Pearl challenges Vols to be more in charge of game
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl says his Volunteers have been letting their opponents set the game tempo a little too much lately.
``It's not been as up as I'd like,'' he said. ``The one good thing is we've been able to win games playing slower as well as playing faster.''
That could change as the schedule gets tougher for the ninth-ranked Vols (6-1). So Pearl wants his players to be more in charge, starting Friday when they face Middle Tennessee State (3-4) on a neutral Nashville Arena court in the Sun Belt Classic.
Pearl isn't sure if his team is playing to the level of their early season opponents like College of Charleston and East Tennessee State, two surprisingly close games. He does know travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam tournament, a busy game schedule and exams haven't helped.
``I did feel like prior going to the Virgin Islands we had great practices, very intense practices, knowing what was ahead,'' Pearl said.
Even though the Vols suffered their only loss of the season to Purdue while in the Virgin Islands, the coach is challenging his players to practice as if the fifth-ranked Boilermakers were still their next opponent.
That shouldn't be too tough considering Tennessee has games against Southern California, Memphis and Kansas looming in the next month.
Pearl met with the Tennessee's four seniors before Monday's practice, cautioning them that it's their job to push their teammates to play hard and fast, regardless of who their next opponent is.
``Your senior season is important, it's your last season, and we all realize that,'' said senior point guard Bobby Maze said. ``But coach was making sure to remind us of that, that we need to lay everything on the line. He let us know that we need to show that leadership on and off the floor.''
Pearl is also looking for his players to do a better job finishing around the basket. The Vols are shooting well, but they're not getting to the foul line as often as their opponents.
Tennessee leads the Southeastern Conference in points (86.4), shooting percentage (50.8) and 3-point shooting percentage (43.8). The Vols have attempted 142 free throws compared to their opponents' 153 attempts.
``Even though we are shooting those percentages, I feel like we're missing more than our share of really good looks,'' Pearl said. ``They're not easy shots, but you've got to finish the play, take the contact, keep your head up.''
To be sure it's not a matter of physical toughness that's keeping them from pushing tempo and finishing their plays, Pearl also supervised his players during a 6:30 a.m. weightlifting session.
Senior Tyler Smith says it's not about conditioning or physical toughness, though.
``It's mental, to us,'' Smith said. ``We did everything to be prepared (physically) for this. We're ready for it, but we've just got to get through it mentally.''