Hoops hot shots

When they face the Florida Gators, Tennessee's perimeter players shoot lights-out. When they face the Kentucky Wildcats, however, those same Vols shoot as if the lights already WERE out.

Sunday's 79-75 win at Gainesville was merely another example of this phenomenon. The Big Orange shot a blistering 65.5 percent (19 of 29) from the floor, including 77.8 percent (7 of 9) from 3-point range, en route to a 45-33 halftime lead. Tennessee cooled a bit after intermission, of course, but still finished at 52.6 percent from both the field (30 of 57) and from 3 (10 of 19).

The display of marksmanship wasn't terribly surprising, given how well Tennessee shot in the Jan. 31 meeting with the Gators at Knoxville. The Vols drained a season-high twelve 3-point baskets that night and finished at 49.1 percent overall (29 of 49) en route to a 79-63 romp.

Now contrast those performances in its two wins vs. Florida to Tennessee's performances in its two losses vs. Kentucky:

The Jan. 13 game at Knoxville saw the Vols sink just 37.9 percent (25 of 66) from the floor and 26.1 percent (6 of 23) from 3. The Feb. 21 rematch at Lexington was even worse. Tennessee made a frigid 31.7 percent (20 of 63) from the floor and a putrid 16.7 percent (4 of 24) from beyond the arc.

The obvious question: Why does a Tennessee squad that can't shoot a lick vs. Kentucky shoot so well vs. Florida?

"Florida plays matchup zone," UT head coach Bruce Pearl explained during his weekly news conference. "They do give you some space. They have great respect for our inside game and our ability to drive the ball to the basket. Therefor, there were some opportunities to shoot the ball (Sunday) against that zone."

Pearl noted that he "used to be a really good zone coach" during his days as an assistant to Dr. Tom Davis at Boston College, Stanford and Iowa. When he accepted the head coaching reins at Div. II Southern Indiana, however, Pearl discovered there were fewer great athletes but more great shooters at that level of play.

"I was coaching kids from Indiana and Kentucky, and those guys can shoot the ball like nobody's business," Pearl said. "No matter how good a zone coach I was, you couldn't play a lot of zone in Division II (against kids from) Indiana and Kentucky, so I got away from zone."

Although Pearl suggests his ability to coach zone offense and zone defense grew a little rusty during those Southern Indiana days, the Vols' showings against Florida's matchup zone suggest it's coming back to him pretty quickly. Tennessee drained thirteen 3-pointers vs. the Gators in the 2008 meeting at Knoxville and romped 104-82, then shot 52.4 percent overall and 45.0 percent from 3 in winning the rematch at Gainesville 89-86.

"I think we do a good job against zone defense," Pearl said. "I think it's because there was a time when I was a good zone coach and I knew the things you need to do to attack it."

Because a good zone defense clogs the lane and invites long-range shots, offensive patience is a key. Tennessee hasn't shown a lot of offensive patience this season, but the two Florida games were exceptions to this rule ... especially Sunday's game at Gainesville.

"The guys did a good job of scoring in space, making the extra pass, turning down a good shot to get a better shot," Pearl noted. "How many times did the ball get kicked out, somebody shot-faked then turned it down?"

Enough times to shoot the lights out against Florida ... again.

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