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State of the Hogs:
Arkansas did a nice job of gaining control of the game in the first five minutes of the second half with a 9-1 run for a modest lead over Tennessee. I thought, "Here we go, we've got things going the way we want them." I was convinced the Hogs were going to win, if not thump the Vols.
Then, lo and behold, the entire team on the court asked to come out of the game ... after just five minutes. Stan Heath responded by subbing three players, and then subbing for the other two in about two more minutes.
"I was kinda surprised when I saw them all signal to come out of the game," Heath said afterwards. "That wasn't something I expected.
"We really needed Dinisio (Gomez) to stay in to help with rebounding, but he wanted out. So, we let him come out. Sure enough, we couldn't get a defensive rebound on the next few possessions after defending pretty well. I wish we had had Nichy on the floor during that time."
So, here's the question, is it unusual to see an entire team to ask for a rest after just five minutes?
"Yes, I think it is," Heath said. "I know we are asking a lot of our players (in practice) right now. We have been very demanding with doing a lot of things between games. We have been lifting weights extremely heavy, and I know the teams we are playing aren't doing that. But, we have a lot of young players and I want to get them stronger and I don't want to take the time off from lifting right now.
"I guess we expended a lot of energy during that (first five minutes of the second half). That's all you can say. But, I don't think it's asking a lot to expect someone to play 30-35 minutes. We should be in shape at this point in the season."
To me, that was the critical aspect of the game, the way the Hogs lost their energy after building their small lead early in the second half. Both coaches thought the energy changed after Buzz Peterson called a timeout to chide his team about getting out worked in the first 25 minutes of the game.
"I thought Arkansas did out work us," said Peterson, the UT coach. "I think it was a situation where they were taking it to us and we weren't responding. I can accept a lot of things, but I can't accept getting out worked. I told our players that they had done a lot of good things on the season but it was about to slip away in this game."
Heath said he couldn't remember a time when an entire team asked to be taken out on a hot streak after just five minutes of a half. That should be a time when there is plenty of energy stored after getting a halftime break. It's perplexing to have that happen at home where the energy level is usually at a higher rate.
"I don't know what you do about it other than just push ahead," Heath said. "That's what we will do. I want to try to get them mentally tougher so that they push through that stretch and stay in the game."
Heath said the extra weight lifting would continue. It's probably more important in the long run.
"We've done plenty of conditioning and I think we are in good enough shape to handle what happened tonight," he said. "We do expect a lot, but I don't think we are unreasonable."
In the personal view, some of the holdover players are probably accustomed to getting rests when they are tired. Afterall, most were role players under the previous staff, and were told to ask for a blow if they tired. So, that's what they did last night. Heath would prefer to go with seven or eight playrs and doesn't want to give as many breaks. That's usually the way teams do it anyway and it's not unreasonable to want to keep your best players on the court.
Heath has been quick to substitute if someone struggles or misses an assignment, so this group of Hogs might not be ready to play long stretches without breaks. And, the thought of late has been to push the ball a little quicker in the offensive zone. Heath said he wants to continue that style of play, if possible.
Was the game more physicaly? Probably not. The only thing I can figure is that Tennessee was spreading the floor and pushing the ball with dribble penetration a little more than the first half and that takes more energy to play defense instead of when the offensive players are playing catch on the perimeter the way Tennessee did in the first half when Peterson was calling set plays.
Heath was not upset with his team after the game, only disappointed in the loss. He thought they did play hard and did expend a lot of energy trying to execute his game plan. They did do a lot of things right, restricting what the Vols could do on offense by taking away their set plays.
"We had them scouted, and our players knew what to stop and how to do it," Heath said. "But, when that happened, they just spread the floor and took us on the dribble. I think some of our guards were surprised by that. They hadn't seen that. I know Eric Ferguson got beat a couple of times and that is not like Eric."
Are the Hogs getting better? The answer to that is yes, but they are still a man or two short.
"That's what I see," Heath said. "We are doing some good things, but we need a little more help. We can't ask Jonathon Modica or Dionisio Gomez to carry us. They can't do that. We need one more real weapon to get over the hump."
And, they need to matrue a bit so that the best players don't ask to go to the bench five minutes into the second half.