Tenacious D

Shooting guards Lee Humphrey of Florida and Ron Lewis of Ohio State helped lead their respective teams to tonight's NCAA Championship Game, yet each struggled this season against an obscure Tennessee freshman.

Josh Tabb, the "sleeper" of an otherwise heralded Vol signing class, faced Humphrey and Lewis twice each during the 2006-07 season, and did a fine job in three of the four matchups.

In a Feb. 3 meeting at Gainesville, he helped hold Humphrey to 2-of-7 shooting. In a Feb. 27 rematch at Knoxville, he helped limit Humphrey to 3-of-8 shooting.

In a Jan. 13 meeting at Columbus, he helped hold Lewis to 2-of-5 shooting. In a Sweet 16 rematch, however, Lewis pumped in 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Vol head coach Bruce Pearl recently noted that Tabb is "a physical defensive stopper at times, and he's just a freshman."

With that in mind, I recently asked Josh what makes a great defensive player.

"Just determination to stop the guy you're guarding, shut him down for the night," he replied. "Coach tells me and JaJuan (Smith) that we're two of the best defensive players in the SEC. He tells us, ‘In order for us to win, we've got to shut these guys down.' That really sticks in my mind, shutting an opponent down."

Although he is an adequate offensive player, Tabb understands that defense is his ticket to playing time. That's why he is upset whenever an opposing player beats him for a basket. In fact, it really annoys him.

"Yeah, it does," he said, frowning. "In the Ole Miss game I had a guy drive around me, get a basket and get a foul called. Coach really gets on me hard about defense, so I'll come down the court next trip hoping to do a lot better job of keeping him contained."

Tabb's role in 2006-07 was to provide a spark off the bench while giving starting wings Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith occasional breathers. Smith, a top-notch defender in his own right, is one of Tabb's biggest fans.

"Oh, man, I think Josh is one of the most underrated defenders in the nation," Smith said. "He's long, he makes it hard for opponents to shoot over him. He's scrappy and he gets the 50-50 balls. He's one of the top defenders in the conference."

And, as Pearl noted, he's just a freshman.

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