Pearl's dilemma

The only way to break out of a shooting slump is to keep shooting. But if the slump continues for a prolonged period of time, it can cost a team several games.

That's the dilemma facing Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl as he prepares his team to face Memphis on Thursday, Charlotte on Jan. 6 and top-ranked Kansas on Jan. 10.

Pearl's Vols, 9-2 and ranked No. 14 nationally, shot just 16.2 percent (11 of 68) from 3-point range over the past three games. If they shoot that poorly in the upcoming three games they probably will suffer three losses.

So, will Pearl tell his troops to shoot their way out of the slump or will he tell them to cut back on their long-range attempts?

The answer is that he'll do both. He'll encourage some Vols to keep firing but suggest that others resist the urge to unload from beyond the arc.

"My philosophy on that is: If you're shooting better than 34 percent from 3, shoot more," he said. "If you're shooting between 30 and 34 percent, get in the gym and let's see where you go (before deciding). If you're shooting less than 30 percent, put it away until next year. That's not in your arsenal.

"There are some guys I'm encouraging to shoot more and there are some guys that the numbers say, 'Shoot less.' That's not something coaches should necessarily make decisions about."

Point guard Bobby Maze has a mere 21.9 shooting percentage from 3 after making just 1 of 10 attempts the past three games. Backup Melvin Goins is shooting a modest 27.8 percent after going 1 for 4 during the same span. Still, Pearl is reluctant to restrict their shot selection.

"Should Melvin put it away? Should Bobby put it away? Their numbers would indicate that if they don't start shooting it better ... yes," Pearl said. "But you can't have a point guard that can't shoot the ball from 3. They (opposing defenders) will back off of him completely."

Even after making just 1 of his last 10 attempts from 3, wing Scotty Hopson is hitting 42.6 percent from behind the arc. Obviously, he needs to keep firing. So does fellow wing Cameron Tatum, who went 2-for-10 the past three games but is still hitting 40.0 percent for the season.

"Cam was shooting 50-something percent before the last three games," Pearl said. "I don't think you can have him put it away. But I think he's got to be accountable. Maybe he's not going to be so quick to shoot early in offense. He won't take a bad 3-point shot. He'll really focus on just taking good shots."

Pearl recalled that former Vol All-American Chris Lofton "could take bad shots because he was a great shooter and could make bad shots, as well. But when Chris struggled early on, you saw him take fewer bad shots and really work on making the open shots ... which means working harder in your offense."

The coach expects his team to work really hard on offense against Memphis, Charlotte and Kansas the next three games, explaining that "Better defensive teams make you work harder to get better shots."

Pearl said he's having the Vols put up a lot of 3-pointers in practice this week, lest they lose faith in their shooting strokes.

"Shooting is very, very much involved with confidence," he said. "The first thing you do is make sure they get enough shots. A lot of the guys went home (during the Christmas break) to their home gyms, where the iron is kind, and worked on their strokes."

Confidence will be especially important vs. Memphis, since the game will be played at The FedEx Forum.

As Pearl noted: "When you go on the road, you can't take shots; you've got to make shots."


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