Problems in the paint

Tennessee struggled mightily in the paint – offensively AND defensively – Saturday night at LSU. Offensively, the Vols missed too many lay-ups. Defensively, they allowed too many lay-ups. Result: The Vols shot 40 percent, the Tigers shot 64 percent and LSU won by 14 points.

If Tennessee plays the same way in the next two games – Wednesday night at fourth-ranked Memphis and Saturday vs. second-ranked Florida – a three-game losing streak is a virtual certainty.

Although LSU had the homecourt advantage and better overall personnel than Tennessee, Vol head coach Bruce Pearl clearly was unhappy with his team's performance in the 88-74 setback.

"I'm disappointed that we didn't play better on Saturday against LSU, particularly taking advantage of some real opportunities in the first half," he said. "We played well enough to be up at halftime on the road."

The Vols weren't up at halftime, however. They were down 30-27.

Tennessee's fullcourt press was tenacious, forcing 17 first-half turnovers. The problem was, the Vols didn't convert those turnovers into transition buckets. They shot just 27 percent (10 of 37) in the first half. Even so, Pearl didn't second-guess the team's shot selection.

"I can't argue with many of our shots in the first half," the coach noted. "You can't argue with lay-ups. But we missed 15 of ‘em."

Indeed. Many of the first-half misfires at LSU came from point-blank range.

"We didn't finish looks around the basket," Pearl said, "and we didn't take advantage of forcing 17 first-half turnovers."

Tennessee nearly doubled its shooting percentage in the second half, hitting 52.6, but the Vols' defense slipped. Continually shredding the press for dunks and lay-ups, the Tigers shot a sizzling 76 percent in the second half and pulled away down the stretch.

"In the second half LSU handled our pressure better and obviously was able to pound the ball inside against us," Pearl noted. "We didn't do a good job adjusting to that."

It's unlikely that either Memphis or Florida is as strong on the inside as LSU. Both teams have better guard play and better depth, however, so Tennessee must play significantly better than it did at Baton Rouge just to be competitive in its next two outings.

"These next two games will be great challenges," Pearl noted. "If we don't defend better in the drop-back, and we don't convert better around the basket, we'll be here next week talking about two missed opportunities."

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