Strange: Vols need a fresh start to tough week

Mike Strange
Tennessee guard J.P. Prince, left, tries to defend Vanderbilt forward Jeffery Taylor (44), of Sweden, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010. Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee 90-71.

Frederick Breedon

Tennessee guard J.P. Prince, left, tries to defend Vanderbilt forward Jeffery Taylor (44), of Sweden, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010. Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee 90-71.

NASHVILLE - Well, there's still Lexington to look forward to.

Vanderbilt 90, Tennessee 71.

So began the Vols' toughest week of the 2009-10 basketball season Tuesday night.

Onward to Rupp Arena.

Kentucky is a better basketball team than Tennessee. This we suspect, at least, on circumstantial evidence. The two head-to-head meetings are yet to come, Lexington first and later Knoxville.

Vanderbilt is better than the Vols. This we know, after watching the Commodores take UT down twice, by nine points in Knoxville and then by 19 in Memorial Gym.

At one point Tuesday night the margin was 27. That was in the second half.

It wasn't much better early. The gap was 16 - 22-6 - before Tennessee notched its second basket.

The Vols made a couple of runs, got as close as 10 with 17 minutes to play. But nobody was spinning it that this one could have gone either way.

"This,'' said Vandy coach Kevin Stallings, "was one of our best performances of the year.''

Said UT coach Bruce Pearl, after an evening he obviously did not enjoy in the least, "We got outplayed.

"We've got to play a lot better on the road if we want to contend.''

Pearl had hoped for better. His team was coming off a commanding home-court victory over South Carolina on Saturday. That momentum never made it over I-40 to Memorial Gym.

Vandy never let Wayne Chism get established. Scotty Hopson was a no-show until way too late.

Pearl wasn't thrilled with watching the conga line of Commodores headed to the free-throw stripe.

Vandy made 37 of 43, forward Jeffery Taylor going 12-for-12.

Pearl was exercised about it enough to get a technical foul in the first half. In the second, he motioned athletic director Mike Hamilton over to the bench for a brief conversation.

About what?

"If he liked his seat,'' Pearl said.

On a serious note, he added, "There were a lot of things out there I wasn't happy about.''

As poorly as Tennessee played Tuesday night, the sky has not fallen. The Vols are still 18-5 and 6-3 in SEC play.

But you can't feel good about the trend at this delicate point in the schedule.

The Vols played poorly at Georgia on Jan. 23 and got thumped.

They didn't play well at LSU on Feb. 4, yet won because LSU is awful.

Tuesday night in Memorial Gym was a continuation. The difference is Vandy is so good that a poor performance won't be forgiven.

And looking ahead, three of the next four games are at Kentucky (TV: ESPN, 9 p.m. Saturday), South Carolina and Florida, respectively.

Generally speaking, on the road you can't get off to a dreadful start like the Vols did Tuesday night.

They made two of their first 11 shots. Vandy made eight of its first 11.

"Your top players have got to play well early,'' said Pearl. "That gives confidence and courage away from home to the other guys.

"Some of the plays J.P. (Prince) made late, if he makes 'em early, it gives the other guys confidence.''

Prince was unafflicted by the shooting woes of his teammates. He was 8-of-12 from the field. In the waning moments, he channeled Chris Lofton, drilling three consecutive 3-point baskets.

But it was wasted, the hole already dug too deep.

Afterward, Prince was asked how the team could regroup after a disheartening outing enough to stand a chance in Rupp.

"Go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow,'' he said.

"It's just one game. You can't put too much on one game.''

To be fair, Prince offered the same sentiment, virtually word for word, after UT's last-second win over Florida 10 days earlier.

Big win, big loss, it's just one game. Then you start fresh again.

After Tuesday night, Tennessee clearly needs a fresh start in its toughest week.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276.

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Comments » 15

bahamapapavol writes:

About the only thing I enjoyed tonight was watching the game on the "BIG" screen at the Regal Cinema at West Town Mall. This screen made my 80" screen at home seem like an IPod.......too bad the Vols couldn't come through and really make it an enjoyable night. Get it together guys and redeem yourselves at Rupp Arena this Saturday! Go VOLS !!!!!!

MidTennVol writes:

Don't lose faith, people. Fight, scratch, claw and believe. At this point, what matters most is getting a bid to the show. Maybe the team will find itself by that point.

LEXKYVOLS writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEAR:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And who were the 4 primary players for Kansas who did not play?

LEXKYVOLS writes:

7 SEC games remaining, 4 of which are road games, only two of the three home games we will be the favorite, current SEC record 6-3 - I feel we have to win at least 3 of the remaining 7 games to make the NCAA tournament. So if we win the two games we are likely to be the favorite Georgia and Arkansas at home, which of the remaining 5 games is it most likely for the VOLS to win to give us that 3rd win and an 9-7 SEC record and NCAA bid?

CoverOrange writes:

How to defend Tennessee:
1. Double and sometimes triple Wayne Chism when he touches the ball in the paint.
2. Clog the paint to slow any driving toward the basket.
3. Token defend the arc cuz nobody will shoot it much less make it except Wayne or JP (JP? are you kidding me?) in which case see 1 and 2.

How to break Tennessee's defense:
1. Drive to the basket and let them foul you.

nola_vol writes:

I agree with TurboFan's assessment. But to be fair, any team that's not hitting their outside shots can be beat, unless they've got two seven-footers camped inside.

That's the wonderful thing about basketball. It's like "rock-paper-scissors"--no single strength or weapon trumps all others. There's always another way to get a win. But any night that our opponents don't have to respect the Vols' outside shooting... we're just waving our scissors while they pound the rock!

lomas98 writes:

in response to LEXKYVOLS:

7 SEC games remaining, 4 of which are road games, only two of the three home games we will be the favorite, current SEC record 6-3 - I feel we have to win at least 3 of the remaining 7 games to make the NCAA tournament. So if we win the two games we are likely to be the favorite Georgia and Arkansas at home, which of the remaining 5 games is it most likely for the VOLS to win to give us that 3rd win and an 9-7 SEC record and NCAA bid?

I agree about needing to get to 9-7. We can kiss a bye in the SEC tourney goodbye with 2 losses to Vandy. I think this team is capable of winning all the games except KY on the road. I don't think they will, but they are capable. I think the best chance of a road win is either SC or Miss St. We must hold serve at home, although I think KY is a loss. They are just a horrible matchup for this TN team. Pearl has FL's number, SC is just not that good with the exception of Downey, and Miss. St is a decent matchup for us. I think we win one of those. I don't think we can beat KY, but just think if they do. We would have 2 victories over number one seeds. That is a strong resume no matter our conference record.

tmartin writes:

anyone know why he was talking to hamilton?

arkyvol writes:

i'm starting to get that jerry green feeling about this team.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to nola_vol:

I agree with TurboFan's assessment. But to be fair, any team that's not hitting their outside shots can be beat, unless they've got two seven-footers camped inside.

That's the wonderful thing about basketball. It's like "rock-paper-scissors"--no single strength or weapon trumps all others. There's always another way to get a win. But any night that our opponents don't have to respect the Vols' outside shooting... we're just waving our scissors while they pound the rock!

True enough. And instead of having two 7 footers we have one 6-9er. And when the opposition KNOWS we can't and we won't shoot the three it makes it easy to rock our scissors. Does anybody else cringe when they see Skylar pass up a three and drive the basket?

lomas98 writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

True enough. And instead of having two 7 footers we have one 6-9er. And when the opposition KNOWS we can't and we won't shoot the three it makes it easy to rock our scissors. Does anybody else cringe when they see Skylar pass up a three and drive the basket?

I think Skyler does a better job of penetrating a zone and dishing off than anyone else on our team. He has created a lot of baskets when people run out to defend his three. With his shooting percentage I would see if he can hit that shot consistently before running out and overplaying him.

stevefrommemphis writes:

in response to tmartin:

anyone know why he was talking to hamilton?

My guess (purely a guess on my part) is that Pearl was asking permission to go ahead and get a second technical foul to get kicked out of the gym, to make a statement about the free throw / foul disparity.

A better way to make a statement would be for the Tennessee administration to go back through history and compare free throw attempts for Tennessee and Vandy in games at Memorial Gym versus games at Knoxville, then advertise the results.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I'm not mad at the players...I'm not mad at the coaches...I'm mad at losing to Vandy TWICE...
Go Vols beat Kentucky TWICE to make up for it...better yet win the SEC tourney and go real deep in NCAAs. I'm really a little more upset at the Mocs this year. The Vols at least are doing good overall..(knock on wood).

memphis1974 writes:

in response to stevefrommemphis:

My guess (purely a guess on my part) is that Pearl was asking permission to go ahead and get a second technical foul to get kicked out of the gym, to make a statement about the free throw / foul disparity.

A better way to make a statement would be for the Tennessee administration to go back through history and compare free throw attempts for Tennessee and Vandy in games at Memorial Gym versus games at Knoxville, then advertise the results.

Going back the last four years, the biggest difference at either location other than last night was four fouls and five of the eight games had a difference of one foul. I don't think I would advertise that to show anything but getting beat badly last night.

brokebackvol writes:

Good write-up Mike - much more lenient than the drivel Climer wrote in the 'sean.

Looked to me like the guys were unfocused - that was all I could think after so many clinkers they would usually make bounced every which way but into the basket. Maybe that second wind they had against South Carolina wore out, and they were out of reserves.

Maybe Vandy is just that good.

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