
"I think the quick turnaround will help our guys, especially an opponent that we've played before," Martin said Friday inside the Vols' Pratt Pavilion. "As far as the Ole Miss game, we won't really spend much time on it. We'll touch on a few things, but we've got to put it behind us and focus on Alabama."
Added guard Jordan McRae, who has emerged as the Vols' only consistent scoring threat and ranks second in SEC play at 21.6 points per game, "It's not too difficult [to move forward]. Playing in the SEC, you know there are going to be times like this. We really have to focus on Alabama."
If Tennessee is to notch just its second win this calendar year, it will need to severely cut down on the turnover woes that have plagued the Vols since the onset of SEC play and Trae Golden's slump. The Vols have committed 11 or more turnovers in four of their five SEC games; they're coming off a 21-turnover night at Ole Miss in which they squandered a 25-18 halftime edge.
"That's been a problem with us the last three or four games that we lost close," McRae said. "We've just got to do a better job at the end of the game.
"We're turning the ball over and then not getting stops at the end."
Despite the January swoon, the Vols insist they can attain plenty of the goals set forth coming into this season. Three of their next four games are at home, and they also say they can draw strength from their midseason struggles last year that gave way to an second-place finish in the SEC.
"Just remember that we've been through adversity before; this is not the first time," senior forward Kenny Hall said. "This is just something we have to get through. There's still a lot of basketball to be played."
Tennessee is seeking to avenge its earlier loss to the Crimson Tide in which it led late in the second half but then had turnovers on four-straight possessions and saw host 'Bama seize control with a 62-55 lead before the Vols regained their footing. Martin stressed Tennessee targets 10 turnovers or fewer in league play and noted that his squad had averaged roughly a dozen turnovers before their error-prone performance at Ole Miss.
"Well I think the key is to handle their press the way we did in the first half and finish the game," Martin said. "I think we didn't do a very good job in the second half, especially in the last three or four minutes. I think we had four key turnovers that turned the game around."
The Crimson Tide are led by a trio of starters in double figures, including leading scorer and junior guard Trevor Releford at more than 16 points per game. Sophomore Alabama natives Trevor Lacey, 12.2, and Rodney Cooper, 11.3, round out the triumvirate.
After this game, Tennessee has upcoming home tilts against Vanderbilt (Jan. 29) and Georgia (Feb. 6) sandwiched around a road trip to Arkansas (Feb. 2).