Cuonzo Martin recaps the Vols' win over Georgia
No one on Tennessee's men's basketball team has lost to South Carolina.
Not even fifth-year senior Cam Tatum, and that's including the 2007-08 season he redshirted.
"Really? I had no idea until you just told me," said Tatum, who's six points shy of becoming the 44th UT player to score 1,000 points in a career. "I just know South Carolina always plays us tough, and we expect the same thing (tonight)."
UT's winning streak against the Gamecocks has stretched to nine games as the two teams prepare to play Wednesday (TV: MyVLT, 8 p.m.) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
South Carolina (9-13, 1-7 SEC) hasn't defeated UT (11-12, 3-5) since winning 81-64 on Feb. 17, 2007, in Columbia. But coach Darrin Horn has a more pressing streak to end, as the Gamecocks have dropped three straight since beating Alabama 56-54 on Jan. 25.
While Horn has likely been trying to figure out which Vols lineup to prepare for — there are hints of another change of starters tonight — UT coach Cuonzo Martin has worked to figure out South Carolina's confounding match-up zone defense.
"They trap from the top, they trap from the wings...they'll trap the guard coming up and they trap in the corners," Martin said. "Bottom line, this is a hungry team we're facing, and we have to be ready to protect our home court.
"South Carolina is competing and playing hard. When you're fighting for your life, that's how you should play."
Martin said the Vols are just "fighting to be a good team."
As for solving the Gamecocks' defense, Martin said UT will need to shoot a good percentage from the perimeter.
Tatum said shooters like the notion of playing against any kind of zone look.
"You hear zone, and your eyes light up and you get excited," Tatum said. "When a team plays zone you can look at it as they don't have the people to play you in man, or you can take it as an insult that they don't think you can shoot and use that for motivation."
In this case, both theories might apply. South Carolina's defense has hardly been stellar, allowing opponents to shoot 44.5 percent from the floor and 38.3 percent from 3-point range.
The Vols, meanwhile, haven't exactly set the nets afire in SEC play, shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 31 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
UT point guard Trae Golden said it will be his job to get his teammates better shots against the Gamecocks' zone look.
"For me, it's getting in those seams and getting the ball to Jeronne (Maymon) or Jarnell (Stokes), or finding one of our shooters," said Golden, who after getting benched for the Georgia game could start tonight. "I'm sure they'll tilt it (zone) toward me at times, too."
Golden's 10 made 3-pointers lead UT in SEC action, and he's hitting at an acceptable 37-percent clip.
In a match-up zone, defenders can stay in their assigned area of coverage and "switch" who they cover, or other times, against certain players, they'll "chase" and allow their previous area of coverage to be assumed by a teammate.
It can all get very confusing to try to follow, but Martin said if the Vols stick with their principles, they'll be fine.
Regardless of how UT chooses to attack the unique defense, Stokes said it's imperative the Vols get the win.
"I think we're done rebuilding, and it's about time we make some moves toward our goals," Stokes said. "We've got a good team here."
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32