Defending the 3

With Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith on the wings, Tennessee might shoot the 3-pointer better than any team in college basketball. The Vols may defend the 3-pointer better, as well.

Counting two exhibition foes, Tennessee has limited its first three opponents of 2007-08 to just 10-of-66 shooting from beyond the arc. That's an icy 15.1 percent. This number is shocking in view of the fact the Vols ranked eighth among the 12 SEC teams in 3-point defense (34.8 percent) and dead last in field-goal defense (45.7 percent) a year ago.

This is a new season, however, and the Vols seem to have a new knack for stopping the trey. California-Pennsylvania was 1 of 24 in exhibition No. 1. Lincoln Memorial was 6 of 25 in exhibition No. 2. Temple was 3 of 17 in last Friday's regular-season opener.

It's much too early to say the 2007 Vols are going to be impregnable, of course, but their start certainly suggests they are going to be significantly improved defensively.

"We're trying to take a lot of pride in that," JaJuan Smith said. "That game last year against Ohio State (in the NCAA Sweet 16) still sticks in the back of our minds, and what let us down was our second-half defense. We're trying to take a lot of pride in defense."

Smith has been Tennessee's premier perimeter defender ever since he stepped on campus four years ago. And he has gotten better with age, as his five steals in the 80-63 Game 1 defeat of Temple attests.

"I scored 15 points but I'm not worried about the points," he said. "I'm more excited about my five steals. I think that means a lot for me and my teammates."

Tennessee led the SEC in scoring offense last season at 80.9 points per game but ranked dead last in scoring defense at 75.1. The Vols project to be a high-scoring outfit again this year, based on 106 points vs. Cal-Pennsylvania, 124 vs. LMU and 80 vs. Temple.

"Everybody's talking about the points," Smith said, "but we're not worried about the points. All we're talking about is defense."

Because Tennessee had to rely on true freshman centers Wayne Chism and Duke Crews last year, post defense was a problem in 2006-07, as well. Chism is determined that won't happen again.

"Defense. That's the focus," he said. "If we don't focus on defense, there won't be no offense to come to."

Head coach Bruce Pearl said following the Temple game that "the physicality is there" for Tennessee to be a strong defensive team but that his players aren't nearly as tough as they need to be. The Owls might argue that point after shooting just 39 percent from the field.

There's also the matter of tutoring freshmen Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum, who didn't have to play much defense during their high school and prep school days.

"They're still trying to find their way," Pearl said. "They've got good teammates and they've come in and they're helping. They'll learn a lot from seeing how the other guys respond.

"But we've got a long way to go. We've got a lot of work to do."

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