Big problem for Vols

The bigger they are, the harder they ... are for the Tennessee Vols to defend. At least, that's been the case lately.

The Big Orange hopes to reverse this troubling trend tonight, when it hosts Josh Heytvelt and Gonzaga. Tipoff is set for 9 o'clock at Thompson-Boling Arena with television coverage provided by ESPN2.

Tennessee's first shot at Heytvelt and the Zags was not a pleasant experience. Playing in the Old Spice Classic at Orlando, the Vols trailed 37-36 early in the second half, then saw Heytvelt take over the game. The 6-11, 240-pound senior hit a 3-pointer, a 17-footer, a dunk and two free throws – nine points total – in a 37-20 surge that turned the one-point lead into an 18-point bulge (74-56).

Heytvelt finished 5 of 6 from the floor en route to 15 points in helping Gonzaga prevail 83-74.

Two weeks later the Vols were burned by another big man, 7-foot 220-pound Temple stringbean Sergio Olmos. Like Heytvelt, the Owls' pivot man was pivotal (pun intended) in turning the game's momentum.

With Temple leading just 52-48, Olmos hit a layup, a pair of free throws, a 15-footer and two more free throws – eight points in all – during a 27-11 explosion that turned a four-point lead into a 20-point cushion (79-59).

Olmos finished with 19 points and 5 blocks and the Owls finished with an 88-72 triumph.

The Vols met another quality big man and a similar fate last Saturday – Cole Aldrich, Kansas' 6-11, 245-pound sophomore. After UT whittled a 17-point deficit to seven with 4:33 to play, Aldrich hit back-to-back dunks in a 10-4 spurt that padded the lead to 87-74 and sealed the Vols' doom.

Aldrich finished 10 of 14 from the floor en route to a 22-point, 10-rebound, 6-block performance that helped the Jayhawks win 92-85.

The productivity of opposing big men does not suggest that 6-9, 240-pound Vol center Wayne Chism is relaxing defensively, however. The problem with UT's post defense lies elsewhere.

"I would say that Aldrich played as well as he did as a function of our ball-screen defense," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "He got a lot of open looks and lobs, and we didn't press up on him when he took his jump shot. It was not good ball pressure, not good ball-screen defense."

Conversely, the Vol boss thought Olmos' big outing vs. the Vols was a function of the home-floor advantage.

"I think Olmos was a guy that just played better at home and probably gave that Temple team a lot of confidence," Pearl said. "He's a big 7-footer who has been inconsistent (but) he made a couple of shots and got his confidence."

Blessed with more experience than Aldrich and more talent than Olmos, Heytvelt could provide a big test in every sense of the word.

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