Vols run, have fun

Former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson used to call his defense "40 minutes of hell." Tennessee's offense could've borrowed that phrase last season. The Vols' half-court attack was downright painful to watch.

Fortunately, things have changed. The same players who drew snores in 2004-05 are drawing cheers in 2005-06. The up-tempo attack installed by new coach Bruce Pearl is fun for them to play and fun for fans to watch.

"I love it," said sophomore guard Chris Lofton, who rang up 24 points in Friday's 106-83 Game 1 blowout of East Tennessee State. "I like shooting the ball, and in this offense everybody has the green light to shoot. It's a flex offense, where if you cut and move without the ball you're going to get open."

Although the primary goal is to attack the basket before the defense is set, the backup plan is to provide open looks from the perimeter off the so-called "secondary break." Lofton got enough of these open looks vs. ETSU to fire up 16 shots. Most of the attempts came in transition. Twelve came from beyond the arc.

"If you're open, you've GOT to shoot it; that's a rule," Lofton said. "Coach gets mad if you don't shoot it, so there's no hesitation."

Although Pearl's system represents a dramatic departure from the offense utilized by predecessor Buzz Peterson, the Vols are adapting pretty quickly.

"He just put the system in, and we went over it every day in practice," Lofton said. "Now everything's paying off."

Although the Vols sometimes look like a well-oiled machine, at other times they look ragged and disjointed. That's because they sometimes get in too much of a hurry.

"At times I think we get a little carried away and get a little too fast-paced," junior Dane Bradshaw said. "But everything's going well right now and we've got confidence in our system."

Lofton thinks the occasional ragged play is a product of the quick tempo, adding, "That's just part of it. There's going to be some carelessness and turnovers but that's part of the game and you've just got to overcome it."

Bradshaw, a 6-4 guard/forward who is better at penetrating than outside shooting, also has benefited from the new offensive system. He hit double figures for the first time in his career with 13 points vs. ETSU.

"Coach really harps on a lot of penetration and getting an open shot for the 3," Bradshaw said. "He'll stop practice if we take a tough 2 and a man was open outside for a 3. That led us to 106 points."

The fact Tennessee cracked the century mark in its first game suggests the Vols have adapted well to the new system.

"It really isn't a hard system to adjust to," Bradshaw said. "I think that's why it's been so easy for us to get the feel of things. Everybody's doing well with it. We just have to continue."

An added benefit of the new offense is that it also encourages the Vols to hit the backboards harder and play defense with more passion.

"Everybody has the mindset that he's giving us the freedom to take early shots," senior wing Stanley Asumnu noted, "so it's our duty to play good defense, rebound and have fun out there."

It looks like they've got the fun part down pat.

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