Finishing fades killing UT

A recurring theme has become an alarming trend for Tennessee: The Vols don't finish what they start. In four of their six losses they led at halftime – twice by comfortable margins – only to wilt in the second half.

- Tennessee led Butler 25-22 at the break but was outscored 34-19 in the second half. Poor shooting was the culprit as the Vols made just 7.1 percent (1 of 14) from 3-point range and 10.3 percent (3 of 29) overall in the final 20 minutes.

- Tennessee led Vanderbilt 40-37 at halftime but was outscored 45-41 after intermission.

- Tennessee led Auburn 38-29 at the break but was outscored 54-42 in the second half. The key was a five-minute lapse during which an 18-0 Tiger explosion turned a 52-66 deficit into a 70-66 lead.

- Tennessee led Ole Miss 38-28 at halftime but was outscored 55-31 thereafter. This time a defensive melt-down was to blame as UT allowed the Rebels to shoot 59.4 percent after the break.

Tennessee's recent inability to hold large second-half leads on the road is especially troubling. In their last two road tests the Vols blew a 14-point cushion at Auburn and squandered a 10-point bulge at Ole Miss.

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl believes his troops wilted in some recent games because "they exerted so much energy and intensity to build the leads against South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Ole Miss"

Pearl said his roster is "not as deep as we'd like," and that he has been playing some of his starters too many minutes as a result.

"I've never had two years (like 2005-06 and 2006-07) where our bench was this thin," the coach added. "I've never coached this style of basketball with eight guys. We've always been able to play nine or ten guys. It may take us another year to continue to build the roster."

Despite the shortage of quality depth, Pearl vows to give his starters more rest and his reserves more minutes in the weeks to come.

"We're playing three or four guys too many minutes," the coach said. "I'm going to try and cut those minutes back, even though it means we may have some lineups out there that will be even more challenged to score. If we can be close at the end, we'll be fresh enough to make plays to win games."

Senior captain Dane Bradshaw conceded that Tennessee's second-half fades have become "a common theme" and that "maybe we've got some guys playing too many minutes." Still, he thinks a lack of concentration may be just as damaging as the lack of depth.

"We have some mentally tough guys on the team," he said, "but we have to all realize how focused you have to be for 40 minutes, especially as deep as the SEC is this year."

Tennessee's lack of focus has been most noticeable on defense. Auburn hung 54 second-half points on the Vols and Ole Miss shredded them for 55 second-half points.

Bradshaw said Ole Miss deserves credit for attacking the basket with a smaller, quicker lineup after the break, then added: "But a lot of it was some things we could've done better."

One thing Tennssee must do better is match the opponent's intensity coming out of halftime. The Vols were outscored 30-19 by Mississippi State at the start of the second half, although they rallied to win 92-84. They were outscored 22-8 by Vanderbilt to open the second half, 28-23 by Auburn and 13-2 by Ole Miss – losing each time.

To his credit, Bradshaw refuses to use star guard Chris Lofton's injury as an excuse for UT's second-half struggles.

"With or without him, we've had the same problem for the past five or six games," he said. "I don't think you can point to Chris. It's something we're not doing in the second half."

Specifically, the Vols are not finishing what they've started.

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