UT must defend better

Tennessee's basketball team played a great first half against Auburn last Wednesday and a great second half against Alabama last Saturday. In between, however, the Vols played 40 minutes of the most ineffective defense in recent program history.

During Half 2 vs. Auburn the Vols allowed 24 of 36 field goal tries, 8 of 10 three-point tries and 64 total points. During Half 1 vs. Alabama the Vols allowed 19 of 25 field goal tries, 6 of 10 three-point tries and 57 total points.

Combining the two halves yields some mind-boggling numbers: 43 field goals in 61 attempts (70.5 percent), 14 three-pointers in 20 attempts (70.0 percent) and 121 total points.

Is the Vol defense that bad? Of course not. It's the same defense that limited Auburn to 38-percent shooting and 25 points in the first half and limited Alabama to 34-percent shooting and 35 points in the second half.

Why did Tennessee perform at such defensive extremes in the same week?

Against Auburn, the Vols built a big halftime lead, then lost their intensity. This enabled the Tigers to make an assortment of layups, putbacks and open 3-pointers in the second half. As for the horrendous half vs. Bama, that appeared to be more about match-up than mindset.

Alabama's 6-10, 6-9, 6-8 frontline dwarfed Tennessee's 6-10, 6-4, 6-7 frontline. The Tide also featured one of the SEC's most athletic guards in 6-3 Ronald Steele.

The Vols tried so hard to contain 6-10 Jermareo Davidson, 6-8 Richard Hendrix and Steele that the other Tide players were virtually unguarded. As a result, Alonzo Gee (5 of 7 field goals, 14 points) and Jean Felix (12 points) had big games coming off the bench.

"Those were the three guys we tried to stop, and we couldn't," UT coach Bruce Pearl said of Davidson, Hendrix and Steele. "In trying to stop them, we left a couple of guys in Felix and Gee open, and those guys stepped up."

This much is clear: If the Vols play defense Wednesday against high-scoring Florida the way they did in the first half against Auburn and the second half against Alabama, they'll have an excellent chance to win. However, if they play defense the way they did in the SECOND half vs. Auburn and the FIRST half vs. Alabama, the Gator game could get ugly.

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