3 may be key

The 3-point basket was Tennessee's best friend in past seasons. This season it's more of a casual acquaintance.

Heading into today's 2 p.m. Eastern tipoff at defending national champ Kansas (9-3), the Vols (9-2) are hitting just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc. Moreover, their long-range marksmanship seems to be getting worse instead of better.

After sinking a commendable 39.3 percent (33 of 84) of their 3s in Games 1 through 5, the Vols made just 27.5 percent (41 of 149) in Games 6 through 11. Their numbers during the slump have been remarkably consistent, too – 7 of 24 vs. Gonzaga, 7 of 22 vs. UNC Asheville, 6 of 26 vs. Temple, 6 of 22 vs. Marquette, 8 of 29 vs. Belmont and 7 of 26 vs. Louisiana.

"Shooting continues to be an issue with great inconsistency," head coach Bruce Pearl conceded this week. "I still think this is a basketball team that's going to shoot the ball well. Any time now would be great."

Given the youth of UT's lineup, you'd figure shot selection is a problem. Pearl suggests otherwise.

"I like most of the shots that we're taking," he said. "But if we could improve on that outside shooting a little bit I think it would help a lot of things that are ailing us."

Tennessee's best perimeter shooters are redshirt freshman Cameron Tatum and true freshman Scotty Hopson. Tatum hit 2 of 5 tries Monday night vs. Louisiana but Hopson was 0 of 4 with an air ball.

"Cameron looked really good in his shot preparation, and he was 2 for 5," Pearl noted. "I am concerned about Scotty's perimeter shooting. He had one that was about a foot short. That's a concern. They're going to start giving him that look, so I hope he makes 'em pay."

Percentage-wise, Tennessee's three best games from beyond the arc were the three in which the Vols attempted the fewest 3s – 4 of 8 vs. Middle Tennessee, 6 of 14 vs. Siena and 10 of 16 vs. Georgetown. Still, Pearl doesn't want to impose any limitations.

"I think a lot of it has to do with shot preparation, and I thought (vs. Louisiana) we looked better in our shot preparation from 3. I don't want them to be tentative."

Tennessee was among the NCAA's finest 3-point shooting teams the past four seasons because of long-range bombers Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith. Now that both are gone, the Vols are struggling to fill the voids.

"That's something we've been working on," junior Josh Tabb said. "We come in at night and get night shots. We get managers after practice to get shots up. I think that has helped us a lot against the zone."

Naturally, the Vols are seeing a lot of zone these days, as more and more opponents dare them to score from outside.

"Coach said that most teams are going to play zone," Tabb noted. "We don't have Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith here anymore, so some teams think we can't shoot."

Based on the Vols' 3-point percentage in recent weeks, that belief is understandable.


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