Bombs away

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Tennessee basketball fans mulled one burning question as they watched the Vols' regular-season opener versus UNC Greensboro: Who were those sharp-shooters impersonating the Vols?

The question was understandable. Guys who couldn't hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle in 2010-11 suddenly were knocking down 3-point shots the way drunks knock down whiskey shots at their favorite watering hole.

Trae Golden, who shot 18.2 percent from 3 last season, drained 5 of 9. Jordan McRae, who hit 11.1 percent last season, hit 4 of 5. Cameron Tatum, who hit 27.2 percent a year ago, made 2 of 3. Renaldo Woolridge, who was 0 of 8 a year ago, also nailed 2 of 3 in the 2011-12 opener. Skylar McBee, who shot a so-so 32.4 from 3 last year, made 2 of 2 Friday night.

McRae believes the reason for Tennessee's new-found success from behind the arc is simple:

"We have so many great drivers on our team that when somebody drives they (defenders) have to help," he said. "If they don't help it's a layup. When they help that leaves people wide open to shoot 3s."

The Vols were wide open, all right. They hit 15 shots from 3 versus UNC Greensboro, and most of those were virtually uncontested. That normally means the big men are doing a good job of making the defense collapse inside, then kicking the ball outside. One Vol believes the answer was a little more involved than that, however.

"I think it was because we were all unselfish and willing to make the extra pass," junior power forward Jeronne Maymon said. "That made it look better to the fans and us, too. I was surprised at how open our shots were. I was proud of our guys for continuing to make the extra pass, even though some guys were hot."

No Vol was hotter than sophomore point guard Trae Golden, who was tabbed SEC Player of the Week after hitting 10 of 14 shots en route to 29 points in the opener. He is one of several Vols who seems to have developed a little swagger this season.

"I think the biggest key for our guys is to play with confidence," head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "If you have a shot, take it. Just don't take bad shots, and I don't think we took a lot of bad shots."

By giving Tennessee's players the green light to fire at will, Martin is showing faith in their shot selection. That suggests the Vols have been shooting pretty well in practice.

"Yeah," McRae said. "We have some great shooters on our team — Trae, Renaldo, Cam. You can't really leave a guy on our team wide open, and I think throughout the year that's going to help our team a lot."

As a team, Tennessee shot a sizzling 64.6 percent from the field (31 of 48) and 62.5 percent from behind the arc (15 of 24) in the opener. Fans and media were surprised but the Vols weren't.

"It happens in practice, so why wouldn't it carry over to games?" Maymon said. "We pass the ball in practice, we hit open shots."

Although Tennessee's early workouts were devoted almost exclusively to defense, Martin says the Vols got plenty of work on offense as the opener approached. Interestingly enough, most of the work was on individual skills, rather than on team plays.

"We do spend a lot of time on the skill part, not so much on the set plays because, at the end of the day, I would rather have a better player than a better play," Martin said. "I think that's the key for our guys: Their skill development is good. When a play breaks down, you still have to be able to make an individual play."

The Vols certainly made individual plays in the opener. That's partly because they didn't worry about being benched if they made a mistake.

"Coach Martin tells us don't look at him (to see if you're coming out)," McRae said. "He says if he wants you he'll call you, so you keep playing your game. He tells us that if you have a 3-point shot take it. Even if it's not a good shot, take it if you think you can make it; we'll talk about what's a good and a bad shot after the game."


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