Key matchup: Maze vs. Pargo

Tennessee assistant Tony Jones hit the nail on the head before the 2008-09 Vols even hit the practice floor.

"I see him being the leader of our basketball team," Jones said back in October, "and I think when all is said and done, we're going to go as Bobby Maze goes."

That makes the Vols' junior point guard a real key heading into tonight's game with Gonzaga (9 p.m. tipoff at Thompson-Boling Arena) since the Bulldogs' Jeremy Pargo is one of the NCAA's premier point guards.

Pargo averages 10.1 points and 6.9 assists per game with a 2.68 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He was right on his norms (10 points, 7 assists, 3 steals) in Gonzaga's 83-74 defeat of Tennessee at the Old Spice Classic five weeks ago in Orlando.

Like Pargo, Maze is the catalyst of his team's offense. When he plays well, Tennessee usually wins. When he doesn't, Tennessee tends to lose.

Consider:

Maze recorded 12 points, 11 assists and just 1 turnover in Tennessee's 114-75 Game 1 blowout of Chattanooga. He contributed 7 assists in a 91-64 Game 2 drubbing of UT-Martin. He had 14 points, 9 assists and 0 turnovers in a 90-78 Game 5 defeat of Georgetown.

Maze has cooled off a bit since the hot start, however. He produced just 2 assists in an 83-74 Game 6 loss to Gonzaga in the Old Spice Classic and just 2 more in a lethargic 87-69 Game 7 defeat of UNC Asheville. He went 1 of 5 from 3-point range with 3 turnovers in a 79-77 Game 10 defeat of Belmont. He was 4 of 11 from the floor with a season-high 4 turnovers before fouling out in 26 minutes last Saturday in a 92-85 loss at Kansas.

In addition to some offensive struggles, Maze has encountered some defensive woes of late. Belmont point guard Alex Renfro lit him up to the tune of 30 points in Game 10 and Kansas point guard Sherron Collins burned him for 26 points and 9 assists in Game 12 last weekend.

"Our point guard defense has regressed," head coach Bruce Pearl conceded. "But the thing about Bobby is, we are not a contender for anything without Bobby Maze. I am very, very pleased with him being here and I'm very pleased with how he played early this season.

"We have played against great point guards. It seems like that has been The Matchup. We beat Marquette and Dominic James, a great point guard (because) we outplayed him. And he (Maze) dominated Chris Wright from Georgetown.

"At the same time Renfro, Collins and Pargo have had great, great games against us."

Although Pearl noted that the Vols' point-guard defense is not where it should be, he quickly added that poor communicating and poor switching by teammates has contributed to the problem.

"We, as a team, are not trusting our help," Pearl said. "We're not rotating and we're leaving too many guys out there all by themselves.... It's a function of playing against great point guards but not giving our point guard enough help.

"That's about experience. That's about trust. Hopefully, those things will improve."


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