Vols' streak coincides with Golden's rejuvenation

Tennessee's Trae Golden is fouled by LSU's Anthony Hickey at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday, February 19, 2013. Tennessee wins against LSU, 82-72.

(Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Photo by Saul Young, 2013 Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee's Trae Golden is fouled by LSU's Anthony Hickey at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday, February 19, 2013. Tennessee wins against LSU, 82-72. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Tennessee's Trae Golden attempts to score while surrounded by LSU defenders at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday, February 19, 2013. Tennessee wins against LSU, 82-72.

(Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Photo by Saul Young, 2013 Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee's Trae Golden attempts to score while surrounded by LSU defenders at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday, February 19, 2013. Tennessee wins against LSU, 82-72. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard Trae Golden never lost his confidence even as he struggled through a midseason benching and an injured hamstring.

Now he's back on the upswing just in time to help the Volunteers make a late-season charge.

Golden has played his best basketball of the season during a four-game winning streak that has revived Tennessee's postseason hopes. The Volunteers (15-10, 7-6 Southeastern Conference) put that streak on the line Saturday at Texas A&M (16-10, 6-7).

"I know there are ups and downs," Golden said. "When I was in kind of a slump, I stayed confident in myself. Even when I got benched, it didn't faze me. I'm still going to play my game."

Golden is shooting 50 percent from the floor and is averaging 18 points per game - 6.6 above his season average - during this winning streak.

It's likely no coincidence that Tennessee's surge began at the same time Golden returned to form. Although Golden isn't Tennessee's best player or its leading scorer, his performance often dictates whether the Volunteers win or lose.

The 6-foot-2 junior has averaged 13 points, 4.9 assists and only 1.7 turnovers per game in Tennessee's 15 wins. In the eight losses in which he has played, Golden has 8.4 points, 2.8 assists and 2.4 turnovers per game. Tennessee lost each of the two games Golden missed earlier this month with a strained right hamstring.

"He's like the leader of our team, especially from the standpoint that he can get his own shot and create for others," junior guard Jordan McRae said. "If you don't have your floor general out there, it's kind of hard for someone else to step in and duplicate what he's been doing for us."

Golden's up-and-down performance reflects his team's inconsistency.

He started out on a roll. Golden totaled 26 assists and seven turnovers through the first five games of the season. He scored 25 points Dec. 13 in a 69-60 victory over Wichita State that remains one of the Vols' best wins of the season.

Then he tailed off dramatically.

Golden fell out of the starting lineup last month after shooting a combined 4 of 26 against Western Carolina, Xavier, Memphis and Mississippi. He went 0 of 7 in a two-game stretch against Alabama and Vanderbilt just before getting hurt. Golden scored in double figures just twice in a nine-game span from Dec. 29 to Jan. 29.

"I wasn't playing like myself," Golden said. "That's the biggest thing."

Golden strained his hamstring Jan. 29 in a 58-57 victory over Vanderbilt. The injury forced him to sit out losses to Arkansas and Georgia.

During his layoff, Golden said he watched game tapes and noticed some of the things he was doing wrong. Sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes believes the time off allowed Golden to calm himself down and get in the right mindset for when he returned to action.

"In my opinion, it gave him a peace of mind just to relax and go out and play basketball," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Just to sit back and watch it, you can gain a lot of information and a lot of knowledge when you're sitting down and watching games. I thought he had great energy in those two games he didn't play. He has a lot of enthusiasm and was very vocal in the huddle with different guys. I thought that really helped his game."

He's been a different player ever since.

Golden returned to action Feb. 10 for a 66-61 victory at South Carolina that started the Vols' winning streak. Not only has he scored more often during this surge, Golden also has averaged 5.0 assists and only 2.3 turnovers per game. In arguably the best performance of his career, Golden scored 24 points and dished out eight assists without committing a single turnover in an 88-58 rout of Kentucky.

He's shooting the ball more effectively. He also is driving to the basket and drawing fouls. Golden has gone 30 of 34 from the free-throw line over his last four games.

His emergence has resuscitated NCAA tournament hopes that seemed unthinkable a couple of weeks ago. Tennessee remains a long shot for a bid and has no margin for error as it enters its final five regular-season games, but the Vols at least have reason for hope.

Now that his brutal January is behind him, Golden wants to make Tennessee a factor in March.

"I can't control the past," Golden said. "I can only worry about the present and future. (The slump) didn't hurt my mind. It happened. It's over with, and I'm just moving forward."

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Comments » 13

johnlg00 writes:

Dang! Maybe the first time I have been first! Big whoop.

As for Trey, it's sometimes hard to tell when a guy has things figured out and when he just says things to make others and/or himself THINK he has them figured out. From what I know of him during his career, I would vote for the former. In this regard, he is regrettably unlike Kenny Hall, who often SAYS the right things and occasionally plays up to his words, but at least as often sinks back into obscurity. I think this streak shows that Trey IS a leader on this team, even if he is not what many fans think of as a true floor general. For the most part, when he has it going, the rest of the team has it going. Let's hope he can keep it up right through to the end, whenever and wherever that is this year.

tnvol4ever writes:

Huge game against A&M. I'm waiting on this one before getting my hopes up. A win here could definitely set the Vols up for an exciting finish to the season. GBO

VictorKruger writes:

This article leads one to believe that Golden's only injury this season was the hamstring strain. I seem to remember that before the hamstring injury, Golden hurt his shoulder by running into a Stokes pick in practice. I also vaguely remember Golden saying that he could not lift his arm over his head after the shoulder injury, and I certainly remember him playing with the shoulder all taped up. I know that CCM expects players to play through pain when possible, but I believe the shoulder injury also majorly contributed to Goldens' struggles.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

"alrighty then!"

Go Vols

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Oh and JohnlgOO "the first shall be last" just sayin'...well quotin'

mocsandvolsfan writes:

btw John, Trey is most times the "floor general" but has never, as many have said, a true point guard( for those who haven't been involved in the conversations in the past).

LSG410EC83 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Dang! Maybe the first time I have been first! Big whoop.

As for Trey, it's sometimes hard to tell when a guy has things figured out and when he just says things to make others and/or himself THINK he has them figured out. From what I know of him during his career, I would vote for the former. In this regard, he is regrettably unlike Kenny Hall, who often SAYS the right things and occasionally plays up to his words, but at least as often sinks back into obscurity. I think this streak shows that Trey IS a leader on this team, even if he is not what many fans think of as a true floor general. For the most part, when he has it going, the rest of the team has it going. Let's hope he can keep it up right through to the end, whenever and wherever that is this year.

First of all, thanks John for the many well thought out post you have placed on this board. Always full of facts and as classy as a person can be when dealing with the many trolls we have. Anyway, as has been posted many times in the past, this team plays as Golden plays. Just hope eveyone can stay healthy down the stretch. His play lately has only helped free up everyone else. One more shooter both inside and out that others have to worry about. I do tend to cringe some when he drives for the basket in a crowd. I just wish that Golden, along with the others would try a little harder to finish the shot, even if they are getting fouled. Seems like they are thinking at times it is a guaranteed foul and just tend to flail(dont know if this is correct spelling or not before the spelling police write me up)their arms around instead of attempting to finish. Hope I am wrong and I am just not realizing how strong the guy doing the fouling is. Have really enjoyed watching this team as of late. Look forward to a strong finish. IT IS GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL. GO BIG ORANGE.

volaholic45 writes:

I've been very critical of Golden's poor play. Have to give him props for his play of late. Still a few reckless turnovers, and I still wish he'd dish sometimes when he goes to the hoop instead, but on the whole his point production and handling of the offense these last few games have been terrific.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Golden HAS been terrific in several games this season. As JohnlgOO has pointed out and others as well he is not the traditional point guard. But he does have a pretty good assist quota. He is actually going to basket very well in transition. Half court maybe not quite perfect but lately very good. I love the way he's playing...just in case any misunderstood my post above. He IMHO earned some of our distrust earlier. Now I think he's here to stay. We gotta believe.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VictorKruger:

This article leads one to believe that Golden's only injury this season was the hamstring strain. I seem to remember that before the hamstring injury, Golden hurt his shoulder by running into a Stokes pick in practice. I also vaguely remember Golden saying that he could not lift his arm over his head after the shoulder injury, and I certainly remember him playing with the shoulder all taped up. I know that CCM expects players to play through pain when possible, but I believe the shoulder injury also majorly contributed to Goldens' struggles.

Yeah, there is a difference between playing hurt and playing injured, though it is often a narrow one. Depending on how bad they were--a pretty subjective judgment in any case--either the hammy or the shoulder could be considered an "injury". Together, they clearly affected his game and perhaps even his mental/emotional state. Whatever was ailing him seems fixed now and his play has been an inspiration for the whole team, not to mention most of the fans. I just hope he has no more setbacks and finishes strong.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to LSG410EC83:

First of all, thanks John for the many well thought out post you have placed on this board. Always full of facts and as classy as a person can be when dealing with the many trolls we have. Anyway, as has been posted many times in the past, this team plays as Golden plays. Just hope eveyone can stay healthy down the stretch. His play lately has only helped free up everyone else. One more shooter both inside and out that others have to worry about. I do tend to cringe some when he drives for the basket in a crowd. I just wish that Golden, along with the others would try a little harder to finish the shot, even if they are getting fouled. Seems like they are thinking at times it is a guaranteed foul and just tend to flail(dont know if this is correct spelling or not before the spelling police write me up)their arms around instead of attempting to finish. Hope I am wrong and I am just not realizing how strong the guy doing the fouling is. Have really enjoyed watching this team as of late. Look forward to a strong finish. IT IS GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL. GO BIG ORANGE.

Thanks for the kind words and for your own informative posts. I have always said that a player who drives the basket in college ball has to expect that he will get whacked, but he can't go in there unless he intends to MAKE THE BASKET, no matter what the defense does. He can't be worried about having his shot blocked or getting fouled. Of course, you TRY to avoid those things happening by picking your spots, but once you are committed, you have to follow through. Trey seems to do a pretty good job of that. I think he really IS getting whacked, but even then he seems to keep his eye on the rim and is trying to make the shot. Some of those guys he is driving on outweigh him by 50 lbs or more, so it isn't surprising that he winds up on the floor a lot after his drives. My only fear is that he will get injured again doing it as much as he does, but it only takes ONCE to put a guy out for awhile. I like the fact that he takes that short jumper a little more often than he used to. That is both more effective than trying to take it all the way into the trees and might be easier on his health!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

Golden HAS been terrific in several games this season. As JohnlgOO has pointed out and others as well he is not the traditional point guard. But he does have a pretty good assist quota. He is actually going to basket very well in transition. Half court maybe not quite perfect but lately very good. I love the way he's playing...just in case any misunderstood my post above. He IMHO earned some of our distrust earlier. Now I think he's here to stay. We gotta believe.

To me, the best thing he has been doing during this string of good games is that he has really been pushing the ball up the floor with the intent to score. When they were bogging down on offense, he was walking it up the floor, with the result that the team was always having to try to score against a set defense. For whatever reason, their half-court offense has always been a bit of a struggle, to be kind. Now that they have gotten a bit more up-tempo, they get more easy scores and force the defense to really RUN to get set.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to johnlg00:

To me, the best thing he has been doing during this string of good games is that he has really been pushing the ball up the floor with the intent to score. When they were bogging down on offense, he was walking it up the floor, with the result that the team was always having to try to score against a set defense. For whatever reason, their half-court offense has always been a bit of a struggle, to be kind. Now that they have gotten a bit more up-tempo, they get more easy scores and force the defense to really RUN to get set.

As always you clarify things very well.

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