D-moralizing

There's a reason basketball games are played so that each team is shooting at the goal nearest its bench in the second half: The coach has a better opportunity to elevate his team's offensive execution down the stretch.

This arrangement is helping most of the NCAA's major-college programs but it's killing the defensive-minded Tennessee Vols. It may be the key reason they tend to play good basketball in the first half and lousy basketball in the second half.

Consider the past four games:

- Tennessee outscores South Carolina 40-23 in the first half only to be outscored 33-46 in the second half.

- Tennessee outscores Kentucky 29-22 in the first half only to be outscored 29-42 in the second half.

- Tennessee outscores Arkansas 37-25 in the first half only to be outscored 37-43 in the second half.

- Tennessee outscores Florida 34-29 in the first half only to be outscored 40-56 in the second half.

For those keeping score at home, that four-game stretch saw the Vols average 35 first-half points and 35 second-half points per game. Their opponents, however, averaged 25 first-half points and 47 second-half points.

The explanation is surprisingly simple:

"The defense is away from our bench in the second half," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said. "We (coaches) do a good job in front of our bench, communicating instructions and helping the guys have a greater sense of urgency.

"Down at the other end (in the second half) they don't communicate as well, they're not as accountable, they're not as aggressive. Offensively, we've not been that much better in the second half with the offense in front of me but I think it really does hurt us (being at the other end) defensively."

Senior center Brian Williams says the Vols are acutely aware of their recent knack for second-half collapses.

"Defensively, we're away from our bench, so I guess we don't get the help of our coaching staff," he said. "They've been doing a great job in that."

Recent Vol games have followed an alarming trend: Tennessee spends 20 minutes building a decent intermission lead, then squanders most or all of it through a lack of energy and focus at the start of the second half.

"It's been the first four minutes of every half," Williams noted. "That dictates the rest of the game if you struggle that first four minutes."

Tennessee survived second-half lulls to beat South Carolina and Arkansas but could not overcome them in losses to Kentucky and Florida. Odds are, the Vols won't be able to withstand a second-half lull in Friday's NCAA West Region opener vs. Michigan, either.

"In the NCAA Tournament I don't think you can be a team that gets down 15 points and tries to make a comeback," Williams said. "No team that's in this tournament will allow you to do that."

Here's a look at Tennessee's recent second-half lulls:

Game 24: Homestanding Kentucky opens the second half with a 17-6 run, padding a 35-28 halftime lead to 52-34.

Game 25: Homestanding Florida opens the second half with a 20-12 spurt, turning a 29-35 deficit into a 49-47 lead.

Game 26: Visiting South Carolina opens the second half with a 19-11 run, turning a 25-33 deficit into a 44-44 tie.

Game 28: Homestanding Vanderbilt opens the second half with an 11-4 spurt, widening a 31-27 lead to 42-31.

Game 29: Visiting Mississippi State outscores Tennessee 22-15, turning a 34-34 halftime tie into a 56-49 lead.

Game 30: Visiting South Carolina scores on 14 of its first 16 second-half possessions, trimming a 23-40 intermission deficit to 54-58.

Game 31: Visiting Kentucky outscores Tennessee 18-4 to open the second half, turning a 22-29 deficit into a 40-33 lead.

Game 32: Arkansas makes 14 of its first 18 second-half shot attempts before cooling in the final two minutes of its SEC Tournament opener with Tennessee.

Game 33: Florida makes 14 of 17 field-goal tries en route to 56 second-half points in its SEC Tournament quarterfinal game vs. the Vols.


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