Cuonzo Martin on team's confidence level
"We're sticking to the script,'' Martin said Monday. "I don't really talk about the losing streak; we talk about the next game.''
There's plenty to say about UNC Asheville, UT's opponent at Thompson-Boling Arena tonight (TV: SportSouth, 7 p.m.).
The Bulldogs (6-4) have won four straight, and the defending Big South Conference champions return four starters from a team that won its first-round NCAA tournament game last season.
The most familiar face on the UNC Asheville team is guard John Primm, a former Rocky Top League MVP and the Bulldogs' leading passer with 4.8 assists per game to go with his 13-point average.
"We know his game a bit, and he's a talented player,'' said UT sophomore wing Jordan McRae. "I think me, Trae (Golden) and Cam (Tatum) will all take our turn guarding him.''
Defense is a big part of the script that the Vols (3-6) need to follow to get on the winning track, according to Martin.
"The biggest key, we have to play hard from start to finish,'' Martin said. "We have to take pride, across the board, in
defending. If we play hard consistently, and we don't turn the ball over, we'll be fine.''
McRae, who has slowly emerged as the go-to player on offense, averaging 17.6 points over the past five games, said the Vols' are troubled by their recent setbacks.
"The losing streak adds fuel to the fire; the games we've lost were all winnable,'' McRae said. "The only good thing is that these losses are coming now rather than later in the season.''
Martin said from an Xs and Os standpoint, UT's focus will be to work the ball inside to junior center Kenny Hall and junior power forward Jeronne Maymon against the vertically challenged Bulldogs.
"Whether we're scoring or not on the blocks, we have to get the ball inside to get production and get to the free-throw line,'' Martin said. "The last game (last Wednesday at Charleston, 71-65 loss) we settled for too many 3-point shots (29) and didn't get the ball in the interior. It's a case of executing, keep moving, keep cutting, and not settling for shots.''
Golden, who will play tonight with a broken nose suffered in last Friday's practice, said the team has a sense of urgency.
"This is a huge game,'' Golden said. "We've lost four in a row, we're at home, and it's a must-win for us.''
The Vols have worked on more on their offensive sets against zone defense, which Charleston used to slow UT's attack.
"We usually kill zone defenses in practice,'' said McRae, who's shooting 44.4 percent from 3-point range. "For some reason against Charleston, we were hesitant.
"But if (UNC Asheville) plays zone, we'll be more than fine with it.''
Martin has said UT has been working at some zone defenses itself that it can occasionally throw at opponents as a change-up of sorts.
But Martin made it clear he's not about the change the identity he envisions for the program as it moves forward under his direction.
"It's a work in progress on both ends of the floor,'' he said. "We have the ability to score the ball, but I'd rather our identity be as a tough, hard-nosed, (man-to-man) defensive team.
"You make subtle adjustments here and there, but one thing about being an inexperienced team, you don't want to make wholesale changes...you stay consistent with what you're doing.''
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32