Pluggin' leaks

Most of the basketball world is wondering: How did the unheralded Tennessee Vols get to be 20-4?

The answer is pretty basic: Bruce Pearl keeps pluggin' leaks and his team keeps pluggin' along. The Vols are not overly talented, overly big or overly deep, so they occasionally break down in one area or another. The key is that they always seem to fix the problem and bounce back in short order. Consider:

GAME 1: Tennessee committed 23 turnovers in the opener against ETSU but tightened its ball security, then came back four days later and committed just 12 turnovers in Game 2 vs. Louisiana LaFayette.

GAME 7: Tennessee lost the backboard battle 38-25 and allowed Oklahoma State to shoot 63 percent from the floor Dec. 22 in Oklahoma City. Five days later the Vols bounced back to outrebound Alabama A&M 37-32 and hold the visitors to 38.7 percent shooting.

GAME 9: Tennessee shot just 38.2 percent from the floor and 25.0 percent from 3-point range vs. Lipscomb on Dec. 29. The Vols rediscovered their shooting strokes and came back six days later to hit 56.5 and 45.0 against South Alabama.

GAME 13: Tennessee got killed on the backboards (43-25) Jan. 14 at LSU, then bounced back four days later to grab 44 rebounds (19 of them offensive) at Memphis.

GAME 21: Tennessee matched its season high with 23 turnovers Feb. 11 at Georgia but ironed out its problems and came back four days later to commit just nine turnovers against Auburn.

GAME 23: Tennessee's half-court defense was shredded Feb. 18 by Alabama, which shot 76 percent in the first half and 53.7 for the game en route to a 92-79 win. The Vols plugged the leaks in their defense and four days later limited a potent Florida team to 46-percent shooting and 72 points, 20 fewer than Alabama scored.

"We really rallied," Pearl said of UT's defensive effort at Florida. "We're challenged individually defensively because of size or athleticism or strength, so therefor you've got to keep an eye on your partner. We were much more aggressive than against Alabama."

Another problem solved. Another crisis averted. Another bounce-back victory.

And that's how the Tennessee Vols got to be 20-4.

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