Point of emphasis

It's no secret that Tennessee's point-guard play has been spotty the past three seasons. And it's no secret that point-guard play is the key to Tennessee's post-season hopes this season.

Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins were merely adequate in Friday's 83-54 Game 1 blowout of Austin Peay, so they will be watched closely when the Vols host UNC Asheville tonight at 7 in Game 2.

Senior starter Maze was 1 for 5 from the field with more turnovers (5) than assists (3). Goins, fresh from junior college, was 2 of 6 with 4 assists and 3 turnovers. Getting 7 assists and 8 turnovers from the tandem was nothing to write home about but head coach Bruce Pearl was encouraged with the duo's defensive work. Goins had two steals. Maze registered none but helped cause several of Austin Peay's 19 turnovers.

"I think they both gave a pretty good effort defensively," Pearl said. "I think they both showed growth and improvement with the press."

Indeed. Maze and Goins provided considerable backcourt pressure in Tennessee's fullcourt defense. That's why the Vols will do more pressing tonight.

"I thought we pressed effectively, got some turnovers, got some pursuit," Pearl said. "Our transition was much better than it was in the two exhibition games - getting out of the press and getting back (in halfcourt defense). It created the tempo we wanted and it had the overall effect of wearing our opponent down that we desired."

Offensively, however, neither point guard played particularly well in Game 1.

"Melvin had a positive assist/turnover ratio," Pearl noted. "Bobby had more turnovers in that game than he normally has but part of it was he had a couple of fast-break situations (go awry) early.... When he wasn't playing his best he forced a few things."

Still, based on what he saw in preseason games and practices, Pearl believes Maze and Goins are capable of providing a solid 1-2 punch.

"I would anticipate we'll get better point-guard play," the coach said. "A lot has to do with the challenges they face night in and night out. They're going to go against some really good point guards."

Although Austin Peay and UNC Asheville are so-called "mid-major programs," their point guards are pretty close to Tennessee's in terms of raw talent.

"When you play mid-majors, the only true separation is in front lines," Pearl explained. "Our guards are a little better than the other guards but they're not a lot better. Our frontline guys usually have an advantage (against mid-major opposition)."

Four players hit double figures in Tennessee's opener, led by Scotty Hopson with 16 points and Cameron Tatum with 15. Tyler Smith added 14 and Wayne Chism 11. Pearl was understandably pleased.

"I love balance," he said. "I know that in our system there's not going to be tremendous consistency of 'this guy' being there every night. Because we push it and the ball moves a lot, it won't be the same guy every night."

Pearl went on to explain that balanced scoring is commonplace against a lesser opponent because all of the superior team's players tend to be better than the guys guarding them. Conversely, when facing the quality teams, only the quality players tend to score well.

"Against the very best teams, the best players are putting up numbers," the coach said. "When you're playing against teams that you've got a little edge against - we're a little better than Austin Peay - then everybody has an opportunity where they're going to feel comfortable, so there usually is greater balance - in minutes and scoring opportunities and things like that. That's the nature of the competition."


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