Vols keep finding themselves in close games
Tennessee’s last four games have all gone down to wire. Coach
Bruce Pearl expects a few more close calls with the Volunteers’ new
style of play.
The Vols are 2-2 in their last four outings, with games against
Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Georgia decided on the final possession
and their meeting with Florida going into overtime.
”When you’re not pressing, when you’re not creating possessions
… you’re going to have a lot of close games, and we’ve had
probably more close games this year than the last three or four
years combined because of the (slower) tempo of the game and fewer
possessions,” Pearl said. ”Therefore each possession becomes
Tennessee (12-6) will need all the scoring opportunities it can
get when it travels to No. 8 Connecticut (15-2) on Saturday. The
Vols have already logged wins against then-No. 7 Villanova, No. 3
Pittsburgh and No. 21 Memphis.
Pearl, who will return to the bench after serving half of his
eight-game suspension from Southeastern Conference play for lying
to NCAA investigators, said the Vols must be especially mindful of
their defense, rebounding and ball protection because of the
”Connecticut is a brilliant fast-breaking team, great
transition team, very, very long. The longest team we’ll play. The
most athletic team we’ll play, probably. They’re one of the best
shot-blocking teams in the country,” Pearl said.
The Vols have gained some needed confidence heading into
Saturday’s game in Hartford, Conn., after pulling out last-minute
wins against Vanderbilt and Georgia in their last two games.
In the final 2.7 seconds against the Commodores, Tobias Harris
hit two free throws, and Brian Williams stole an inbound pass by
Vanderbilt’s Brad Tinsley to seal a 67-64 win after overcoming a
17-point deficit. At Georgia, Williams made an improbable
buzzer-beating fadeaway shot off a contested rebound to grab the
”The constant continues to be defense and rebounding,” Pearl
said. ”When we defend and rebound, we’ve won.”
Tennessee has defended some strong scorers this season,
including College of Charleston’s Andrew Goudelock (23.4 ppg) and
Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins (18.6 ppg), but none as prolific as
Connecticut’s Kemba Walker, who ranks second in Division I with an
average 25.5 points per game.
Walker had his worst shooting performance of the season against
No. 7 Villanova on Monday but still managed to score 24 points and
hit the game winner, a 10-foot floater with 2.5 seconds left that
gave the Huskies a 61-59 win.
Williams, who like Walker is from the Bronx, and has played
pickup games with the Huskies point guard, knows stopping Walker
can’t be Tennessee’s only focus on the floor.
”Once you focus on Kemba the whole game, the other players go
off,” he said. ”We’ve got a good game plan going into the game,
so we’ve just got to focus to the best of our ability and play
The Vols will have Pearl on the sideline, helping them execute
that plan for one game only before the coach serves the final four
games of his suspension.
Pearl is only prohibited from being with his team on days they
play an SEC game through Feb. 5, and he’s tried to keep everything
as normal as possible for his players on the days in between games.
He’s had very little discussion about the differences with him in
charge on the bench as opposed to associate head coach Tony Jones
leading the team.
”I try to treat it like an injury,” Pearl said. ”We’re a man
down, now we’ve got somebody back. We got healthy, and we’ll be
back down a man come next week.”
In his absence from games, he’s been watching Tennessee on TV,
analyzing and taking notes on a pad of paper. He’s also experienced
the thrill and pain of watching the Vols work their way through the
close game endings.
”I’m as much a fan as any Vol fan at the end,” he said. ”The
pad and paper are long gone by the time the game’s over. I’ve long
since left my couch, and I’m up there screaming and cheering and
praying just like every other Vol fan.”