Defense improving?

Since being shredded by North Carolina (58.8 percent from the floor) and Texas (52.4 percent) in Games 2 and 3, Tennessee's defense seems to have made significant progress.

Although the quality of opposition has dipped since November, opposing shooting percentages strongly suggest the Vols are more active on the defensive end these days. The last four opponents all shot 40 percent or less -- Belmont (38.3), Campbell (40.5), Nebraska (38.2) and Coastal Carolina (30.8).

''The Xavier game, they scored at 10 1/2 minutes, 7 1/2 and 2 1/2, and that was basically it,'' head coach Buzz Peterson said. ''We did a pretty good job against a pretty good halfcourt team.

''We've got to continue mixing defenses at people to keep them out of rhythm but I really feel like some individuals have stepped it up and helped us on the defensive end.''

One of those is a hot-shooting freshman known primarily for his offense when he arrived on campus last fall.

''Chris Lofton has come a long way,'' Peterson said. ''The last game (Coastal Carolina) he showed some pretty good signs of guarding the ball. Dane (Bradshaw) got off to a slow start defensively but he's gotten better there. C.J. (Watson) is improving.''

The Vol coach says Tennessee's interior defense has been especially strong, thanks to 6-10 Major Wingate, 6-10 Brandon Crump and 6-7 Andre Patterson.

''One thing Major and Brandon and Andre have done a better job of is staying down (not jumping) and building good, solid walls inside. We don't need to be jumping up and trying to block a lot of shots. We just need to build big, solid walls, and they've done a pretty good job of doing that.''

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