Cuonzo Martin talks about the Florida win
"When players walk with a certain type of swagger, a level of confidence — not cockiness, not arrogance — they can play, and they can compete," the first-year Vols coach said after UT shocked No. 8 Florida in Gainesville, 75-70. "Before, we just weren't mentally ready."
Martin's not ready to get too carried away with his young team; especially not with an upcoming stretch run of games against teams for positions.
The Vols' 13-12 overall and 5-5 SEC mark has lifted them into a four-way tie for fifth-place in the SEC, well ahead of the 11th-place projection they were dealt at SEC Basketball Media Day in October.
UT plays host to Arkansas (17-8, 5-5) at 8 p.m. Wednesday (TV: MyVLT) at Thompson-Boling Arena before traveling to play at Alabama (16-8, 5-5) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Martin has taken to Twitter to urge Vols fans to turn out for the game against the Razorbacks. There was an announced (paid) attendance of 14,784 for UT's home win over South Carolina last Wednesday, but the arena appeared half empty.
"We need our fans, and we need their support to help get us over the hump," Martin said. "If our guys are giving effort, and they are leaving everything out on the floor, they deserve that support."
Wins this week would
strengthen the Vols' postseason résumé as they look to secure a spot in the NIT while also maintaining mathematical possibilities for an NCAA tournament at-large berth.
Tennessee's RPI rating is 110, 10th-best in the SEC, while the Vols rank No. 91 in the Sagarin USA Today computer ratings and No. 81 in Ken Pomeroy's computer rankings.
Martin had estimated at the start of the season it would take at least a year for him to get the program competing at an acceptable level.
But the Vols showed the makings of a tough, achieving unit on Saturday, playing solid defense and passing the ball unselfishly en route to snapping the Gators' 19-game home win streak.
"We're getting there right now," Martin said, asked if his team has arrived. "Once we get to the point where hard work is a way of life for them, and they're doing all the little things because they want to instead of because coach tells them to, then we'll be successful."
UT sophomore point guard Trae Golden was the catalyst for what Martin said was the team's most complete win of the season.
Golden had 17 points and seven assists while making four of seven shots from the floor and nine of 11 from the free-throw line in his 38 minutes.
"I think the last two games Trae has led the team on both ends of the floor and been very vocal," Martin said. "The things I talk to him about are leading the team, getting the assists, feeding your teammates. It goes a long way when your point guard leads like that.
"That (Florida) win started with Trae putting pressure on their point guard."
The Gators committed 15 turnovers while getting just nine assists as UT dominated throughout the game.
"I just think we're getting better as a team," Golden said. "We all know what we need to do now, and we all know our roles."
McBee for Threes: Vols shooting guard Skylar McBee played a career-high 38 minutes alongside Golden, scoring 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting beyond the 3-point arc. McBee is averaging 13.7 points in his three starts.
"Skylar does a good job taking what the defense gives him," Martin said. "He stretches the defense, he can make shots and he can get the ball inside. With Skylar being a player they have to identify on the perimeter, our big guys can play one-on-one."
No Fuss: UT freshman Jarnell Stokes said he didn't mean for Florida's Patric Young to fall to the floor when he fouled him and was assessed a flagrant foul.
"Basketball is a competitive game, and I wasn't going to let him score," Stokes said. "But he's a big guy, and I'm surprised he fell like that."
Vols freshman Wes Washpun got a late technical foul after blocking a shot.
"Apparently, he used a bad word after the block," said Martin, who replaced Washpun immediately.
Orange Slices: Jeronne Maymon recorded his seventh double-double of the season (15 points, 11 rebounds) and played 36 minutes. ... Cam Tatum played 17 minutes before fouling out without having attempted a shot. ... Jordan McRae's 12-point effort in 26 minutes marked the third time in the past five games he has scored in double figures.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32