Tennessee's Melvin Goins (2) drives against Tennessee-Martin's Omari Minor (11) during a Dec. 29 game in Knoxville. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE — If anyone knows the secrets to being a lockdown perimeter defender, it's Melvin Goins.
But though the Tennessee senior point guard has seen his team's defense struggle in its recent slide, Goins knows the remedy.
"You've just got to have the willpower to want to stop your man," he said after Tuesday afternoon's practice. "The rest of the things come in after that."
The Volunteers (9-4) have had trouble containing opposing guards while losing four of six games, and the new calendar year doesn't bring immediate relief. No. 21-ranked Memphis (11-2) brings its guard-oriented group to Knoxville tonight.
The starting backcourt of freshmen Will Barton, Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford combine for 32 of the Tigers' 81 points per game. Wesley Witherspoon, a skinny 6-foot-9 junior, might be Memphis' best player.
"They're quick guards, young guards, very talented," UT guard Cam Tatum said. "They know how to score the basketball and they're very confident going into this game."
"I think Memphis is better than they were a year ago," Vols coach Bruce Pearl said, referencing UT's 66-59 win in Memphis. "We felt like if we could guard our yard [and] keep them on the perimeter to take contested jump shots, we could beat them. I don't think that's just going to be the key this year. They've got some guys who can really shoot the basketball."
That hasn't been good news lately for the Vols. College of Charleston shot 58 percent in a 91-78 win in Knoxville last Friday, as guards Andrew Goudelock and Donavan Monroe combined for 58 points on 17-of-26 field-goal shooting with 10 3-pointers.
In two other UT losses, Maurice Jones and Jio Fontan combined for 28 points for Southern Cal and Charlotte's Derrio Green and Jamar Briscoe scored 27 of their team's 49 points.
"It takes work, and also a sense of pride and a sense of urgency," Tatum said. "Having that pride is just not wanting your man to score. Having that sense of urgency is just paying attention and being ready throughout the [possession] and for 40 minutes.
"We didn't play with it that [Charleston] game, and that's why we got beat the way we did. We got away from our tendencies and from our focus."
Pearl has tried to instill that defensive intensity in practices since the Charleston loss. Memphis gives the Vols the chance to see any signs of that progress.
"Some of the things that are ailing us are the stuff that they're good at, so we're getting an opportunity right away to put that into practice," he said. "They can shoot the ball from the 3 and they can create off the bounce. It's not complicated, but it's very well thought-out and it takes full advantage of their athleticism."
Memphis, which hasn't played a true road game this season, relies on five freshmen from one of the nation's top recruiting classes. Witherspoon, forward Will Coleman and guard Charles Carmouche are the only upperclassmen in the Tigers' top eight in minutes played.
"You want to jump on them early and not give them confidence," Goins said. "They've got a lot of young guys, but they're talented, so you want to be the aggressor."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...