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Current UT hoops team quick to jump on the defensive

Current UT hoops team quick to jump on the defensive

By: By Beth Rucker, Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE (AP) — Coach Bruce Pearl’s basketball teams elicit images of fullcourt presses and fast-paced, high-scoring games in the minds of opponents.

Consider the 2007-08 Tennessee Volunteers a different kind of Bruce Pearl basketball team.

“If you want to be great, you’ve got to have a great defense,” junior forward Ryan Childress said. “That’s what separates a lot of good teams from great teams. Good teams are OK at defense but great on offense. I think that’s where we were last year and where we’ve been for a while.”

Pearl has been drilling his players hard in their preseason workouts in an effort to improve their defensive presence.

The Vols have had all summer to dwell on their second half collapse in an 85-84 loss to Ohio State in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

Tennessee squandered a 20-point first half lead in that game and committed 24 fouls, including the one that sent Buckeye Mike Conley to the line to score the winning free throw with 6.5 seconds left.

“When Ohio State shot 29 free throws in the second half, we weren’t moving our feet and we weren’t keeping them in front of us,” Pearl said. “Twenty-nine free throws is a lot of free throws against a team that was behind most of the time.”
JaJuan Smith admits it’s easy for players to try to depend on their shooting to bail them out of a hole when their shooting abilities have won so many games.

“It’s real tough when you know you can score,” he said. “We know we can score, now we’ve got to get our defense rolling with our offense and we can probably compete for a championship. Defense wins championships.”

It may be a cliche, but it’s true.

Tennessee led the Southeastern Conference last season in scoring offense, averaging 80.9 points per game. The Vols’ ability to score was never so obvious than it was in their 121-86 win over Long Beach State to open the NCAA tournament.

The national champion Florida Gators led the SEC in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average 62.6 points per game. Tennessee was last in the conference, allowing 75.1 points per game.

Pearl insists his team will still be one which lights up the board, but he wants to see a similar effort on defense. After all, in the 15 years he’s coached, his teams have led their leagues in scoring 14 times. The one season they didn’t, the were second in scoring.

“There is a real commitment to uptempo transition basketball,” he said. “We are going to press. We are going to extend defensively.”

The Vols had a chance to prove to their coach that the lack of defense against the Buckeyes was a fluke when they took an 11-day trip together in August to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria. Tennessee played five games against tough local squads under international rules.

Pearl wasn’t impressed with the team’s efforts.

“They heard it and they weren’t feeling it and they weren’t willing to do anything about it in Europe,” he said. “We didn’t defend any better in Europe.

“The way we have trained since Europe and the way we have practiced so far I see some difference. How much of a difference, we’ll have to wait and see,” Pearl said.

He’s at least starting to get his point across. Childress chuckled nervously while reciting a laundry list of intense-sounding defensive drills: shell drills, team closeouts and lane slides to name a few.

There’s one drill the team has dubbed the “Forbes drill” after assistant coach Steve Forbes — a coach Pearl refers to as a “task master” and has turned to for help strengthening the defensive side of the game.

“You don’t want to be a part of that,” Childress said of the Forbes drill. “It’s just not fun. If you lose in a drill, you’re going to be running and doing slides. It’s absolutely crazy.

“But that’s what we’ve got to do to get where we want to be.”

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