Vols focus on Vols, not UK

When your boat springs a leak, you don't have time to worry about who you'll be facing in your next yacht race. The immediate concern is keeping your boat from sinking.

That's pretty much the situation facing Tennessee's Basketball Vols this week. Ending Kentucky's 16-game winning streak isn't their primary focus. Ending Tennessee's recent doldrums is. Since upsetting fourth-ranked Florida on Feb. 15, the Vols have played discouragingly sloppy basketball in losses to South Carolina and Alabama.

Sloppy basketball won't beat Kentucky. Even superior basketball may not be enough to overcome the second-ranked Wildcats, who will carry a 25-3 record and a No. 2 national ranking into Wednesday night's game. So, Vol head man Buzz Peterson is focusing on getting the Vol ship back on course, instead of worrying about Tubby Smith's yacht.

''It's a tough challenge for our ballclub,'' Peterson said. ''But right now I'm focused on us, getting back on the same page. I've watched the tape of Saturday's game (76-71 homefloor loss to Bama) a couple of times, and we're just not mentally sharp on the defensive end. We're out of place ... not boxing out.

''That's carried over to the offensive end, made everything look a little sloppy there. When things look sloppy there, it transfers to both ends of the floor, and that's what's been happening to us here of late.''

Another problem the Vol coach has noted is a lack of aggressiveness on offense. The Vols simply aren't attacking the basket the way they should.

''We only had two guys get to the free throw line (vs. Bama),'' Peterson said, referring to Ron Slay (12 of 15) and C.J. Watson (2 of 4). ''Ron got there 15 times but nobody else really got there. That tells me we're not being aggressive enough on that end of the floor.''

Yet another recent problem is some Vols venturing outside their roles. When a player attempts something beyond the scope of his ability, mishaps follow. Even Thaydeus Holden, a 5-foot-10 senior guard who scored 22 points vs. Alabama, was guilty of forgetting his role once.

''We've got to understand our roles a little better,'' Peterson said. ''Thaydeus tried to drive in there and left-hand it on (6-foot-9 Erwin) Dudley. That's not his role.''

Unfortuntely for the Vols, the role reversal didn't end there.

''Elgrace (Wilborn) is taking a 12-foot jumper off the first pass,'' Peterson recalled. ''The jump-hook is fine for him, but the jump shot is not his role. We've gotten out of our roles a little bit.''

No Vol has slipped further from his role than senior guard Jon Higgins. Formerly one of the most feared shooters in the SEC, he hasn't scored in double-figures since the Jan. 22 game at Georgia -- mainly because he rarely attempts a shot.

''Jon Higgins has got to find shots somewhere during the course of the game, instead of the end of the half and end of the game,'' Peterson said. ''Those things are what we've got to get better at.''

In short, most of the things the Vols did well against Florida just 10 days ago they seem to be doing poorly since then. Peterson can't explain the turnaround.

''I've always said that a lot of things can happen in a week,'' he said. ''If a coach could pinpoint what a team's thinking and why they do things like that, he could write a book and make a lot of money because a lot of coaches would buy it.''


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