What happened to the points?

Like an aging hippie, Tennessee's basketball team seems stuck in the 60s. But, instead of "Where have all the flowers gone?" the Vols' anthem is "Where have all the baskets gone?"

A Big Orange squad that averages nearly 83 points per game hasn't escaped the 60s in the last three games. The Vols beat Memphis 66-62 on Feb. 23, lost at Vanderbilt 72-69 on Feb. 26 and edged Kentucky 63-60 on Sunday.

Suddenly, the offensive juggernaut is more naught than jugger. So, what's the problem?

"I think it's just the shots we usually hit not falling," said Tyler Smith, who scored a team-high 15 against Kentucky.

Vol head coach Bruce Pearl has a different idea. He believes some opponents are playing keep-away by holding the ball more and shooting it less. Tennessee can't score without the ball, a fact that was painfully evident Sunday against the Wildcats.

"It was ball control," Pearl said. "Kentucky shot 46 times. They're the most patient, slowest-paced team in the SEC. That is the ball-control offense."

With Kentucky trying to play keep-away, Tennessee countered by trying to play take-away. The Vols used more full-court pressure than usual in an attempt to steal the ball or at least force the visiting Cats to pick up the pace.

"We turned them over 17 times," Pearl noted. "We pressed 'em all game long. We don't press all game long but we tried to speed 'em up. We tried to turn 'em over. We tried to wear 'em down."

The Wildcats eventually wore down with four minutes left. For the game's first 36 minutes, however, they forced a pace that limited both teams' possessions.

"We only had 54 shots," Pearl mused.

Even with just 54 shots, Tennessee could've pushed its score into the 70s by hitting a decent percentage from the field instead of 40.7. Kentucky blanketed Chris Lofton (3 of 5 from the field) and fellow wing JaJuan Smith (2 of 8), daring Vol point guards Ramar Smith and Jordan Howell to score from the perimeter. They didn't. Each went 0 for 1 beyond the arc.

Kentucky's decision to leave Tennessee's point guards open was a sound one. Smith has made just one 3-pointer in his last 16 games. Howell is 2 for his last 20 from beyond the arc.

"They were playing off us," Pearl said of the Wildcats. "With the exception of JaJuan and Chris we've got a lot of guys right now that are not confident from the perimeter. Will teams back off of us some more? Perhaps."

In addition to relieving the pressure on Lofton and JaJuan Smith, a few long-range bombs from the point guards would loosen things up underneath for Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith.

"We tried to go inside more," Pearl noted, "but it's hard to go inside when they (defenders) are backed off of us so much. If we could've had a good shooting night – and we started off pretty well – maybe we could've taken control of things."

Lofton, a preseason All-American who has 409 career 3-pointers, clearly needs more help from the perimeter than he got on Sunday. Never one to complain, however, he steered clear of that topic when asked about the need for more punch from his backcourt mates.

"I guess you could say that," he hedged. "But you always play to your strength and you do what you can do best."

Still, Lofton did not enjoy being smothered by Wildcat defenders all afternoon.

"They weren't letting me and JaJuan get the ball at all," he said. "They were trying to make other people make plays."

Will the Vols see more of that tactic in the weeks ahead?

"Eventually," Lofton said, "because it's working."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories