KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes wants his players to carry the memories of their most lopsided loss of the season for the rest of the year.
"Some people say you forget it and move on," Barnes said Monday. "I don't think you ever forget it. I think you remember it, because if you don't remember it, it's doomed to repeat itself."
Tennessee (18-6, 8-4 SEC) wants to avoid a repeat performance Tuesday when it hosts South Carolina (13-12, 4-8), which has lost its last five games.
The Vols' effort Saturday against Alabama was out of character for a team that had emerged as one of the nation's best stories this season. The loss caused Tennessee to drop three spots in The AP Top 25.
Picked to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference at the start of the season, Tennessee instead is tied for second place . The Vols have done that without having a single player who was rated as a top-125 prospect, according to a composite ranking of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports .
Tennessee remains in good position.
On Sunday, the NCAA Division I Basketball Committee issued preliminary NCAA Tournament rankings , which indicated Tennessee would have earned a No. 4 seed if the tournament selections had been made that day. Tennessee hasn't been seeded that high in an actual NCAA Tournament since getting a No. 2 seed in 2008 and hasn't earned an NCAA bid at all since 2014.
Tennessee's six remaining regular-season games don't include any opponents currently in the Top 25, giving the Vols an opportunity for a fast finish. But they're capable of losing any of those games if they play as poorly as they did against Alabama.
The Vols have outperformed preseason expectations by outworking and outhustling opponents. That didn't happen Saturday.
Tennessee shot a season-low 28 percent from the floor, posted its lowest point total of the year and made just one basket in the last 10 minutes. A Tennessee defense that had held eight straight opponents below 64 points allowed Alabama to exceed that mark with over 10 minutes left in the game.
"From the beginning of the game, you could tell that some guys weren't in it," sophomore forward Grant Williams said after the game. "Minds weren't locked in, and we weren't being tough."
Tennessee never led all night and was outscored 50-18 in the paint. Before Saturday, the Vols hadn't lost a game by more than 10 points all season. The troubles continued even after the game, as poor weather forced Tennessee to take a bus rather than flying back to campus.
Barnes was unsparing in his criticism.
He said junior forward Kyle Alexander "played probably as poor a game (since) he's been here going back to his freshman year, and we know he had some tough ones then." He noted that Tennessee's guard play "was maybe as poor as it's been all year."
Tennessee's struggles against Alabama were surprising because the team entered the game on such a roll. The Vols had capped a six-game winning streak by beating Kentucky on the road 61-59 to complete their first regular-season sweep of the Wildcats since 1998-99.
Barnes believes his players may have gotten caught up in all the positive publicity that had surrounded the program. He noted the best teams don't allow that to happen.
"Everybody wants to know why I don't compliment players," Barnes said. "It's for a reason. They want to be complimented. That's why they search out and look at papers when they play well. We've got a team of guys that I can tell you, when they have big games, it's almost a pattern they come back and don't play well."
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