The Vols were particularly disruptive in Saturday night's 85-69 defeat of Georgia at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols limited the Bulldogs to four field goals in the game's first 17 minutes. At the half Georgia was 7 of 21 (33 percent) with almost as many turnovers (16) as points (23).
"We tried to press ‘em early and try to get some turnovers," Vol senior Chris Lofton said. "I think we were successful. That's our goal – turnovers and then transition."
With its defense smothering Georgia, Tennessee raced to a 15-4 lead seven minutes into the game and then kept pouring it on. The gap was 28-11 after 14 minutes and 44-23 by halftime.
"We jumped out to a hot start," Lofton noted. "That's what you've got to do – jump out to a hot start and try to bury them."
Tennessee is a lot feistier on defense than a year ago. With more depth, the starters can expend more energy – knowing they won't have to play as many minutes.
"We have to have tremendous energy with what we do defensively," Pearl said. "We need offense from our defense. What we do doesn't work without great ball pressure and extending. It doesn't work."
Tennessee does not rank among the SEC leaders in scoring defense because of its tempo. The Vols' hectic pace gives them more chances to score but also gives the opponent more chances to score.
"The team that leads the league in defense is one of the lower-scoring teams," Pearl noted. "It's a lower-scoring game, which means there are fewer shots."
Tennessee doesn't rank among the SEC leaders in field-goal defense, either. That's because the Vols press quite a bit, creating a boom-or-bust situation. The boom comes when UT forces a backcourt turnover. The bust comes when the opponent beats the press and shoots a layup at the other end.
"Now you look at our defensive numbers, and we don't lead the league in field-goal percentage defense or stuff like that because it's not our style of play," Pearl said. "But our defense is a factor (in UT's success)."
Tennessee's defense got a lift Saturday from little-used Josh Tabb. As the 10th man in a nine-man rotation, he rarely sees the floor. Saturday night was an exception, however.
"JaJuan Smith picked up two early fouls, so Josh Tabb came in," Pearl noted. "Josh did a terrific job defensively. It was great to have him out there."
Tabb did not attempt a shot but recorded 2 assists, a steal and a blocked shot in 10 solid minutes off the bench. The crowd showed its appreciation each time he entered or exited the lineup.
"How about the crowd responding to Josh Tabb?" Pearl said. "How about our fans becoming basketball knowledgeable and appreciating who Josh Tabb is and welcoming him back onto the floor? There was a buzz when he got into the game, and it was wonderful."