Defending the defense

His team allowed Vanderbilt to hit 54 percent of its shots Saturday. His team allowed a Thompson-Boling Arena record 18 baskets from 3-point range. His team allowed the Commodores to ring up 88 points in an SEC road game. Still, Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson thinks his defense is stronger this season than it was last season.

''I think we're better,'' the coach said. ''That game right there (Vandy), I wouldn't say we were.''

If the Vols are better, why didn't they show it against the Commodores?

''We did not put good pressure on the basketball,'' Peterson says. ''You've GOT to put good pressure on the basketball, no matter what kind of defense you're playing -- zone, man, sagging, pressure or whatever. You've got to have pressure on the ball, and we did not have pressure on the basketball. Why that was, I don't know.''

He'd better figure it out quickly because the Vols host a Mississippi State team tonight that has a 14-2 record, a 16-game road winning streak and a No. 18 national ranking. If the Vols play as poorly as they did against Vanderbilt, Wednesday's game will be over by halftime.

As bad as Tennessee's defensive effort was against the Commodores, Peterson says the Vols weren't out of position as often as they probably appeared to be.

''Watching the tape, there were some times we were there,'' he said. ''They (Commodores) just rose up and hit some shots.

''They're playing with a lot of confidence, and (point guard Mario) Moore is playing really well. When they've got the green light and they're doing that well with their halfcourt offense, it makes it really difficult to guard them.''

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