Prince of Tides

J.P. Prince may not be the go-to guy but he's the GO-THROUGH GUY. The more active and involved he is on the offensive end, the more cohesive and productive Tennessee's attack is.

Heading into tonight's NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal (6:07 Central tipoff) against Ohio State, Prince's numbers over the past 12 games are striking. When he scored in double figures the Vols went 9-0. When he did not the Vols were 0-3.

"J.P.'s value to us is obvious," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "He's become more assertive. He still does it with high-percentage shots. His shooting percentage is good because he gets a lot of stuff around the basket."

Tennessee (27-8) seems to be peaking, having won seven of its last eight games. The Vol rally coincides with an individual rally by Prince. Over the past eight games he has made 40 of 64 field-goal tries (62.5 percent), including 5 of 12 (41.6 percent) from 3-point range.

"He doesn't take many 3s but he's made just enough in big situations," Pearl said. "He gets to the foul line. With the ball in his hand he makes good decisions. I think J.P. has been a real key to our season."

Prince may be the No. 1 key tonight. In addition to providing his usual points and assists on offense, he'll be counted on to defend Ohio State All-American Evan Turner. Even at 6-8 and 205 pounds, Prince is agile enough to cover opposing guards.

"J.P. is a good all-around player," Pearl said. "He creates possessions for you defensively by taking charges and getting deflections and making steals. J.P. makes a lot happen."

If Prince can contain Turner and Tennessee can hang with the Buckeyes on the backboards, the Vols could reach the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.

"Defense and rebounding win championships," Pearl said. "We're defending and rebounding when we win."

Although the 2010 Vols are producing fewer points than Pearl's previous teams did, they still are capable of scoring in transition when the opportunity presents itself. That could be a key tonight, as well.

"We're definitely an uptempo team," Pearl said. "You can see we can run. We like to run. We like to push the ball. We like to spread it. We like to shoot it. But, at the same time, you've got to do what your personnel is suited for. The last year and a half the personnel hasn't been suited to pressing - it was when I got here - so we'll continue to do what our personnel dictates."

Perhaps the greatest attribute this Big Orange team has is its ability to adapt to its opponents. It can play smothering defense on the inside. It can blanket 3-point shooters on the perimeter. It can dominate the backboards at times. It can grind to a low-scoring victory and, occasionally, it can win playing a quicker tempo.

"We like to be a team that can win games in the 90s and in the 60s," Pearl said. "When Ohio started to extend their defense a little bit and press a little bit, I thought we handled the pressure well and converted at the other end. I thought Bobby Maze did an outstanding job. We'll have to do that against Ohio State. Ohio State is going to press us, even with a short bench, so we're going to have to do a good job of advancing the ball down the floor and making them pay.

"They'll play zone, they'll play a 2-3 matchup, they'll play 1-3-1, they'll play a switching man-to-man. They'll do a number of different things, and we'll have to be able to handle all of that."

As noted earlier, however, the Vols are awfully good at adjusting to whatever the opponent throws at them.

"There's no one way to play us," Pearl said. "There's not a specific game plan where we have a specific weakness."


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