UT half decent in halfcourt

Bruce Pearl's first three Tennessee basketball teams excelled in transition and struggled in halfcourt offense. This year represents quite a departure.

After some early season struggles, the youthful 2008-09 Vols are developing into a pretty decent halfcourt offensive team. That's fortunate because they aren't nearly as dynamic in transition as their UT predecessors.

"We're leading the league in field-goal percentage," Pearl noted this week. "Our offense has been OK. At this point we have everything in there we need to go against man or zone, man that's extended and packed, post and perimeter."

Pearl realized in November and December that this team lacked the quickness and savvy to play the high-octane pressing and running game of his previous squads. When he tightened the reins, there was some obvious resistance from players who had signed with UT expecting to run and gun. That resistance is now gone.

"There's a little bit more of a comfort level," Pearl said. "Coaches always want to be better but we're leading the league in field-goal percentage (47.8 percent) and we're shooting the ball a little better from 3."

Tennessee's early season struggles from 3-point range have been too well-chronicled to warrant repeating here. Suffice to say, the Vols are shooting the 3-ball much less often but much more successfully in recent weeks. They're getting most of their points in the paint these days, which is why their shooting percentage has risen dramatically.

"I think the numbers are better," Pearl said. "I would like to have to manufacture less of it (in halfcourt offense). I'd love to be scoring better in transition, getting more easy baskets."

Because transition points have been few and far between, Tennessee has gotten a lot of work on its halfcourt attack. The results are encouraging. Since shooting 32.7 percent and 42.3 percent in back-to-back losses vs. Memphis and LSU, Tennessee's field-goal percentages the past five games have been 49.2, 48.2, 59.2, 46.4 and 45.5. Meanwhile, UT's cumulative 3-point percentage for the past six games is a solid 35.8. That suggests the halfcourt offense is working.

"Our set pieces have been good, our spacing has been good," Pearl said. "We need to finish around the basket at a higher percentage.

"Our assist/turnover ratio has been really good. The guys deserve a lot of credit for that. We're turning down some good shots to get better shots. We're not turning the ball over unforced. It's been good."

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