When you've got to pull a basketball team out of a slump, it's good to have veteran leaders. Right?
Maybe, maybe not. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl says the jury is out.
The Vols are regrouping from one of the most disappointing efforts of Pearl's tenure, a listless, cold-shooting 77-55 loss at Southern California on Saturday.
"It could be harder,'' Pearl said Monday, "because we have some guys that are set in their ways.
"I think they see it. I think they'll work to try to overcome it. It can be harder when you've got a veteran group.''
The veteran Vols (8-2) dropped seven spots to No. 16 in the new Associated Press poll. They have two days of practice to address their issues before North Carolina A&T (4-7) visits Wednesday for a 7 p.m. tipoff (TV: CSS).
The failings at Southern Cal were in some regard similar to an 88-72 loss at Temple last December.
And, personnel-wise, this is essentially the same Tennessee team as last year.
"Let's just say some of the things we saw Saturday are some of the things we saw a year ago,'' Pearl said.
"There's that, 'Uh, oh, here we go again. We really haven't turned the corner. We really haven't grown enough to be a championship team.' ''
The loss at Temple last year was an omen of a January stretch in which the Vols would lose four of five home games - Gonzaga, Kentucky, Memphis and LSU - before regaining momentum.
"We learned something from (Temple) last year,'' Pearl said, "but did we learn enough to right the ship completely? No.''
The problems at Southern Cal were multiple:
n The Vols settled for 3-point shots and then didn't hit them - 2 of 22 - against USC's packed-in defense.
UT is 6-of-42 in its past two games from 3-point range.
"I think guys have to shoot with more confidence,'' said sophomore Scotty Hopson.
"If the last shot doesn't fall, the next one will. We missed a few shots and got down on ourselves.''
n UT's defense, often a strong suit this year, was porous. The Trojans shot 61.9 percent in the tone-setting first half and 56.1 for the game.
n Free-throw shooting was chilly, 52 percent, which made it difficult to eat into USC's lead.
n The Vols got hammered on the boards.
Southern Cal's 43-21 rebounding edge was the second-largest of the Pearl Era. North Carolina outrebounded the Vols 54-30 in a 101-87 win three years ago.
After North Carolina A&T, Tennessee begins a stretch of Memphis (7-2), Charlotte (9-1) and No. 1 Kansas (10-0) to lead into the SEC season.
"We know what's coming on the other side of the break,'' Pearl said.
It's a Murderer's Row compared to what has come on this side of the break.
The Vols have frequently appeared to be on cruise control since a 73-72 loss to Purdue on Nov. 23. They've turned it on when they had to in four double-digit victories over middling opposition.
Pearl cited that so-so body of work - and lackluster practice intensity - as being worrisome. But he figured the team would step it up against Southern Cal.
"We didn't, as a coach or players,'' he said.
"If I knew why, then it wouldn't have happened.''
So now he has to wonder what kind of leadership he can expect from his four seniors.
The ones who are set in their ways.
"We still have some time to get that going,'' Pearl said. "But, obviously, we're running out of time.''
Chism Gets MRI: Wayne Chism missed Monday's practice to get an MRI. The senior has had recurring soreness in his pelvic area. Trainer Chad Newman said the test was precautionary.