When to foul or not?

When to foul and when not to foul? That is the question.

The answer?

It depends on the coach.

Tennessee had a 3-point lead at Georgia in the final seconds. A 3-point basket would tie the game.

What should Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl do?

He fouled.

Now, in previous years, Tennessee had a coach named Buzz Peterson. He had several 3-point leads in the final seconds. Sometimes he fouled. Sometimes he didn't. It seemed no matter what he did, it didn't work.

He didn't foul and Louisville banked in a 3-pointer.

He didn't foul and Florida's Brett Nelson hit a fadeaway 28-footer to send the game into overtime.

He didn't foul – even though he instructed his players to – and Kentucky's Cliff Hawkins hit a 3 at the top of the key to improve the Wildcats outside accuracy to about 2 of 20.

He fouled against Florida and his players waited until the Gator was in the act of shooting – a 3-pointer. Three foul shots for Florida.

The point: Whatever Peterson did, it backfired.

So here was Pearl, instructing his team to foul Georgia in the back court with a 3-point lead and less than five seconds on the clock.

Pearl said he considers fouling with five to 10 seconds left.

``Three or four seconds is all it takes for them to get an outlet (pass), dribble the ball up the floor and get to the 3-point line,'' Pearl said. ``And with a guy like Sundiata Gaines, who shoots it well off the bounce and gets the ball up the floor so fast, there was absolutely no way I was going to take a chance. It was a no-brainer for me to foul him.''

The fact Gaines isn't a good foul shooter wasn't a part of the equation, Pearl said.

``I wanted to foul anybody,'' Pearl said. ``I just did not want to give Georgia a chance to tie the game.''

So what happened?

Gaines missed the free throw, got his own rebound, raced to the 3-point line and missed a potential game-tying shot.

Now, if Peterson was coaching UT, Gaines would have hit the 3.

Pearl wasn't that unfortunate. In fact, he said he was fortunate.

But he got on his players about not boxing out the foul shooter – something, he says, is taught in the second grade.

``So I think there are a lot of second-grade coaches out there that have got a lot on me as far as execution,'' Pearl said.

Pearl said he would use that strategy against most any team, unless that team didn't have anyone with the ability to hit a 3-point shot.

``If you don't foul, if they make one play, the game is tied,'' Pearl said. ``You foul so they have to make three plays. They have to miss the free throw, rebound the free throw and get a shot and make it. They've got to make three plays. I like our chances of forcing them into making three plays.

``Now (Georgia) made two. They got the rebound, they got the shot, they didn't make it.''

But there was something about not blocking out that really bothered Pearl. He said the team had an ``interesting'' film study Monday morning. Why? Because there are so many more little things the players can do better.

``I think there are some things you ask a player to do and then when we don't make those adjustments, it gets frustrating; it gets frustrating as a teacher,'' Pearl said.

While Pearl has seen improvement in rebounding, getting to the foul line, hitting free throws and dropping back on defense, he's concerned about something else: Not making adjustments on the fly. He didn't want to get specific because it might help an opponent in scouting.

``I can't call timeout every time,'' Pearl said. ``I'm not going to call timeout and diagram every play. They've got to communicate. The players are smart. They understand the game but their inability to communicate really puts them at a disadvantage. They could help each other out a lot on the floor if they could just talk their actions, and they're not.''

It was suggested that's an area where the Vols miss Dane Bradshaw.

``For sure, but you've got to get over that,'' Pearl said. ``It's February already.''

The fact Tennessee is No. 2 in the nation – for the first time – and 23-2 – also for the first time – allows Pearl to harp on some of the little things that could get you beat.

``Now's a time to get after them and stay after them,'' Pearl said. ``We're just trying to keep the bar set real high.''

Pearl said Auburn – Wednesday's opponent – will throw a lot of defensive looks at Tennessee, from a switching man-to-man to a 1-3-1 zone to a 2-3 to a run-and-jump.

``They put your players to where they've got to think out there and react to the different changes in defense,'' Pearl said.

That will test Tennessee's ability to communicate.

And it will test Pearl's patience if the Vols don't.


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