Huge tests await Maze

Tennessee point guard Bobby Maze tends to play his best basketball when he has something to prove, so he should play the best basketball of his career this week.

Tuesday night he'll be in Nashville facing Vanderbilt's Jermaine Beal, who burned the Vols for 25 points in an 85-76 Commodore win at Knoxville on Jan. 27. On Saturday he'll be in Lexington facing Kentucky's John Wall, arguably the most heralded freshman in college hoops.

"It doesn't get any better than that," Maze said, grinning broadly. "They'll see me. I'm coming."

Maze already proved himself against one of the NCAA's premier point guards over the weekend, limiting South Carolina's Devan Downey to 5-of-20 shooting in a 79-53 Vol romp. Maze also contributed 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a block, with just 1 turnover in 22 minutes.

Tennessee's head coach was not surprised by the strong showing against Downey.

"I think Bobby has been very focused against the best point guards on our schedule," Bruce Pearl said. "Bobby felt like he could go in there and score. South Carolina will press you, and you must attack pressure. We did attack the pressure, we did get the ball down the floor. Bobby did a great job with that."

Although Downey finished with 26 points, most of those came on foul shots after Saturday's outcome was no longer in doubt.

"Bobby Maze obviously was aggressive offensively early, and stepped up to the challenge of playing against Devan Downey," Pearl said. "I thought he did a great job defensively against him. He got a lot of his points in the second half from the foul line."

Maze readily admits that he gets a little extra motivated when he's facing heralded players such as Downey and Wall.

"I think I do," he said. "I like playing against everybody but those big names are special, especially when you're on the couch watching on TV and they're always talking about the Devan Downeys, the John Walls, the Chris Warrens. I feel like I can play with those guys or even better."

Vandy's Beal lacks the name recognition of Downey, Walls and Ole Miss' Warren but he's well known in Big Orange Country after almost single-handedly beating the Vols at Thompson-Boling Arena 12 days ago.

"We mixed up on some coverages," Maze recalled. "A couple of times I went to trap and we didn't rotate over, and he was able to hit some open shots. The big thing is that he stepped up and made shots down the stretch. We can't allow that happen this time. The defense is really going to have to step up."

Bobby Maze, in particular, is going to have to step up. He must contain Beal on Tuesday night and Wall on Saturday night for the Vols to have any kind of chance to win either game.

"I feel like I have to play well against these guards we're about to face," Maze said, "then that's what I have to do."

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