Bruce Pearl returns to sideline at Rupp

Sophomore guard DeAndre Liggins, while feeling the pain of a fall from the previous play, helps a Tennessee player to his feet during the first half of the game against Tennessee at the Thompson-Bowling Arena on Saturday. Photo by Zach Brake

Bruce Pearl has sat out the first eight Southeastern Conference road games, watching Tennessee’s games from hotel rooms, after being suspended for recruiting violations. He’s been through a teary-eyed interview on national television.

Now, he makes his 2011 conference coaching debut against UK Tuesday at 9 p.m.

“(Commissioner Mike Slive) really punished me by allowing me to come back and go to Rupp Arena and the O-Dome,” Pearl said, referring to the upcoming games against UK and Florida, in his SEC teleconference. “What a wonderful award to be able to come back and go to those two places.”

Pearl said his team will “gain a voice” on the sidelines to instruct and coach during games. The volume from Tennessee’s bench might also increase if the officiating goes as he anticipates.

“We’ll probably get a worse whistle with me in there,” Pearl said.

His counterpart, UK head coach John Calipari, doesn’t see his presence making a sizeable impact. Calipari called Tennessee the “most talented team in our league,” citing their size and depth.

But Pearl might not be the only one coming back. Scotty Hopson, who is coming back from an ankle injury, went through a walkthrough but will be a game-time decision. Last year, Hopson scored a combined 36 points in three games against UK.

“Scotty is questionable for the game,” Pearl said. “If he does play, he’ll play limited minutes. He’s trying to get back. He tried to get back for Alabama, couldn’t go. He’s trying to get back for this one.”

Calipari, who said Tennessee is “obviously better with him,” is preparing like Hopson will be on the floor.

“I believe he’ll play,” Calipari said. “It’s coming down here, it’s Kentucky. My belief is he will play.”