Vols aim just for bid
Posted: Tuesday, February 15, 2011 4:21 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl prefers aiming for championships. Right now, he and the Volunteers are just hoping to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
Three straight Southeastern Conference losses have dropped Tennessee (15-10, 5-5) into a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Division with Kentucky and one game ahead of last-place South Carolina.
After playing six of their last eight games on the road, the Vols play four out of their last six at home, starting Wednesday night with a visit by South Carolina (13-10, 4-6). The Vols are 8-2 against the Gamecocks under Pearl and have won the last seven straight.
“Now we find ourselves in the position of playing for seeding, both in the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament,” Pearl said. “We can play our way in or out of whatever kind of year we want to have.”
A few things must change for the Vols to finish with the kind of year they want — one that includes a sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Tennessee has struggled to finish strong in close games, most recently dropping to Florida 61-60 on Saturday after leading by as many as eight points in the second half.
It’s one of four games they’ve lost this season by a single possession. They’ve also lost their only two overtime games, a 65-60 loss to Alabama on Feb. 5 and an 81-75 loss to Florida on Jan. 11 — both games played in the friendly confines of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena.
“Late-game offensive execution to win games is an area we have scored very poorly in,” Pearl said. “I hope that we can learn from some of those mistakes and do a better job of closing them out down the stretch.”
Pearl also wants better play from his point guards on the offensive end of the floor. Senior Melvin Goins had no assists and no points in 31 minutes against the Gators and missed the final shot of the game, a contested 3-pointer, after struggling to get the Vols to run the called final play. Freshman backup Trae Golden had two points and one assist in nine minutes.
The coach said he’s considering getting backup shooting guards Skylar McBee and Josh Bone into the point guard rotation.
“That doesn’t mean that Melvin may not come back and start, but it does mean that we’re going to take a look at it,” Pearl said. “I want to challenge my point guards. I want to challenge both Melvin and Trae to play better. I think they both can.”
Bone, a senior, said it won’t be a big transition for him to spend time at the point, but it will require him to learn more plays and practice his ball handling.
“Anything for the team. Anything to try to get a win,” Bone said. “Our backs are definitely against the wall. We feel like we have two win every game. That’s the only way I can put it. We have to win.”
Pearl also acknowledged his transition back to the sideline after an eight-game SEC suspension wasn’t as easy as he expected, even though he was creating game plans and leading practices during the time. The coach said he didn’t think he did much to help his players in their 73-61 loss at Kentucky on Feb. 8 and didn’t call a timeout on the Vols’ last play against Florida when it was needed.
“Regardless of being at practice and helping game plan, you just don’t know the pulse of a team unless you’re out there coaching them for a month, so it was very disruptive coming back, probably for the players as well as for me,” Pearl said.