Weak workout

Tennessee's basketball team struggled to defend Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and South Carolina the past few weeks. If Tuesday's practice was any indication, the Vols will have their hands full defending Winthrop, as well.

Running Winthrop's favorite plays, scout-team members routinely popped free for open jump shots and layups. Varsity players seemed a tad lethargic defensively, much as they did in recent losses to Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and South Carolina.

Head coach Bruce Pearl got animated a few times to try and inject some life into his troops but enjoyed little success. In short, Tennessee's final practice in Knoxville before traveling to Greensboro, N.C., to begin NCAA Tournament play was generally unimpressive. Still, Pearl tried to put a positive spin on things.

"I think the mood of the team is good," he said. "We didn't have a very good practice today but I had to back it down some because we had two strong, physical days Sunday and Monday. Winthrop is hard to guard, and they're especially hard to guard when you have to go half-speed.

"They run good stuff. They do a good job of getting the ball inside, getting the ball to the shooters. You know it's a real good offense when you're having a hard time covering it in practice."

The Vols have been a Cinderella story all season, rallying from a 14-17 disappointment in 2004-05 to go 21-7 in 2005-06. After being rewarded with an unexpected No. 2 NCAA Tournament seeding, they had spirited practices on Sunday and Monday. Their energy level slipped noticeably on Tuesday but Pearl thinks his players will be ready by the time they tip it off against Winthrop Thursday at 2:30.

"Obviously, this was not a team that we expected could achieve as much as they have in the regular season," he said. "Now it's all about taking advantage of the opportunity."

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