Trae Golden going in the right direction

Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) reacts after teammate forward Kenny Hall (20) made a basket during the second half against Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. Tennessee won 88-58 over Kentucky. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) reacts after teammate forward Kenny Hall (20) made a basket during the second half against Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. Tennessee won 88-58 over Kentucky. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) shoots a layup on a breakaway play during the second half against Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. Tennessee won 88-58 over Kentucky. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee guard Trae Golden (11) shoots a layup on a breakaway play during the second half against Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. Tennessee won 88-58 over Kentucky. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Cuonzo Martin talks about a rout of Kentucky

Eyeballing the film on Tennessee point guard Trae Golden prior to the weekend, Kentucky coach John Calipari cooked up a game plan.

Force Golden to dribble to his left. Stymie the Vols by manipulating their point man.

Sounded good in theory, but Golden didn't adhere to the reroute. He went right — time after time after time — decking the 'Cats with dexterity.

Twenty-four points and eight assists later, Calipari's game plan resided in the Thompson-Boling Arena garbage, next to some programs and ticket stubs from what now stands as Tennessee's largest win over rival Kentucky — an 88-58 back-handed slap.

"I'll burn the tape from this one," Calipari said. "I won't watch it. I had to sit through it, so I'm not going to sit through it again."

Neither will Kentucky's Archie Goodwin and Jarrod Polson, the two guards undressed by Golden. He pointed out the obvious afterward, saying, "I was just trying to get to where I want on the court."

And he did. In a year pockmarked by inconsistent play and meandering production, Golden has finally landed firmly back on the tracks. Since returning from a strained hamstring, the junior is averaging 17.3 points on 14-of-28 shooting and 22-of-26 shooting from the free-throw line.

The result: three straight wins.

It's not just Golden's scoring, though. The numbers don't paint the full picture. It's his revival. Everyone remembers January. The same No. 11 went from starter to reserve while averaging 6.6 points in 22.8 minutes per

outing in eight games.

The result: three wins, five losses.

UT coach Cuonzo Martin is still trying to diagnose what's happened.

"The stretch he was going through, whatever it was, I have no clue, we were trying to figure out everything; physically, mentally, anything you can think of," he said Saturday. "That was not the guy who finished for you last season. That is when you have your ups and downs as a team because the guy you can count on for production at the point guard position is not at the level he needed to be."

In the same press conference, when Martin said, "This is the Tennessee team I'm accustomed to seeing," it was a sentence punctuated by Golden. In Jeronne Maymon's season-long absence, this Tennessee team begins with its veteran guard.

Jarnell Stokes' dominant play in the paint can't stand on its own. Jordan McRae's scoring (15 against UK) is far more effective when he plays off the ball, feeding off a point guard. Josh Richardson's defense and hustle, which resulted in stitches cinching up a bloody chin from a dive off the floor Saturday, can only do so much.

After Tennessee (14-10, 6-6 SEC) went into the halftime locker room fat and happy with a 50-26 lead, the prevailing question was whether the Vols would revert to form and let Kentucky back in the game. Didn't happen. The foot applied to Kentucky's throat was Golden's. He converted two layups, hit two free throws and assisted on two field goals in the half's opening five minutes. UT led by 31 when the stretch was over.

Whatever has resuscitated Golden's game, the differences are obvious. In January, his passive play was the disease in UT's stagnant offense. Now, suddenly, he won't even let a team keep him from going to his right.

Aggressiveness has been the cure. In that aforementioned eight-game snag, Golden attempted 26 free throws. In the past three, he's made 22.

Following the win over Kentucky, Golden shrugged off his performance as if January never happened.

"I go into every game thinking that the point guard won't be able to guard me," he said. "Jarrod Polson started tonight but that didn't matter. Anybody that they were going to put in front of me I was going to try to attack and make plays for my teammates."

Now the key is keeping it up. Six regular-season games remain, starting with a home date against LSU (15-8, 6-6) on Tuesday (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.). The SEC tournament is over the western horizon, unfolding in Nashville less than a month away.

Golden picked a good time to come around.

"Your best players have to be what they are," Martin concluded.

That helps. Now it's LSU coach Johnny Jones' turn to get cooking.

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn

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Comments » 21

mocsandvolsfan writes:

We were all down on Golden. He just wasn't producing. He's back for now. I suspect he'll remain strong. If not then he's learned to sit when he's off. He can handle it but I bet he'd rather play.hehe

CoverOrange writes:

Could it be that having McRae, Richardson, Lopez play the point for several games has allowed Golden to focus less on running the team and more focus on making plays?

The way he's playing now reminds me some of Tony White. White had the confidence of Fred Jenkins.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

We were all down on Golden. He just wasn't producing. He's back for now. I suspect he'll remain strong. If not then he's learned to sit when he's off. He can handle it but I bet he'd rather play.hehe

Golden is an enigma..He goes out with an injury and UT looks terrible, but since his return he's been playing terrific bb. He scores when UT needs him to and he gets others involved when he has to.Here's hoping he continues his tough play.

FeelVol writes:

Glad to see his game elevate thats the Golden I remember from last year.Go Vols!!!

eduardo writes:

Regardless of what this team does the rest of the yr. They gave the highlight for the ages beating the phooey out of the most hated team in college basketball history in my book. Thanks guys for a lasting memory!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

jt45 writes:

Lets just hope Golden is back on track for good, this team plays on a different level when he is on his game.

mlynn1 writes:

He has been playing good since the games off for the hamstring, I think the rest has helped him more than anything, just my opinion though.

budd#207344 writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Could it be that having McRae, Richardson, Lopez play the point for several games has allowed Golden to focus less on running the team and more focus on making plays?

The way he's playing now reminds me some of Tony White. White had the confidence of Fred Jenkins.

I think you are right. TG has always been a shooter not a point guard. I think CCM has looked for less assists and more scoring and that is Trae. The other players have learned to move and pass and Trae can now do what he is comfortable with doing.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Golden is an enigma..He goes out with an injury and UT looks terrible, but since his return he's been playing terrific bb. He scores when UT needs him to and he gets others involved when he has to.Here's hoping he continues his tough play.

Like you said; Getting others involved; The team just seems to feed off Golden;and that's the way it should be..The forced experiment with others at PG was a disaster.Iam sure Trae knows how important he is and the pressure doesn't seem to bother him..I loved how Cal said in his post press; he told his team over and over not to let him go right but they blew it off!!!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Iam pretty happy to see the Vols crawling out of the SEC cellar..Being 2 games behind GA really did not sit well with me or any Vol fans..Really need to prove the KY game wasn't a fluke and thrash LSU

brod writes:

everyone played well saturday. not just golden. maybe kenny hall should keep coming off the bench.

tennrich1 writes:

in response to brod:

everyone played well saturday. not just golden. maybe kenny hall should keep coming off the bench.

Oh I dont think there's any doubts thats where Kenny needs to start the game from....he benefits from great play from Golden as well though...and Saturday he just played with intensity...but really...the whole team had a laser focus that you need every game...how do you as a coach get that team focused like that though...well, I guess if I had the answer to that I wouldnt be pontificating on some message board but pushing my employees to have it every day as well....and so it goes...

johnlg00 writes:

in response to mlynn1:

He has been playing good since the games off for the hamstring, I think the rest has helped him more than anything, just my opinion though.

Good point. I think the rest did him good. Seems he hit the wall a bit in the late going last year. He also got a chance to see just what he means to this team while he was out. I think he has come back mentally and physically refreshed and ready to be the leader this team needs. I certainly HOPE so, anyway!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Could it be that having McRae, Richardson, Lopez play the point for several games has allowed Golden to focus less on running the team and more focus on making plays?

The way he's playing now reminds me some of Tony White. White had the confidence of Fred Jenkins.

I would have to say that Golden is still the best distributor on the team. The offense was pretty stagnant while he was out or otherwise below par. McRae is, I think, the least well-suited for that role of any of those you named. He isn't selfish but he isn't as good with his own offense when he is the primary ball-handler.

We tend to think of PGs as players who move everybody around the court, look for people cutting toward the bucket, feed the post from out high, and hit shooters coming off screens. Golden is not really that guy. He is pretty good running it up the floor--now that he IS running it up the floor!--but most of his assists come when he drives, draws the defense to him, and then dumps it off in close.

I think it DOES help to have somebody to give him periodic rest during the games to help keep him fresh. By sandwiching his breaks around media timeouts, the coaches can get him significant rest while only being out for a minimum of actual game time when the team's ball-handling will suffer. Another thing to think about would be putting on a press while Golden is out. That would give the team more open-court opportunities where a PG is not as important, put a few more miles on the opponents' clocks, and allow Golden to be more energetic on defense when he comes back in.

Ironcity writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I would have to say that Golden is still the best distributor on the team. The offense was pretty stagnant while he was out or otherwise below par. McRae is, I think, the least well-suited for that role of any of those you named. He isn't selfish but he isn't as good with his own offense when he is the primary ball-handler.

We tend to think of PGs as players who move everybody around the court, look for people cutting toward the bucket, feed the post from out high, and hit shooters coming off screens. Golden is not really that guy. He is pretty good running it up the floor--now that he IS running it up the floor!--but most of his assists come when he drives, draws the defense to him, and then dumps it off in close.

I think it DOES help to have somebody to give him periodic rest during the games to help keep him fresh. By sandwiching his breaks around media timeouts, the coaches can get him significant rest while only being out for a minimum of actual game time when the team's ball-handling will suffer. Another thing to think about would be putting on a press while Golden is out. That would give the team more open-court opportunities where a PG is not as important, put a few more miles on the opponents' clocks, and allow Golden to be more energetic on defense when he comes back in.

I think it has helped that the new attacking offense has allowed him and others to get some easy baskets. Its amazing how a few easy buckets can make everyone feel like thy are hot. In the stretch where he was playing poorly it seemed there was no desire to try to get the ball up court and attack mismatches. I think Zo allowing Golden to be Golden and Mcrae to be Mcrae has really help. We still need a back up PG but that will not come until next year. I would like to see if Stokes still has that sweet 12ft jumper he had last year. If he gets that then he will be unstoppable.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor said it before, this team goes as Golden goes. Witch Doctor say he dont have to be the leading scorer(big plus though)But a healthy hungry aggressive driving, making shots, dishing off Golden makes everyone better. Witch Doctor say this season maybe too far for out for NCAA but still plenty to prove and build upon for next season. Witch Doctor really impressed with Moore as a Freshman and may be the steal out of Ga last class..kid dont play like a freshman. Josh Richardson kinda starting to look more and more JuJaun Smith'ish? Witch Doctor say several others just going to get better with age..kinda like ole Witchie..lol
Bones never lie.

johnlg00 writes:

Great comments by both ironcity and Witchy. I wish the Vols had latched on to this offensive attitude earlier in the season. They have too big a hill to climb now to make the NCAAs, though you never know if they finish strong, but I guess I would rather have them playing well late than starting out like gangbusters and then tailing off at the end.

TNVol71 writes:

This team has to come back and win the next couple of games to show that this was not just a fluke with UT playing way over their heads and KY not showing up. The winning needs to continue. What a great effort by the entire team for the win over the Cats. As a long time UT fan, this was phenomenal. Now let's keep the momentum. GBO!!

John_10065 writes:

in response to budd#207344:

I think you are right. TG has always been a shooter not a point guard. I think CCM has looked for less assists and more scoring and that is Trae. The other players have learned to move and pass and Trae can now do what he is comfortable with doing.

I've always thought Golden was a #2 spot player forced to play in the #1 spot.

John_10065 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Great comments by both ironcity and Witchy. I wish the Vols had latched on to this offensive attitude earlier in the season. They have too big a hill to climb now to make the NCAAs, though you never know if they finish strong, but I guess I would rather have them playing well late than starting out like gangbusters and then tailing off at the end.

Come on John! The only game that scares me is Florida and we have them at home.

We can give up one game and one game only and if we do that we need to go at least 2 deep in the SEC tourney. And if we give up one game, it better be a close one to UF.

LSU is the trap for us coming off this emotional win. A&M isn't that good even at home, UGA is very beatable and we should have never loss the last one. Auburn is a joke and I just watched Missouri lose a game they had won in the last 2 minutes. They have struggled all year on the road and Martin played them for 3 years as an instate rival so he knows them well.

We aren't out of it yet. We have some quality wins and the bad losses were during league play, not early OOC play.

6 wins and we're in, lose to UF and we better go 5 - 1 and 2 deep in the SEC brackets.

As bad as those brickfests looked early in the season, this last game regardless of the announcers made up for it big time. There was more than a few jaws on the floor up here in the Louisville area with UT's performance against a UK team that is still loaded talentwise even without Noel.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to John_10065:

Come on John! The only game that scares me is Florida and we have them at home.

We can give up one game and one game only and if we do that we need to go at least 2 deep in the SEC tourney. And if we give up one game, it better be a close one to UF.

LSU is the trap for us coming off this emotional win. A&M isn't that good even at home, UGA is very beatable and we should have never loss the last one. Auburn is a joke and I just watched Missouri lose a game they had won in the last 2 minutes. They have struggled all year on the road and Martin played them for 3 years as an instate rival so he knows them well.

We aren't out of it yet. We have some quality wins and the bad losses were during league play, not early OOC play.

6 wins and we're in, lose to UF and we better go 5 - 1 and 2 deep in the SEC brackets.

As bad as those brickfests looked early in the season, this last game regardless of the announcers made up for it big time. There was more than a few jaws on the floor up here in the Louisville area with UT's performance against a UK team that is still loaded talentwise even without Noel.

Well, I did say that "you never know" how things will work out in terms of NCAA selections. No question the Vols have to finish along the lines you suggest to have any chance at all. In any given game, I like the team's chances if they continue to play the way they did against UK. It's just a long, tough climb right now, is all I'm saying.

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