Bounce-back time

It's bounce-back time in Tennessee.

The Basketball Vols, fresh from their first loss of the Bruce Pearl era, look to get back on the winning track tonight against Alabama A&M. Tip-off is set for 7:30 EST at Thompson-Boling. This will be UT's first home game since hosting Appalachian State on Dec. 6, a span of precisely three weeks.

The key to victory? Getting back to the things that enabled the Vols to win their first six games and achieve a No. 23 national ranking. Here's the checklist:

1. Take good shots.

2. Take care of the ball and distribute the ball.

3. Crash the backboards.

4. Find a way to stop the opponent's half-court offense.

The Vols did none of these in their 89-73 Game 7 loss to Oklahoma State.

Take good shots? Not when it mattered. They missed 16 of their last 18 field-goal tries after pulling within 67-66. "Once we got there, we needed to take better shots," Pearl said, "and we didn't." The finishing fade was in stark contrast to earlier games, when UT was coolly efficient down the stretch.

Take care of the ball and distribute the ball? No again. The Vols had more turnovers (16) than assists (12) vs. Oklahoma State, the first time that has happened all season.

Crash the backboards? Nope. OSU out-rebounded Tennessee 38-25.

Find a way to stop the opponent's half-court offense? The Vols are still looking. The Cowboys shot 70.8 percent in the second half and 63.0 for the game. As Pearl noted: "We have some limitations in drop-back defense that a team like Oklahoma State was obviously able to expose."

Tennessee's players said afterward that OSU was the best team they'd faced, even better than nationally ranked Texas. Still, the undersized, depth-shy Vols didn't do the things they MUST do to be successful.

That's why it's bounce-back time in Tennessee.

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