published Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Vols take wisdom to Athens

Rally past Vanderbilt proves power of defense, rebounding

KNOXVILLE -- The reminders are constantly there, and the Tennessee men's basketball team sees them on a daily basis.

Now the Volunteers must take them on the road to Athens, Ga.

"With the exception of the loss to Charlotte," UT coach Bruce Pearl said after practice Monday, "the numbers continue to bear out the fact that when we defend and rebound, we win."

The Vols did that in Saturday's 17-point rally to beat visiting Vanderbilt, holding the Commodores to 41 percent shooting and grabbing seven more offensive rebounds.

It will take a similar performance to take a Southeastern Conference win on the road tonight at Georgia (13-3, 2-1).

"On the boards and the stats and stuff we have in the locker room, [it says] defense and rebounding wins championships," wing Cameron Tatum said. "They have a lot of talented players from top to bottom, from the wings to the bigs. You've got to be prepared to meet that challenge and guard them and do it for 40 minutes."

UT (11-6, 1-2) has had a rough go of stopping Georgia forward Trey Thompkins, who scored 46 points and grabbed 17 rebounds against the Vols as the teams split two meetings last season.

But Travis Leslie and Gerald Robinson, the Bulldogs' talented wing tandem, also demand attention defensively. Those two average 28 points per game on 50 percent shooting but shoot just 31 percent on 3-pointers. Georgia is 11th in the SEC in 3-point field-goal percentage.

"We just have to keep them on the perimeter, make them try to beat us from 3 than 2, make them take contested jump shots rather than slashing and getting in the lane and creating," UT point guard Melvin Goins said. "That's a big key for us on the defensive end."

"We will be in foul trouble," Pearl said. "We'll play all three bigs -- Kenny [Hall] and John [Fields] and Brian [Williams]. It would suit [Georgia] to get the ball inside just about every possession."

Pearl, who did not travel with the team as he sits out the fourth game of his eight-game SEC suspension, spoke glowingly about the 6-foot-1 Robinson, a Nashville native who played at Martin Luther King High School and transferred to Georgia from Tennessee State.

"This team was working last year to be this year," Pearl said. "[Robinson's] been that addition to this team. Georgia had a great run at home last year but couldn't win on the road. Now Robinson gives them the chance to win anywhere and any night. This is their year."

UT stepped up defensively against Vanderbilt after allowing Arkansas and Florida to shoot 51 percent combined in two losses. Pearl placed championship significance on the Vanderbilt game, and the Vols responded defensively.

Despite a cold-shooting first half, UT held Vanderbilt to 30 points on just 38 percent shooting before halftime and forced 21 turnovers for the game.

"Defense is what kept us that game, even when our scoring was a little off," Tatum said.

"Melvin came to us at halftime and said, '[Vanderbilt] is making all our catches tough on the outside. I'm pressuring the point guard, you guys on the wings [have] got to do a better job of making their life difficult on the catch.' Melvin stepping up as a leader, it got into everybody's ears and people paid attention to it."

For a team that ranks in the lower third in the SEC in both defensive percentage categories, Saturday's performance gave UT a taste of what it takes to play well defensively. That boost came at an important time for the Vols, though the challenge now becomes carrying that mentality away from home.

"I think we already knew [what it took]," Tatum said. "We just weren't executing those and staying focused with it. Now it's our to job to stay focused and keep that focus for the rest of the season."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrownTFP.

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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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