Confidence lacking?

Tennessee basketball coach Buzz Peterson says there's ''a fine line'' between winning and losing. Apparently, his Vols are stuck on the wrong side of that line.

The Big Orange has played four games decided by five points or less in the past month, losing all four. With a little better play in late-game situations -- a clutch basket here, a crucial stop there -- Tennessee could be 15-10 overall and 8-4 in SEC play, instead of 11-14 and 4-8.

Since beating Mississippi State 64-63 on Jan. 12, Tennessee has lost 66-63 at South Carolina (Jan. 15), 62-59 at Auburn (Jan. 29), 67-62 at Vanderbilt (Feb. 2) and 60-58 at Ole Miss (Feb. 19). There's a knack that enables some teams to win at the wire on a consistent basis, but UT clearly lacks it.

Peterson suggests his players lack the positive mindset necessary to win close games in the final minutes.

''Once you get one or two of those (close wins) to happen, you get confidence,'' he said during his Monday news conference. ''Confidence is the big thing. Right now, they probably lack that confidence to know they can win at the wire. Sometime, something good's going to happen to them, where they'll win that one, then build off that win.''

Tennessee had some close wins at the beginning of the season that should have given the team some late-game confidence. The Vols nipped Wofford 73-67 Nov. 29 but lost 69-68 to UT-Chattanooga one week later. They nipped Xavier 71-69 Dec. 11 but lost 62-61 to Nebraska three weeks later. And, as noted previously, they nipped Mississippi State only to lose all four tight games they've played since then.

Since the Vols seem unable to develop confidence by executing in late-game situations, Peterson is trying to develop that confidence by continually putting his team in late-game situations on the practice floor.

''I think you've got to keep giving 'em confidence, keep telling 'em we can get it done in late-game situations,'' he said. ''You've got to keep practicing those situations and keep trying to make them BELIEVE they're going to win those games.''

Of course, SEEING is believing. And the Vols haven't seen a close victory since Jan. 12.

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