No threat from 3

It's no secret that the best way to shut down the Tennessee Vols is to clog the lane and dare them to score from the perimeter.

This strategy resulted in upset losses to Oakland in Game 8, Charlotte in Game 9, Southern Cal in Game 10 and College of Charleston in Game 13.

No doubt Memphis will utilize the same ploy when it visits Thompson-Boling Arena tonight at 9. Until the Vols improve on their SEC-worst 30.3-percent shooting from beyond the arc, every opponent will crowd the basket and concede the 3-ball.

Asked this week if he is concerned by his team's ongoing offensive woes, head coach Bruce Pearl nodded.

"You're last in the league in 3-point shooting and you're getting inconsistent scoring on the inside and we have some turnover issues," he said. "The lane is clogged because teams don't respect our shooters. Absolutely, there's reason to be concerned."

Tennessee's 3-point slump would be less of a concern if it only affected two or three players. Instead, the malady seems to have spread throughout the entire team.

Crunch these numbers:

- Cameron Tatum, a 38.9-percent 3-point shooter last season, is hitting 32.0 percent this season.

- Scotty Hopson, a 33.3-percent 3-point shooter last season, is hitting 32.7 percent this season.

- Melvin Goins, a 32.7-percent 3-point shooter last season, is hitting 31.8 percent this season.

- Skylar McBee, a 31.3-percent 3-point shooter last season, is hitting 30.0 percent this season.

- Renaldo Woolridge, a 31.9-percent 3-point shooter last season, is 0 for 8 this season.

Pearl seems perplexed by his team's futility from long range.

"I thought it could be a good 3-point shooting team," he said. "I still think it can be. With the exception of the 5 (center position), we can put somebody at each position that can shoot the basketball, so it should be a better 3-point shooting team than it is."

It isn't, though. Instead, this is on pace to be the worst 3-point shooting team of Pearl's six years on The Hill. Tennessee shot 38.7 percent in 2005-06, shot 36.5 percent in 2006-07, shot 35.7 percent in 2007-08, shot 31.5 percent in 2008-09 and shot 32.0 in 2009-10.

Still, Pearl believes this team has sufficient firepower.

"Scotty and Tobias (Harris) and Cameron and Melvin and Trae (Golden) and Josh (Bone) and Skylar and Jordan McRae and Renaldo Woolridge can all shoot it," the coach said. "I'm taking applications on anybody that wants that job - to knock down a few more shots. We'll get some guys to answer that."

Naturally, as Tennessee's shooting percentage has dipped, so has the Vols' confidence level. Asked when the team began to lose confidence in its 3-point marksmanship, Pearl frowned.

"Way too soon," he said. "It came into play in the second half against Oakland. We had an 11-point lead at halftime but we dropped off in the second half. Then we played fabulous defense the next game at Charlotte but just couldn't score in the halfcourt. I think the confidence (erosion) was there a little bit."

Oddly enough, Tennessee shot quite well from 3 in its two signature wins this season. The Vols hit 37.5 percent (6 of 16) in upsetting No. 7 Villanova 78-68 on Nov. 26 and drained a sizzling 63.6 percent (7 of 11) in an 83-76 upset of third-ranked Pitt on Dec. 11.

Subsequent opponents watched and learned from those outings, however.

"They're not defending us anything like Pittsburgh and Villanova did," Pearl noted. "And why would you?"

Asked if he could be more specific, the coach started to speak, paused, then finally replied: "No."

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