Pearl finds winning formula

He's a basketball coach, not a mathematics professor, yet Bruce Pearl has reduced Tennessee's season to a simple equation: Fewer 3s equals more Ws.

The Vols launched 3-point shots at a rate of 22.3 per game – hitting a meager 30.4 percent – en route to a disappointing 10-5 start this season. The past two games they shot 12 treys vs. South Carolina and 13 vs. Vanderbilt. Although the percentage was even worse (28.0), the result was far better ... two victories and no defeats.

So, you're probably wondering: Why didn't Pearl pull the plug on the 3-ball a few weeks earlier, instead of letting the Vols continue firing and falling?

"They had to learn for themselves," Pearl said. "When we shoot too many 3 balls – not making the percentages we were (in the past) – it leads to transitions (for the opponent). Long shots (equal) long rebounds and long rebounds (equal) fast-break opportunities."

Tennessee could afford to shoot 3s in bunches during the Chris Lofton/JaJuan Smith era (2004-2007) because of two factors:

One, they made a high percentage from beyond the arc. Two, they got back on defense when they missed. Neither of those statements apply to the 2008-09 Vols.

"Not only do we not shoot the 3-ball as well ... we don't get back as well," Pearl noted. "The more you shoot it, the more you miss it, the more they (opponents) run out."

Tennessee's coaching staff recognized in November that this team did not have the shooting skills of Pearl's previous three Big Orange squads. The tipoff came in Game 2 vs. UT-Martin, when the Vols made just 2 of 17 from beyond the arc.

Still, Tennessee got to 5-0 before its weakness from 3 became a problem. Opponents began crowding the basket and daring the poor-shooting Vols to fire from long range. Once the secret was out, UT lost five of its next 10 games.

"When we got five or six games under our belt, they (opponents) got it (key to defending Tennessee)," Pearl said. "Now they've made the adjustment."

Finally, after an 18-point home-floor loss to Kentucky, Pearl told his troops to stop launching so often from long range.

"We have put a greater premium on shot selection," he conceded. "It's something that, if I'd done it a month ago, we would've had a revolt on our hands because the players would feel like they were handcuffed offensively."

Because fewer 3s resulted in victories over South Carolina and Vanderbilt, however, the Vols have grudgingly accepted the tighter reins.

Pearl summed it up this way: "Now they feel like, 'OK, I've got to turn down the 3-shot to get a better shot because this is how we can win."

At 3-1 in SEC play, Tennessee still has a great shot at repeating its 2007-08 league championship. The Vols merely need to follow the formula:

Fewer 3s equals more Ws.

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