'Smash-mouth' basketball

The Texas Longhorns don't run that much faster, shoot that much better or defend that much tighter than most of their opponents. The only area where Rick Barnes' team really excels is on the backboards, but that's enough to give Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl some anxious moments as Saturday's 2 p.m. EST tip-off in Austin approaches.

"Texas' strength is rebounding," Pearl says. "They can physically overwhelm you. Duke and Iowa are the only teams to hang with Texas on the boards this season and they're the only two teams who have been competitive. Texas has won five games at the Erwin Center and the point differential is 35 points per game. And the reason for that is rebounding."

The board-crashing Longhorns outrebound their foes by an average of 12.7 per game. LaMarcus Aldridge, a 6-10 post player, leads the backboard brigade at 9.9 rebounds per game. Small forward P.J. Tucker, though only 6-5, averages 7.9 rebounds per game. The third member of Texas' frontline, 6-8 power forward Brad Buckman, averages 7.4 rebounds per game.

"Aldridge is an NBA first-round pick," Pearl says. "The 3-man, P.J. Tucker, is a 6-5 center playing small forward. He's a very difficult match-up for anybody."

Especially the Vols. Whereas the Longhorn trio combines for 25.2 rebounds per game, Tennessee's frontline of Major Wingate (3.6), Dane Bradshaw (7.8) and Stanley Asumnu (3.2) combine for just 14.6 rebounds per game. As a team Tennessee averages 0.2 FEWER rebounds per game than its foes.

Making matters worse for the Vols is the fact sixth-ranked Texas was manhandled by top-ranked Duke earlier this week in a 31-point loss. Thus, the Longhorns will be angry and highly motivated when they take the floor against Tennessee.

"Texas is a physical team but they were outphysicalled by Duke, and that did not sit well with them," Pearl says. "They'll come out and play smash-mouth basketball and get after us."

Whereas the Longhorns are a "smash-mouth" team, Tennessee is not at all physical. The preseason dismissal of 6-8 senior Jemere Hendrix has left the Vols with an undersized starting five and a shortage of depth. That makes Saturday's challenge even more daunting.

"Texas and Oklahoma State (Dec. 22) are both very physical teams, so foul trouble could be a factor for us," Pearl notes. "We have only one player over 6-8, and that's Major Wingate."

Even with Wingate (6-10), Brandon Crump (6-10) and Hendrix (6-8) seeing action in last year's meeting with Texas at the Maui Invitational, Tennessee lost the backboard battle 44-27 and lost the game 95-70.

Bottom line: Unless the Vols do much better on the backboards in Saturday's rematch, they probably won't do any better on the scoreboard.

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