Tennessee Stat Book
SEATTLE - Bruce Pearl's defensive preaching and teaching paid off with a marquee win over traditional West Coast power Gonzaga on Saturday.
No. 11 Tennessee smothered the Zags, leading by as many as 18 points en route to an easier-than-expected 82-72 men's basketball victory before the crowd of 15,141 at KeyArena.
JaJuan Smith's 18 points led six Vols who scored in double figures; J.P. Prince had 12, Chris Lofton and Tyler Smith 11 apiece, and Ramar Smith and Wayne Chism each had 10.
But Pearl said defense was the key to this game, a sentiment he backed up numerous times during the action with his commands to "Press Up! Press Up!'' from the bench.
"We were quick to the ball and quick rotating,'' said Pearl, whose team forced 18 turnovers and held Gonzaga (9-4) to 39.3 percent shooting. "We felt we had to make it uncomfortable for them.''
Gonzaga coach Mark Few described the game as "high-level, high-octane where every pass, every shot was challenged,'' and praised the Vols.
"Tennessee is an aggressive, athletic and opportunistic team,'' said Few. "They take every opportunity you give them … and they are creating things with their defense.''
JaJuan Smith set the tone early, getting a steal and a lay-up for the game's first points, which he followed with a 3-pointer to give the Vols (12-1) a 5-0 lead.
"When you go on the road, you've got to play well early,'' Pearl said. "Our defense was really good early. We tried to put pressure on them to not allow them to run their stuff. You let them run their stuff, you can forget about it.''
The Vols built a 15-5 lead thanks in part to steals by Lofton and Prince before Gonzaga started to settle down and get the crowd back into it.
Josh Heytvelt's 6-foot-11 presence, combined with Steven Gray's hot shooting, led to the Zags going on a 12-0 run to take a 17-15 lead on a Gray 3-pointer at the 9:50 mark.
Gonzaga's only lead of the game lasted 30 seconds.
Tyler Smith drove to tie it at 17-17, Lofton followed with a 3-pointer and then a steal that led to a JaJuan Smith bucket that put the Vols back up 22-17 with 8:32 left.
UT held the five-point advantage into the half when Ramar Smith hit a 3-pointer with three seconds on the clock to make it 36-31.
The Vols extended the lead when Jordan Howell and JaJuan Smith hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push the advantage to 42-33 less than 1 1/2 minutes into the second half.
The Zags closed to within 45-40 a few minutes later when Matt Bouldin scored two of his game-high 21 points on a put-back basket.
Gonzaga out-rebounded the Vols 41-32, but simply couldn't handle UT's quickness and defensive pressure.
A Ramar Smith steal and alley-oop pass led to a Prince dunk that keyed an 11-2 run that Lofton capped with a 3-pointer to make it 56-42 with 11:18 left.
The Vols held their biggest lead of the game after JaJuan Smith and Lofton hit back-to-back treys to make it 64-46 with 9:49 left. The lead was still at 18, 69-51, when Ramar Smith scored on a drive with 7:22 on the clock.
The Zags made their final charge when Austin Daye's 3-pointer sparked an 11-3 run that included two Heytvelt dunks. Jeremy Pargo's two free throws with 4:12 left made it 72-62.
Those were Pargo's first points of the game; impressive when one considers Pargo was one of 50 players on the preseason Wooden Award list.
While Pargo heated up, the Vols missed four of their next six shots, and a Bouldin drive and 3-pointer cut the lead to 76-71 with 1:15 left.
With the game on the line, UT put the ball in Prince's hands, and the sophomore transfer drained three of four free throws on the next two possessions to seal the UT win.
Tyler Smith put an exclamation point on the victory with a reverse dunk at the buzzer.
The Vols won't practice again until Thursday, and their next game is on Jan. 9 at Thompson-Boling Arena against No. 22 Ole Miss (12-0).