Mike Strange: Vols needed stops against Georgia, but none were there

Mike Strange
Georgia guard Vincent Williams (11) shoots under the basket as Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (52) defends during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. Georgia won 68-62 over Tennessee. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Georgia guard Vincent Williams (11) shoots under the basket as Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (52) defends during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. Georgia won 68-62 over Tennessee. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Georgia's 68-62 win over Tennessee was a case of finding where the buck stopped Wednesday night. Not with Tennessee's defense, it turned out.

I was tempted to say the Vols lost the game in the opening minutes when they turned the ball over on six of their first eight possessions and fell behind 8-2.

But that's not quite true.

Tennessee rallied gamely in the second half to forge a 43-43 tie with plenty of time left. Finally, a Thompson-Boling Arena crowd reported for vocal duty.

So I want to say the Vols lost the game when they couldn't sustain the rally, coming up empty on six possessions, allowing the Bulldogs to re-establish a 52-43 lead.

But that's not quite true, either.

An offensive rebound and two ensuing free throws by Jarnell Stokes made it a one-point battle, 54-53 with 4:56 to play. Game on.

Finally, I've got to say that's when Tennessee lost the game.

Georgia, a team figured to do absolutely nothing in the SEC this winter, protected that 54-53 lead in a manner Duke or Louisville or Indiana — or a late-1960s UCLA — would have been proud to claim.

The Bulldogs, impervious to the Vols and a hostile crowd, converted tough shots on five consecutive possessions.

They could not, would not be denied.

The Vols needed a defensive stop and could not get one.

It helps to have a virtuoso like sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He produced three of Georgia's five game-saving baskets en route to a 24-point effort.

First he nailed a 3-pointer to make the one-point lead a four-point lead.

Tennessee answered with a Kenny Hall basket. Georgia's edge was 57-55. Again, a stop would do wonders.

But no. Vincent Williams, a 6-foot guard, drove the right side and lofted a prayer high over the reach of Stokes. A soft kiss off the glass rewarded Williams. Georgia, 59-55.

A Stokes free throw kept it a one-possession game but still that stop proved elusive. Deep into the shot clock, freshman guard Kenny Gaines stuck a 15-footer over 6-foot-9 Hall's extended arm to make it 61-56.

Stokes, enjoying an atypical fine night at the stripe, hit two free throws and, trailing 61-58, Tennessee again turned to its defense.

And Georgia again turned to Caldwell-Pope,

who shook free down the lane to drop in a floater for a 63-58 lead.

UT blinked on its turn and then Caldwell-Pope delivered the coups de grace, Georgia's 11th 3-pointer of the game.

At 66-58, whether the Vols could get either a basket or a stop was irrelevant.

"They did a good job finishing the game,'' said UT coach Cuonzo Martin.

So good that Georgia is looking like last year's Tennessee — the team that comes out of nowhere to make an unexpected run.

Coach Mark Fox's Bulldogs have won five of their past six games and three straight on the road.

They won this game because when it came to the moment of truth, they would not be denied.

That's tough for Martin to swallow. He's building his program on the foundation of denial, that defense is commitment and pride.

This time, however, no Tennessee defender was able to say the buck stops here.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 22

milhaudmeto writes:

Why do I feel as a Tennessee graduate and fan that I'm continuously being kicks in the nads from the mediocrity of our major sports programs. At least while I was there if the football and men's BB teams were bad we could count on the Lady Vols BB team and now not so much! Losing to a horrible Missouri team on the road was not good Holly.

jack4444 writes:

All good things go thru Jarnell, the more he touches it the better they are, he even runs the break better.

So why is it they ignore him half the time? He works for position and they throw outside and away from him.

Get the ball to Jarnell.

One_in_West_Knox writes:

in response to jack4444:

All good things go thru Jarnell, the more he touches it the better they are, he even runs the break better.

So why is it they ignore him half the time? He works for position and they throw outside and away from him.

Get the ball to Jarnell.

Did you notice at times Georgia double-teamed Stokes even though he did not have the ball, like there was no use in guarding other players??

FeelVol writes:

How true Mike, how true.

DC82_Vol writes:

Whew! I saved two hours of my life by turning off the game by the 7 minute mark. The frustration from TN sports is overwhelming. Dave Hart, hope you have a plan because your ship is sinking. I am sure I am not the only one that is getting tired of the results. One better, I live in FL and have to listen to these rednecks on how we suck and I can't answer back. TN fans are protected in TN. Step outside the state and see how we are regarded. Insert laughter here.

Sir_Spanky writes:

They're not good on defense or offense. They're not disciplined. They don't value possession. And they're not fun to watch.

crmcm44#321757 writes:

Poor ball skills, no basketball smarts and poor coaching. Only one way to salvage this sport; D1 caliber coach.

underthehill writes:

from what I could see..Ga won this game more than UT lost it..UT did play harder the 2nd half and got back in the game..but the finish Ga had was..as Mike says..too much..when a player can do what C-Pope did..ain't much you can do..on one 3 pointer..Richardson had good defense on Pope..he went straight up from well behind the 3 point line and hit the 3..one of the hardest moves to defend..I think Mike is giving credit to Ga..in his article..I think they earned it..

VolMoment writes:

Yemi and Hall are a joke for this level of BB. Stokes looked like he made some quicker moves but he must continue working on that fundamental. Tennessee wings and guards hardky ever penetrate and shoot short floaters or jump shots. Richardson did about twice. Coach has told them this is not my offense or they are afraid of getting blocked, less face it they are a sorry fundamentally coached team. And that is not just the head coach.

atnvol#283282 writes:

Bruce Pearl should appeal his unreasonable 3 year show/cause coaching penalty. Two years is more reasonable and more inline with other coaches sanctions. I am sure Bruce has learned his lesson....and we sure have learned ours about Mike Hamilton.

BrassMonkey writes:

I am glad we hired such a defensive minded coach to bring hard nosed defense to Knoxville, oh wait.....

ewhite#207432 writes:

This is a bad team that is poorly coached. Their basketball IQ is low, bad shots, and too many turnovers. I am waiting to see if Martin can get the job done, but beginning to have doubts.

ewhite#207432 writes:

in response to DC82_Vol:

Whew! I saved two hours of my life by turning off the game by the 7 minute mark. The frustration from TN sports is overwhelming. Dave Hart, hope you have a plan because your ship is sinking. I am sure I am not the only one that is getting tired of the results. One better, I live in FL and have to listen to these rednecks on how we suck and I can't answer back. TN fans are protected in TN. Step outside the state and see how we are regarded. Insert laughter here.

It is not only outside Tennessee. I have lived in middle Tennessee for most of my life and UT sports is in trouble here. Nashville is much more a Vandy town than it used to be. UT Athletic Dept. spends little time and effort here

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to One_in_West_Knox:

Did you notice at times Georgia double-teamed Stokes even though he did not have the ball, like there was no use in guarding other players??

Same thing every game..Stokes spent the game sandwiched between to defenders which made it impossible for him to create or get a clean shot off..There must be a way to combat this but Martin hasn't figured one out..We had some success pulling Stokes a few feet away from the basket on double teams and dumping the ball to cutters on the baseline but CCM in his infinite wisdom doesn't work on that enough..It's a sure 2 points by Hall or McRAE everytime we do it!!!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Pope and Gaines shot 80% from the floor and all of that wasn't just bad defense; it's skill!! If McRae and Richardson had shot 80% we would have been on the winning end!!

TheEffect writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Pope and Gaines shot 80% from the floor and all of that wasn't just bad defense; it's skill!! If McRae and Richardson had shot 80% we would have been on the winning end!!

Are you trying to paint a moral victory out of that debacle? Come on...real Tennessee basketball fans know better.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to underthehill:

from what I could see..Ga won this game more than UT lost it..UT did play harder the 2nd half and got back in the game..but the finish Ga had was..as Mike says..too much..when a player can do what C-Pope did..ain't much you can do..on one 3 pointer..Richardson had good defense on Pope..he went straight up from well behind the 3 point line and hit the 3..one of the hardest moves to defend..I think Mike is giving credit to Ga..in his article..I think they earned it..

I pretty much agree. All of those late shots UGA hit were contested. Caldwell-Pope was a monster last night. Maybe Hubbs can be that kind of player next year. The Dawgs surely do seem to be on a roll right now.

The Vols...I just don't know. You see positive signs here and there. I completely disagree with those who say Stokes isn't living up to the hype. He is battling, and winning most of those battles. The real sore point is still PG play. McRae isn't himself when he has to be the main ball handler. It is clear that Lopez isn't going to be an offensive threat this year and can be taken inside by most opposing PGs. However, the other four guys on the floor have a better chance to score when he is handling it.

As for the defense, the Vols are crowding the outside yet somehow still doing a poor job of denying the ball to their men. Then when their man gets it, the Vol defender is too close to him and either winds up picking up a foul 30' from the basket or leaving himself vulnerable to the shot-fake-sideways-dribble move into an open 3-pointer or just a straight drive toward the bucket. The help defense isn't there as reliably as it was at the first of the season.

This season looks to be pretty much over as far as the post-season goes, unless they can get into the NIT, but they need to use the rest of it to figure out who they've got that really wants to play and somehow figure out how to stop shooting themselves in the foot with all the unforced turnovers.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Same thing every game..Stokes spent the game sandwiched between to defenders which made it impossible for him to create or get a clean shot off..There must be a way to combat this but Martin hasn't figured one out..We had some success pulling Stokes a few feet away from the basket on double teams and dumping the ball to cutters on the baseline but CCM in his infinite wisdom doesn't work on that enough..It's a sure 2 points by Hall or McRAE everytime we do it!!!

It seems to me that they have been doing a lot of what you describe. The timing could be better, but the idea is correct and it has been working better than it was earlier. If all the other guys were as effective as Stokes has been lately, they would have won some of those close games and maybe even have made a better showing than they did last night. Even then, they had a number of decent looks inside that were spoiled when the guy who got it in close let himself get stripped or blocked going up. I agree with Mike and other posters who said that the main problem last night was failure to get key stops or extraordinary offense by UGA, whichever you prefer.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to TheEffect:

Are you trying to paint a moral victory out of that debacle? Come on...real Tennessee basketball fans know better.

I don't think anybody said anything about "moral victories", they were just giving UGA credit where it was due. Unlikely as it would be, it is just a fact that if a couple of Vols had shot it as well as UGA did, the Vols could have won. How could you argue with that? Oh, I know; it's because your self-appointed mission is to make everybody feel as bad about their team as possible. We're doing quite enough of that on our own, thank you very much.

calvolfromkingsport writes:

They're not very good. They need to recruit a good point guard who can shoot and a 3 who can shoot. A hard get to make for a coach with such an emphasis on a mauling defense.

underthehill writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I pretty much agree. All of those late shots UGA hit were contested. Caldwell-Pope was a monster last night. Maybe Hubbs can be that kind of player next year. The Dawgs surely do seem to be on a roll right now.

The Vols...I just don't know. You see positive signs here and there. I completely disagree with those who say Stokes isn't living up to the hype. He is battling, and winning most of those battles. The real sore point is still PG play. McRae isn't himself when he has to be the main ball handler. It is clear that Lopez isn't going to be an offensive threat this year and can be taken inside by most opposing PGs. However, the other four guys on the floor have a better chance to score when he is handling it.

As for the defense, the Vols are crowding the outside yet somehow still doing a poor job of denying the ball to their men. Then when their man gets it, the Vol defender is too close to him and either winds up picking up a foul 30' from the basket or leaving himself vulnerable to the shot-fake-sideways-dribble move into an open 3-pointer or just a straight drive toward the bucket. The help defense isn't there as reliably as it was at the first of the season.

This season looks to be pretty much over as far as the post-season goes, unless they can get into the NIT, but they need to use the rest of it to figure out who they've got that really wants to play and somehow figure out how to stop shooting themselves in the foot with all the unforced turnovers.

Stokes had a difficult time adjusting to the double and triple teams..but is getting it done now..Hall is just not Maymon and when Stokes does get the ball to him..he hesitates and the defense has time to recover..I think anyone who knows basketball will say the same as you..PG is the sore point..I believe Golden could have been an outstanding shooter very much like Chris Lofton if he had been given the chance and not been asked to play point..look what it is doing to McRae..I really hope Martin proves the vast majority wrong and shows he can win without a point guard..but I think you are limited as to how successful you can be ..or how far you can go ..without one..guess we'll see if he comes back with Golden at point next year..I like a lot about Martin and I don't know how many years his contract was for..but at this point I see no way to justify an extension..and UT does not appear likely to give any more buyouts..

johnlg00 writes:

in response to underthehill:

Stokes had a difficult time adjusting to the double and triple teams..but is getting it done now..Hall is just not Maymon and when Stokes does get the ball to him..he hesitates and the defense has time to recover..I think anyone who knows basketball will say the same as you..PG is the sore point..I believe Golden could have been an outstanding shooter very much like Chris Lofton if he had been given the chance and not been asked to play point..look what it is doing to McRae..I really hope Martin proves the vast majority wrong and shows he can win without a point guard..but I think you are limited as to how successful you can be ..or how far you can go ..without one..guess we'll see if he comes back with Golden at point next year..I like a lot about Martin and I don't know how many years his contract was for..but at this point I see no way to justify an extension..and UT does not appear likely to give any more buyouts..

IIRC, Martin originally had a three-year contract. I don't think he got an extension last year and there is no chance he would get one this year unless the team just catches fire late. He or any other interested parties would have to know that the pressure will be on to win pretty big next year with what they have coming back. The fact that he does have the makings of a strong team next year and, as you say, the desire of the AD to avoid another buyout, means that there is almost no chance he would be let go after this season, almost no matter what happens. I don't see how anybody could complain if he were let go after not making the NCAA tourney next year. I like Martin and still have high hopes for him, but he is losing ground right now.

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