Mike Strange: No fairy tale for Trae Golden, but book hasn't closed on season

Mike Strange
Alabama guard Trevor Releford (12) scores on a fast break against Tennessee during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt) MAGS OUT

AL.Com

Alabama guard Trevor Releford (12) scores on a fast break against Tennessee during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt) MAGS OUT

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In the storybook ending, the shot would have gone in.

His team down three points, the clock headed to zero, Trae Golden rose up over the defender and launched Tennessee's last-gasp hope.

If it wasn't a completely clean look, it wasn't a terrible look either.

Two teams and a Coleman Coliseum crowd watched the basketball arc toward its destination.

In a storybook ending, it would have gone in. With a swish it would have tied the score.

Tennessee and Alabama would have gone to overtime to decide an afternoon's battle that would be much-needed boost for the winner and another kick in the pants for the loser.

For the first time all season and only the second time in the past two, Golden was benched from UT's starting lineup. The junior point guard has been mired in a four-game slump at both ends of the court.

"I just thought it was the best situation for the team and for Trae,'' coach Cuonzo Martin explained. "To get Trae relaxed and get him settled, to get him back to the way we think he's capable of playing.''

That would be a good thing. The sooner the better.

Unfortunately, Saturday wasn't a story in a book. It was real life. Golden's recovery won't be propelled by a clutch shot that saved the day.

"Luckily for us,'' said Alabama coach Anthony Grant, "it missed.''

Alabama escaped with a 68-65 win when Golden's 3-point try rimmed off at the buzzer.

Tennessee has lost three consecutive games, to Memphis, Ole Miss and now the Crimson Tide, and is already falling off the pace in the early stage of the SEC season.

An SEC road game was there for the taking, hanging in the balance, waiting for either one of two damaged teams to find a way to claim it.

Alabama, not far removed from losses to Mercer and Tulane on this same court, found a way.

The Vols were undone by regrettable free-throw shooting — 8 of 16 — and an even more regrettable 16 turnovers in the end.

Three turnovers at the start of the second half allowed the Tide to erase UT's 28-24 lead. Three more at crunch time allowed Alabama to extend a 56-55 lead to 62-55 with 2:55 to play.

The turnovers were symptomatic of Tennessee's biggest issue as the SEC race begins to unfold.

College basketball is ruled by guard play. A brilliant point guard is a treasure, a fact illustrated by Alabama's Trevor Releford in the second half when he scored all 15 of his points and affected the game at both ends of the court.

UT's recent point guard play has been less than brilliant.

Golden, a gifted scorer, isn't a natural point guard. But he's been the Vols' best option since Martin arrived on campus. Tennessee would have had zero chance of beating a terrific Wichita State team in December without an exemplary game by Golden.

But prior to Saturday, Golden was 4-of-26 shooting in the previous four games. His ball-handling decisions and defense weren't any better.

Saturday, Martin turned to Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson to get the ball up the floor against Alabama's pressure. Each had five turnovers. Neither appeared comfortable.

"I did it in high school,'' said McRae, "but playing Alabama is a whole different story.''

Freshman Armani Moore, another of Martin's point-guard projects, played a surprising 21 minutes, chipped in seven unexpected points and did not record a turnover.

But the best-case scenario for Tennessee is to get Golden's mojo working again.

The Vols need his scoring. They need any scoring they can get. An encouraging sign, he produced three baskets in the final five minutes to at least give UT a chance to win.

All told, Golden played 24 minutes and scored eight points.

"I thought he did a solid job out there tonight,'' said Martin.

As the Vols head to Kentucky on Tuesday, "solid" is at least a start back in the right direction.

Even without the game-saving shot.

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 » 27

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

The book hasn't closed, but I'm not sure if I want to read the rest of it.

Bogytrain writes:

Here's an idea: Recruit some guards that can dribble and shoot. May want to start circling a few coaches to interview as well. This team is getting worse....

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

WE might would just have 3 losses if we make the free throws. Plus you'd think guards could handle the ball better.

But I actually saw some things that gave me some hope. Moore for one had a pretty good effort. Reese may have played spotty but hit some nice shots. Really if we just had a better Golden playing we'd win these games. Also I don't get our lack of inside play. Not near enough touches and not good positioning either. We are just not a good half court team on offense.

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

We've all seen very low seeds beat very high seeds in the NCAA's. Ask Duke and Missouri about last year. And mid-majors feast on bigger schools every year. These teams are very guard-oriented and most of them are blessed with some good three-point shooters. You have to figure that many of these guys fly under the radar or they would be playing for bigger schools. But to me it seems that many teams would recruit a couple of these players who will make you pay from outside. Forget the stars beside the rating. Athleticism is great and you have to have quality athletes, but the 3-point line has changed the nature of the game entirely. High school boys and girls can shoot these shots. To be a good basketball team, especially on the offensive end, you have to have some players who can consistently make threes. I'd really like to see Martin recruit a couple of marksmen in his upcoming recruiting classes. it would be a nice complement for Hubbs, Maymon, Stokes and company.

SummittsCourt writes:

I would say the book is closed on this season. This is not even an NIT worthy team and I don't have the confidence that Martin can get them there.

iowavol writes:

I just quit listening. It's not worth it.

jt45 writes:

How much is Martin getting paid per game ? Has anyone ever done the math on that ? It just seems like we cant get a break the last few years. Im holding out hope that both CBJ and HW do well here but CM either cant get the talent or isnt able to coach up to their strengths or some of both. Either way they have not improved at all over the last few games. Right now Im not sure they could beat the LVs let alone the SEC opponents left on the schedule.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to jt45:

How much is Martin getting paid per game ? Has anyone ever done the math on that ? It just seems like we cant get a break the last few years. Im holding out hope that both CBJ and HW do well here but CM either cant get the talent or isnt able to coach up to their strengths or some of both. Either way they have not improved at all over the last few games. Right now Im not sure they could beat the LVs let alone the SEC opponents left on the schedule.

This is starting to mirror Buzzer Beaterson's coaching resume', in the game until the final minutes and completely find a way to choke away a win..CCM hasn't been able to convey to these athletes how to protect the bb and finish games.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to collegegrovebilly:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It started with Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan creating the isolation game. Calipari perfected it with the dribble drive in college. Been boring ever since.

wigmeister writes:

I turn on every game and within 5 minutes or less I am already screaming at the TV. The shooting. The foul shooting. The lack of O. The lack of D. Questionable coaching. I eventually have to turn it off. Think I will not turn it on till the end of the games. Better for my health, especially if we are winning!

budgetballer writes:

Wow, seems the dramatic are quick to speak. The root issue with this team is the lack of maymon. He is the floor general for this team, when he is involved the play of those around him is elevated. The Stokes-Maymon tandem is the key to success for this regime, so show a pair and support our team until it heals.

One_in_West_Knox writes:

Golden, or any player for that matter, HAS TO be a "natural" point guard?? Why not just be a point guard?? MUST Skylar McBee be a "natural" 3-point shooter??

Alwaysavol writes:

What about Brandon Lopez? He's a point guard, isn't he? I thought he did a good job when he got to play against Xavier and Memphis. Surely he could take care of the ball better than McRae and Richardson did in this game.

manoffewwords writes:

BBB = Bring Bruce Back !

crmcm44#321757 writes:

A "solid" performance, translated (not as bad as usual), playing another mediocre team just won't cut it. These guys continue to make bad decisions, can't handle the ball and are poorly coached. A recipe for failure and no fun to watch.

ULTIMATEVOLUNTEER writes:

Turnovers happen with every team. We lost lost the game at the free throw line. Stokes being the go to guy in the middle is going to get fouled and Martin cannot afford to have him in the game if he doesn't improve his free throw shooting.

ronburgundy (Inactive) writes:

Tenth in the SEC and Kentucky at Rupp up next. When's the last time Tennessee started 0-3 in league play?

iowavol writes:

Unfortunately, CCM is beginning to lose a bit of the fan base.

underthehill writes:

in response to budgetballer:

Wow, seems the dramatic are quick to speak. The root issue with this team is the lack of maymon. He is the floor general for this team, when he is involved the play of those around him is elevated. The Stokes-Maymon tandem is the key to success for this regime, so show a pair and support our team until it heals.

Reasonable comment..Maymon was the leader of the team..by example..and by drawing defense away from Stokes..the expectations I had were based on Maymon being on the floor..hard for me to show a pair and support the lack of talent Martin is putting on the floor..McRae has proved he should have been starting all year..but your attitude is best ..mine is not...

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Really feel bad for Trae..After being the leading scorer on this team, now It's painful to see him miss lay ups and 12 foot pull ups that used to be automatic..Frankly it makes no sense, neither did other guards bumbling the ball up court with Golden 25 feet away in the backcourt..The sooner Trae returns to form, the sooner we return to winning and the sooner Martin can stop all this guard shuffling and settle on 7 steady guys in the rotation..To try to end the team shooting slump Martin has put everybody but the trainer on the floor looking for a consistent shooter..In doing this it appears the players just don't know their role and when a called play blows up((which happens a lot)) it becomes keystone cops! Reese is starting to learn the offense which isn't Reese standing on the side of the perimeter and clapping his hands telling team mates he's open..That's fine in HS Derek but your in the Sec now..I hope Moore proves me wrong but there is a huge difference in having a respectable game against Bama and breaking out against a shot blocker like Noel at Rupp..

hikerdude writes:

Boring, boring, bad basketball. BBB

born2ride writes:

Give Martin one more year. If he can't do better than this get rid of him.

wigmeister writes:

I do think Martin deserves at least one more year. It is boring Bball to watch, however. Also, about Bruce. Bruce recruited athletes. Took the best he could find. He didn't recruit pure shooters. Bruce inherited the pure shooters we had; Lofton, etc.. You are looking now at Bruce's recruits. Brick city. Stokes is overwhelmed. He gets the ball so seldom, he always shoots, whether there are three players on him or not. If three are on him, someone is open! Hall has disappeared. Maybe we need to play Yemi and Stokes together. Has to improve the hustle, and rebounding.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Golly I guess I AM being negative looking back at my post on this thread and others. for me at least.

Just in case you're reading these posts Golden. I believe in you and think your potential is real. You aren't missing on purpose for money. You aren't shaving points like my Dr.Jeckyl side tells me sometimes.

If you can get it together for the team we'd all appreciate it and say better stuff. If you are hurt and can't play then tell the coach. But the last two years have shown you can play great and you can play mediocre to downright horrible. Which player you gonna be? I say get mad or something and prove everybody wrong. No excuses "just do it" as my famous friends at the shoe company says. You DID do better at times against Bama. You should be making everyone else play better. If you're gonna play then NO EXCUSES.
Wish I could play bball.Twenty years ago I shot better than anyone on this team and I never played organized bball.

Ok I'm still being negative. I guess it's catching. A disease maybe. I'm like Padan Fain...for you who read a little.

JonGrudensAgent writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

It started with Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan creating the isolation game. Calipari perfected it with the dribble drive in college. Been boring ever since.

The Detroit "Bad Boys" under Daley didn't help either with the constant physical defense and turning basketball into rugby.

UTVolWarrior98 writes:

This team is EXCRUCIATING to watch! Bama lost to Mercer...MERCER!! This team is a bunch of soft tulips. Do the right thing Hart and fire Martin after this season. He is NOT the answer. Nothing ever changes. "We need to start doing this...we need to start doing that". WELL FREAKIN DO IT THEN!!! Lets swallow our pride and bring back the messiah of UT basketball known as Bruce Pearl!

HONOR THY VOLS...CHERISH THEM...

DC82_Vol writes:

in response to wigmeister:

I turn on every game and within 5 minutes or less I am already screaming at the TV. The shooting. The foul shooting. The lack of O. The lack of D. Questionable coaching. I eventually have to turn it off. Think I will not turn it on till the end of the games. Better for my health, especially if we are winning!

I have a solution for you. DVR the game and check the score after the game. Then, decide if you are going to watch it. Believe me, it has saved me a lot of anguish on many fronts (commercials, watching terrible play, time, frustration).

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