published Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Struggling UT looks to bench

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee men's basketball team's second unit didn't get its usual load of work in Tuesday's home loss to Florida.

Thus the Volunteers made up for it Wednesday.

"I worked with the second unit because we've got to get more production off our bench, and those guys needed the reps," UT coach Bruce Pearl said after Wednesday's practice.

"I thought we took advantage of the practice time. I think particularly offensively they learned [and] we made progress. It's important that those guys get more reps and understand their importance."

UT's bench, normally a strength of Pearl's teams, has seen its production decrease in the past two games after scoring 43 points last week against Memphis.

In two consecutive losses to open the Southeastern Conference schedule, UT's bench has scored just 25 points combined. Against Florida, Brian Williams, who's started all but two games at center this season, had six of the bench's eight points.

"It's very disappointing," reserve forward Jeronne Maymon said. "Right now we ain't producing."

Scotty Hopson (39), Cameron Tatum (36), Tobias Harris (36) and Melvin Goins (35) all played more than their season averages in minutes.

"I gave the guys with the five heavy minutes basically the day off [though] they did lift [weights]," Pearl said. "We haven't a day off in a while. I thought they got heavy minutes [Tuesday] night and there wasn't going to be much that we could get accomplished nor did we need to get accomplished with them."

Pearl said he and associate head coach Tony Jones, who's filling in during Pearl's eight-game SEC suspension, have discussed mixing starters with bench players to limit the drop-off, which hurt the Vols in Tuesday's first half when Florida erased two UT leads.

"Everybody had high energy [Wednesday]," Maymon said. "[The coaches] kept saying it wasn't any type of punishment, just for us to get better. I think it helped us focus on the play calls, specifics of play calls and get more comfortable in our continuity."

Final review

Pearl was happy with UT's final possession of regulation, though Florida's Alex Tyus swatted away Williams' potential game-winner right at the rim.

"Brian was standing underneath the basket unguarded -- doesn't get much better than that," Pearl said. "Brian's probably not in a position where he was ready to finish that play, ready to win the game. Florida made a good defensive play, but Brian knows he could've take that ball up stronger and finish that."

Pearl went on to credit Williams' defense on Florida last-second attempt, which resulted in an errant 3-pointer at the buzzer.

"If Brian doesn't switch out, it's an unmolested, wide-open three," Pearl said. "Brian's a very confident defender, a confident rebounder. He's not as confident on the offensive end, but you have to be prepared in case they throw it to you."

The road ahead

UT faces tough SEC East Division opponents in its next two games: Saturday at home against Vanderbilt and next Tuesday at Georgia.

The two close losses to start SEC play haven't completely destroyed the Vols' psyche.

"That was tough loss [Tuesday] night, but the morale's good," center John Fields said. "We let the one at Arkansas [get away] and we had one on the table, but it's an optimistic 0-2."

The Vols also know how important Saturday's game is for the rest of the season.

"It's a must-win situation," Hopson said. "Obviously teams are scoring on us and we need to stop that."

"The SEC is big-boy ball," said Tatum. "We've got to play like our backs are against the wall, like we're fighting for our lives right now. If you don't come in with that sense of urgency, what are you here for?"

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about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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