UT must find new tactic

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl's game plan varies little from game to game: Set a pace so fast the opponent can't keep up. Apply so much defensive pressure the opponent can't run its offense. Force turnovers in bunches.

"We make people not play their best basketball against us," Pearl said recently. "It's the ball pressure and the different things we try to do. We try to make the game sloppy."

The Vols (4-0) succeeded in their first four games, forcing 107 turnovers, an average of nearly 27 per game. That plan is unlikely to work in tonight's NIT semifinals against Butler (7 p.m. tipoff on ESPN2). The Bulldogs seem oblivious to defensive pressure. They averaged just 8.8 turnovers per game in 2005-06 and they're averaging 10.0 per game in 2006-07.

"The challenge for us is when we play teams we will not turn over ... like Butler," Pearl said. "Butler averaged eight turnovers per game last year. They maybe turned it over the least of anybody in the country because they have terrific guards and their bigs can all handle the ball.

"Pressure will bother Butler, but it won't be a deciding factor in this game. It will not be because they'll handle it, so you've got to find other ways to win."

Tennessee beat several teams in 2005-06 simply by outhustling them. That tactic may not work tonight, either.

"Butler will be as difficult as any team we play to outwork," Pearl said. "It's like playing against a (Dane) Bradshaw at every position."

Whether the Vols can find alternate paths to victory remains to be seen. Butler (4-0) is a resourceful team that beat Notre Dame 71-69 and Indiana 60-55 to earn its berth in the NIT semis. And, for a mid-major, the Bulldogs have a lot of big-time scalps hanging from their belts.

"Butler University is the poster child for mid-majors," Pearl said. "They were one of the first to start knocking people off. And they play at Hinkle Fieldhouse, which is one of the most famous buildings in all of college basketball. That's where they filmed the movie 'Hoosiers.'"

Butler's player to watch is 3-point gunner A.J. Green, who hit eight treys en route to 28 points against Notre Dame and came back a night later to score 20 in the defeat of Indiana.

Freshman Wayne Chism believes the Vols will need big games from junior wings Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith in order to win tonight.

"Butler's a good team, a physical team," Chism said. "We're going to have to play physical back, get C-Lo and JaJuan hyped and have everybody crash the boards."

Win or lose tonight, Tennessee will play Friday against either North Carolina or Gonzaga.

"North Carolina and Roy Williams speaks for itself," Pearl said. "And Gonzaga, along with UCLA and Arizona, are the powers in the West. It's a great, great field, and we hope we represent ourselves and the Southeastern Conference well."

Senior forward Dane Bradshaw conceded that facing an elite program such as North Carolina or Gonzaga would be "huge," adding that the Vols would "love to say we played in the championship game against one of those schools in Madison Square Garden."

Still, Bradshaw cautions that the Big Orange must focus on its semifinal test before looking ahead to the finals.

"Butler doesn't have as big a name," he said, "but they're in there for a reason."


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