Patience will be tested

If you love high-scoring, up-tempo basketball, you probably don't want to go near Thompson-Boling Arena tonight.

If recent history is any indication, Tennessee (12-7 overall, 2-2 SEC) and visiting LSU (10-9, 2-2) will put on a slow-paced exhibition in which each team scores in the 50s.

Blessed with plenty of veteran talent, first-year Tiger head man Trent Johnson utilized a quick pace and won 79-73 at Knoxville in 2009. With a young team in 2010, however, he played a zone defense and a deliberate tempo. Forced into a halfcourt game, Tennessee shot 38.7 percent from the field, 21.9 percent from 3 and scored 59 points in each of last season's meetings.

This year, with another youthful roster, the Tigers are playing at even more of a snail's pace. They're averaging an SEC-low 53.2 points per game in conference play.

"Obviously, it would be great to speed them up and create a higher-scoring game," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "Kentucky was able to do that (in an 82-44 romp at Lexington on Jan. 15) but Kentucky's got a lot of quickness."

Tennessee, conversely, does not have a lot of quickness. As a result, the Vols probably will have to play tonight's game at the ponderous pace dictated by LSU. That puts a real premium on patience.

"Sometimes a zone can just slow the tempo of a game down," Pearl said, "and I'm sure that's why they (Tigers) are playing a lot of it."

Each of last season's Tennessee-LSU games followed the same pattern: The Vols would shoot miserably in the first half, warm up considerably in the second half and make just enough plays in the closing minutes to prevail.

Check it out:

- Tennessee won the regular-season game 59-54 at Baton Rouge. The Vols shot 30.0 percent in the first half, 52.0 percent in the second half and 40.0 percent (22 of 55) for the game, including 27.8 percent (5 of 18) from 3-point range.

- The teams met again in the 2010 SEC Tournament at Nashville, with Tennessee prevailing 59-49. The Vols shot 25.9 percent in the first half, 50 percent in the second half and 37.3 percent (19 of 51) for the game, including a dismal 17.4 percent (4 of 23) from 3-point range.

"LSU defensively did about as good a job on us as anybody a year ago," Pearl noted. "They played 37 minutes of 2-3 zone in our last contest against them in the SEC Tournament. We stood around and struggled. They played great zone and we struggled as much in that game as any."

Even if you count the more up-tempo 2009 game, Tennessee is averaging just 63.7 points and LSU 60.1 in the three meetings since Johnson took the Tiger reins prior to the '09 season.

"Three times we've played Trent Johnson's teams and three times we've played them very close games," Pearl recalled. "We're 2-1 - having won two last year against a team that did struggle - but they were very, very close wins."

GAME NOTES: Freshman wing Ralston Turner, LSU's leading scorer at 13.7 points per game, might see some action tonight. He missed LSU's previous four games with a foot injury. Junior forward Storm Warren is questionable due to an Achilles injury.... The Tigers' projected starters are 6-9 junior Malcolm White (8.3 points, 5.4 rebounds per game), 6-9 sophomore Eddie Ludwig (3.3 points, 2.8 rebounds), 6-7 freshman Matt Derenbecker (6.1 points, 2.2 rebounds), 6-4 sophomore Aaron Dotson (7.4 points, 3.2 rebounds) and 5-9 freshman Andre Stringer (12.9 points, 2.8 assists per game).... Tonight's tipoff is set for 8:04 with the game being televised regionally by the SEC Network.... After serving as bench coach Saturday at UConn, Bruce Pearl resumes his eight-game SEC suspension tonight. Associate head coach Tony Jones will manage the game in Pearl's absence. Jones is 2-2 as the fill-in to date.


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