Vols crumble at crunch time

When the going gets tough, the Tennessee Vols get ... flustered.

To win close basketball games, a team must show toughness and composure when things seem to be going the opponent's way. With rare exceptions, the Tennessee Vols have shown neither this season. That's why they stand 0-5 in SEC road games and wilted in homefloor losses to Kentucky, Louisville and Georgia Tech.

There is a key moment in almost every game, when one team's heart and poise enables it to pull away and prevail. Most days, Tennessee is the OTHER team.

''We just need to get tougher in those crunch times,'' Vol head man Buzz Peterson said this week. ''We need to stand up and challenge one another because we seem to fade right there.''

The Vols have come up empty at crunch time in every SEC road game thus far. Fortunately, they've shown a little more fire and gumption at home.

''At home, they've done that,'' Peterson said. ''Against Arkansas, we were down but came back and won the game at the end. But at home things kind of go your way -- on your homecourt ... the surroundings are very comfortable ... the energy that's in your gym.

''For the life of me, sometimes on the road, I just can't figure out.''

When Peterson senses that his team is slipping into collapse mode, he takes prompt action.

''I use a lot of timeouts to break it up and calm 'em down,'' he said. ''I don't know why we just fall apart.''

Worse, he doesn't know how to solve this problem.

''We talk about mental toughness,'' he said. ''But we really have not responded well at all (in clutch situations.''

Peterson hopes to change that trend tonight, when the Vols host Ole Miss. Tipoff is set for 7:30 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

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