KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Bruce Pearl went 4-2 against Memphis while Tennessee’s head basketball coach from 2005-2011, and four of those contests came against one of his fiercest rivals, John Calipari.
Calipari, now at Kentucky, got the better of Pearl on Saturday, the Wildcats beating Pearl’s Auburn Tigers 92-72 in Rupp Arena.
After the game, the coaches were asked about their relationship with one another, and the Tennessee-Memphis basketball rivalry came up.
It was a rivalry that peaked with an historic No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in 2008, a game the Vols won to assume their first-ever No. 1 ranking in school history.
The schools played annually during Pearl’s tenure, each game a sellout with fans fierce toward one another in one of college basketball’s hottest rivalries.
After Pearl’s departure, the Vols dropped three straight games to Memphis and the teams finished the annual series in 2013.
“When (Calipari) went to Memphis he was at, and this is hard to believe and hard to imagine, but I was at the big school, I was at Tennessee, Big Orange Country, and Memphis was a smaller school in a corner,” Pearl said at his press conference Saturday in Rupp Arena.
“They hated Tennessee, and so that was the beginning of them trying to have a bit of rivalry. So I’d like to think that some of the things that he doesn’t like about me, are some of the things that I don’t like about him.”
One such thing would be the confidence each coach carries.
Prior to the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown, Pearl appeared at a pep rally in Memphis and guaranteed those in attendance that Tennessee was going to “kick Memphis’ ass.”
Pearl, who led Tennessee to six consecutive NCAA Tournaments and the program’s first-ever Elite Eight appearance — also did that before the Vols beat Florida in a game at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Pearl said Saturday that he respected Calipari. And, as was Pearl’s custom before every game he faced Calipari, he credited him with “one of the greatest coaching jobs anyone has ever done” at UMass.
Pearl said Saturday “it matters if you can beat John Calipari at Kentucky,” and, “I want him to be pissed off that we beat him last year.”
Calipari, as he is apt to do, handled the Pearl questions with aplomb Saturday night.
“Why would he think I don’t like him?” Calipari said. “No matter what I say it will be, ‘here’s what he means.’ You guys read my mind.
“We had some great games for a while when he was at Tennessee and I was at Memphis. We beat him, he beat us. Does anybody know the record? I would guess that we’ve won more than he’s won.”
Calipari concluded that he has “no problem with Bruce,” and he thinks Pearl is doing a good job at Auburn.
Bruce Pearl vs. Memphis at Tennessee
vs. John Calipari (2-2)
2005-06: No. 4 Memphis 99, Tennessee 79, in Memphis
2006-07: Tennessee 76, No. 16 Memphis 58, in Knoxville
2007-08: No. 2 Tennessee 66, No. 1 Memphis 62, in Memphis
2008-09: Memphis 54, No. 22 Tennessee 52, in Knoxville
vs. Josh Pastner (2-0)
2009-10: No. 14 Tennessee 66, Memphis 59, in Memphis
2010-11: Tennessee 104, No. 21 Memphis 84, in Knoxville