Practice tougher for Vols
Posted: Thursday, March 3, 2011 7:53 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl is making things tougher on the Volunteers this week in practice, even though they have just two games left in the regular season.
Frustrated by five losses in a seven-game stretch, Pearl is trying to get more out of his players on the floor as they look for a decent finish in the Southeastern Conference’s East Division and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think when you do lose and doubt creeps in, it’s hard to be mentally tough,” Pearl said. “It’s something that we work on. I think this team has been as physically tough with our defense and our rebounding. We need to continue to try to keep that.”
To prepare for Tenn-essee’s trip to South Carolina this evening and Sunday’s home game against Kentucky, Pearl had the Vols (17-12, 7-7) running and re-running drills and sprints, lifting a few extra weights and going at each other on the floor with game-like intensity in practice. He challenged their attitudes when they appeared to pout.
That approach wouldn’t be so unusual except that Tennessee normally has done shoot-around times and walkthroughs in late February and in early March to preserve energy and stay healthy.
Pearl thinks some better leadership from his players during games could help.
Following a 70-69 loss on Saturday to Mississippi State in a game where the Vols just needed to keep the Bulldogs from scoring with 10 seconds left in the game, Pearl challenged his players for their lack of leadership. Pearl told the media in his postgame press conference that, “We have some competitors who have no leaders.
“We’re not playing well offensively, and we haven’t all year.”
Senior point guard Melvin Goins in turn challenged his coach in a separate interview after Pearl had left, saying the team had leadership problems “from the top all the way down.”
Pearl agreed with Goins on Monday but continued to verbally push his players with his most recent comments regarding the situation.
“Leaderships starts here. It’s my job to assist our players to be able to be in a position to lead,” Pearl said. “I’ve always said this, and I’ve always believed this: coaches can lead teams to victory, but coaches can’t lead teams to championships.
“That has to come from within. I do feel like we need better leadership from me, but we absolutely need better leadership from the players.”
All is not lost, despite the Vols’ recent struggles. Tennessee still has a chance to finish in a tie for second in the SEC East with wins against South Carolina and Kentucky coupled with at least one loss by Georgia and a loss by Vanderbilt to Florida.
Pearl thinks his team is still in good position for the NCAA tournament thanks to quality wins against Pittsburgh, Villanova and Vanderbilt. A run through the SEC tournament next week couldn’t hurt, though.
“I think we’re going to take the right steps to go where we need to go,” sophomore guard Skylar McBee said. “I think practices like this a lot of times help that. The most important thing is we’ve just got to stay together and work toward this. We can’t be our own opponent. We’ve got to stop being our own opponent. We’ve got to be working on the team we’re going up against.”