Tennessee trying to stay in NCAA tournament hunt

The Vols have lost  three straight SEC games, but they are hoping to remain in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid.

FILE - This Nov. 17, 2010, file photo shows Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl yelling to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri State, in Knoxville, Tenn. Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive has suspended Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl for the Volunteers' first eight conference games as punishment for violating NCAA rules and misleading investigators. Slive sent a letter Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010, that informed Pearl he is prohibited from participating in practices, meetings and any activities related to games between Jan. 8 and Feb. 5. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl prefers to be aiming for championships. Right now his Volunteers are just hoping to earn an NCAA tournament bid.

Three straight Southeastern Conference losses have dropped Tennessee (15-10, 5-5) into a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Division with Kentucky and one game ahead of last-place South Carolina (13-10, 4-6), which visits the Vols on Wednesday.

Pearl thinks his players can still earn decent seeds in the SEC tournament and even the NCAA tournament if they play well down the stretch.

First, Tennessee must focus on closing games out better while getting stronger play from its point guards.

Pearl also must continue to ease back into his role on the sideline in his third game back from an eight-game SEC suspension.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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