It's cold outside

It was that great hockey star/philosopher Wayne Gretzky who one surmised, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take."

Bruce Pearl figures the same holds true of 3-point fields. You can't make 'em if you don't take 'em. That's why, even though his 2008-09 Tennessee Vols ranked dead last among the 12 SEC teams in 3-point percentage (31.5), he wants his troops to keep firing in 2009-10.

"We're not giving up on the 3-ball," he said this week. "As long as that thing is still worth one more than a 2, we're going to keep shooting it."

If Tennessee is to improve on last season's 21-13 record and first-round ouster from the NCAA Tournament, however, the Vols need to shoot it better than they did a year ago.

Pearl said he insisted that his team continue bombing from beyond the arc last winter, in spite of its statistical stumbles.

"It's all about spacing," he said. "You've got to make people extend defensively. Otherwise, driving lanes and post-up lanes are not available to you."

After hitting 35.7 percent from 3 in 2007-08, Tennessee's 31.5 mark in 2008-09 represented a significant drop. Pearl says the slippage is easily explained.

"The new guards did not shoot it nearly as well as they needed to shoot it," he said. "Tyler's and Wayne's percentages were not as good as they can be, and will be."

The "new guards" were true freshmen Scotty Hopson and Renaldo Woolridge, redshirt freshman Cameron Tatum, Arizona transfer J.P. Prince and junior college transfer Bobby Maze.

Hopson shot a solid 35.7 percent but Woolridge, who launched 69 of his 90 shots from beyond the arc, made just 27.5 percent. Tatum hit a pedestrian 32.1 percent. Prince, playing his first full season on The Hill after sitting out the first half of 2007-08, shot a frigid 12.5 percent (3 of 24) from behind the arc. Maze checked in at 31.9 percent.

Pearl allows his frontcourt players to shoot more 3s than most coaches but that strategy paid only modest dividends in 2008-09. Post Wayne Chism hit a so-so 32.0 percent and forward Tyler Smith made just 29.2 percent.

Chism, a 6-9, 245-pounder who can be a force inside, has been criticized by fans and media for spending so much of his time outside. Pearl wants the big man firing from the far reaches, however, to lure opposing big men away from the basket. So, Chism continues to fine-tune his 3-point shot.

"That's what I've been working on because that's what I came in doing, and I just couldn't get away from it," the muscular senior said. "It helps my team from the outside and the inside perspective because I can do good inside and I can do good outside."

Tennessee went 31-5 two years ago with Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith bombing from behind the arc. With them gone, the Vols won 10 fewer games last season ... and made a lot fewer 3-pointers. Despite the inexperience at guard, Pearl says shot selection wasn't the problem.

"It's my job to make sure we take better shots," he said. "But I think we got good-enough shots last year. I think we missed way too many open shots - shots that we normally make.

"I don't remember many of our guys having to make the shots that Chris and JaJuan took the year before (with the shot-clock winding down). Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith took tougher shots and made them the year before than the guys took last year."

Now that Vol guards have additional experience, Pearl believes Tennessee's perimeter shooting will be much improved this season. Chism thinks so, too, noting: "I told Scotty, 'When I do good inside, there's going to be a lot of pressure on me. So, when I kick it outside to you, let it ride.'

"We've got confidence in 'em this year."

Now the guards need to justify that confidence.

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