Did UT learn from USC fiasco?

Tennessee's basketball players are confident they'll shoot better in their second road game of 2009-10 than they did in their first. No wonder. Almost anything would represent an improvement.

The Vols shot a chilly 34.5 percent from the field and a frigid 9.2 percent from 3 - both season lows - in a 77-55 loss at Southern Cal on Dec. 19. Tennessee, 9-2 and ranked No. 14, will play its second road game of the season Saturday at Memphis, also 9-2. Tipoff is set for 3 o'clock Central (4 Eastern) at FedExForum.

Whereas a supportive crowd can help a team through rough patches on its home floor, things tend to snowball when a team struggles on the road. That's what happened when the Vols visited USC earlier this month.

"We'll have to be patient and keep our poise," senior forward Tyler Smith said. "We lost our poise at USC. We wasn't knocking down shots, and we didn't know any way to account for that."

Smith believes that loss - ugly as it was - will help the Vols in the long run.

"Going into this game - having been through those things at USC - we know what to expect if our shots are not falling," he said. "We've got to continue to work hard in our halfcourt offense to get baskets. It doesn't have to be transition 3s all the time. It can be halfcourt offense, attacking inside. Then, if they double inside on Wayne (Chism), he can kick it out and those guys (Vol guards) are going to make shots."

Somebody had better make shots because Tennessee is a mediocre team when it shoots poorly. The Vols' other loss thus far, a 73-72 setback at the hands of Purdue, saw them make just 3 of 11 shots from 3-point range.

"When we're not shooting the ball well - we shot 15 percent from 3 in our losses to Purdue and USC - obviously that's a huge factor for us," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "And our assist numbers are way down, which is an indication that we're getting shots but we're not making shots."

As a team, Tennessee is shooting respectable percentages from both the field (48.4) and from beyond the arc (34.7). The level of opposition is about to jump significantly in the weeks ahead, however.

"As you go up against better teams offense becomes more difficult because you're going up against better defensive teams," Pearl said. "Therefor you have to work harder to get good looks. And there's more of a price that you pay for the miss.

"You're not going to get as many good looks, so when you get them you've got to knock them down."

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