Tennessee is moving forward, set on enhancing what it hopes will be a men's basketball postseason résumé, but the last-minute losses in the Vols' rearview mirror are troubling.
Coach Cuonzo Martin said Monday at media day the key to eliminating future last-minute heartbreak is avoiding turnovers.
"We put ourselves in great positions to win games,'' he said, "and we have costly turnovers in tough situations.''
UT had opportunities to win games in the final minute against Memphis (99-97 double-overtime, in the EA Sports Maui Invitational), Pittsburgh (61-56), Austin Peay (74-70), Mississippi State (62-58) and Saturday against No. 2 Kentucky (65-62).
The Vols (8-9, 1-2 SEC) travel to play Georgia (9-8, 0-3) on Wednesday (TV: WVLT, 8 p.m.) hoping to get their first road win of the season.
The Bulldogs are 7-3 at home while UT brings an 0-4 road record into the contest.
"We've been in tough situations, tough environments and tough games, now we have to do a good job of taking care of the ball and getting the ball where it's supposed to go,'' said Martin, whose team is 2-8 in games decided by 10 points or less. "Our biggest concern as a staff is our turnovers.''
Sophomore point guard Trae Golden has shouldered most of the blame for the Vols' late-game lack of execution, even though the problem is often bigger than one player.
"I understand a lot comes with my position, and rightfully so; I've had big turnovers and taken shots I shouldn't have taken,'' Golden said. "So I take a lot of that blame. It's understanding what we want to do in the last minute, and who needs the ball at certain times.''
Golden leads the SEC with 5.4 assists per game and ranks tied for fifth with a 1.8 assist/turnover ratio.
Junior forward Jeronne Maymon believes UT could have helped out its point guard with sharper execution in the final minutes in the loss to Kentucky.
"We weren't cutting hard, and our execution wasn't there,'' Maymon said. "That hurts your momentum.''
Despite Golden's solid numbers, the Vols rank 11th in the SEC with a turnover margin of minus-1.29 per game.
"We've had 13, 14 and 15 (turnovers) the last three games,'' Martin said. "They are really unforced turnovers. That's an area we have to get better.''
Senior wing Cam Tatum, who has five turnovers in the three SEC games, believes it's a matter of continuity and focus.
"Some of those lapses we've had in the second half, we have to overcome,'' Tatum said. "It's a combination of a lot of things, learning to play better with each other.''
Martin knew his motion offense would bring some challenges his first season with the team. In the motion offense, everyone touches the ball and must make decisions.
That's why Martin has mixed up his lineups in practice instead of keeping the starting unit playing against the backups, as is the custom with many other coaches. The idea, is for the players to grow comfortable playing with one another in a variety of potential lineups.
Martin said the players are learning to understand their roles better and play to their strengths in pressure situations.
"It's a matter of not trying to do too much, not letting the situation or the atmosphere or the crowd get you caught up trying to do something you don't normally do,'' he said. "It's being consistent and sticking to the script.
"Not pinpointing one thing, just take care of the ball better. If you're not a true ballhandler, don't handle the ball as much.''
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32