Conversely, the only time Tennessee (15-4) held an opponent below 50 percent and lost this season was in Game 5 against Purdue. The Boilermakers shot 44.6 percent but limited UT to 43.4 percent in a 73-72 victory.
Although Bruce Pearl has led his league in scoring 16 times in 17 seasons as a head coach, his 2009-10 Vols have been winning with defense. During the seven-game winning streak that preceded their current two-game losing streak, they held six of the seven foes to less than 40-percent field-goal shooting.
Check it out:
- North Carolina A&T shot 41.9 percent
- Memphis shot 31.4 percent
- Charlotte shot 36.2 percent
- Kansas shot 37.7 percent
- Auburn shot 30.4 percent
- Ole Miss shot 34.4 percent
- Alabama shot 37.9 percent
"When we won seven straight teams shot less than 40 percent; we played great defense," Pearl said. "In the losses we have not been able to defend."
Some of his previous teams occasionally won due to their incredible offensive firepower. When Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith were hot from 3-point range in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08, for instance, the Vols were virtually unstoppable.
The 2009-10 team isn't nearly so explosive, however. It has to grind its way to victory against most opponents.
"Offensively, we are going to struggle at times. We're GOING to struggle," Pearl conceded. "The personnel and rotations will dictate that, and that's OK. But you cannot win when you struggle offensively if you don't play great defense. We've GOT to play great defense to win. It's the only way we've got a chance to win because there's not enough offensive firepower."
Senior point guard Bobby Maze, the man entrusted with directing Tennessee's sputtering offense, concedes as much.
"The teams that we hold under 40-percent shooting, those are the games that we win," he said. "The games when teams shoot 50 percent from the field, that's unacceptable and we've got to do a better job of defending and making it hard on guys to make shots."
Wednesday night's loss to Vanderbilt was especially upsetting in that the Vols defended all of the Commodores reasonably well except for senior point guard Jermaine Beal, who hit 8 of 12 shots en route to 25 points.
"We did not give enough help off the ball screen on Beal," Peal noted. "We allowed him too much free reign. We didn't trust our help enough to jump out on him and put a little more pressure on him.
"And he made a couple of big long ones. He got free a couple of times on halfcourt traps where we didn't rotate and he was standing there by himself."