published Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Walker a worry for UT: Vols game-plan for UConn star

KNOXVILLE -- The burden won't fall on one guy.

For Tennessee to slow Connecticut scoring machine Kemba Walker when the Volunteers and Huskies meet today in Hartford, it's going to take a team effort defensively.

"He's not a guy you can cover with one guy," UT coach Bruce Pearl said after practice Thursday. "Everybody's got to see him and know where he's at. Communicating is very important."

Pearl returns to bench for the Vols (12-6), as the nonconference clash isn't affected by his eight-game Southeastern Conference suspension. UT has split four games during his absence, with each game coming down to the final possession.

For the Vols to get to that point on the road against No. 8 Connecticut (15-2) and sweep its three games against top 10 teams from the Big East, keeping Walker from another big scoring day is the top goal.

The 6-foot-1 guard, the nation's second-leading scorer at 25.5 points per game, is largely responsible for the Huskies' ascent from being unranked in the preseason to national contender.

"You've got to try to contain him as much as you can with full knowledge that they've got nine other guys," Pearl said. "They play 10 guys double-digit minutes."

Scotty Hopson and Josh Bone likely will get the most time chasing Walker around the gym, though whoever's guarding Walker will share the responsibility with the other four Vols on the floor.

"It's not about giving [Walker] his and trying to stop the rest," Pearl said. "You've got to do what you can contain him without going overboard and letting them have easy post touches or coming off of shooters. It's a team defense -- if you guard these guys one on one, they'll kill you. They're too good off the bounce, they're too good in the post -- not just Kemba Walker."

For two programs whose only meeting came in the second round of the 2000 NCAA tournament, the connections aren't lacking. Pearl had just began his coaching career under Tom Davis at Boston College when Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was at Northeastern.

Walker and UT center Brian Williams, both natives of the Bronx, N.Y., grew up playing basketball with each other. Hopson and Walker played at the LeBron James Skills Academy this past summer.

Connecticut freshman Michael Bradley, a former Tyner Academy standout and McDonald's All-American nominee, is redshirting this season.

Pearl said the Vols haven't prepared so much to defend one player since game-planning for South Carolina's Devan Downey last year. But as good as Downey was and as well as UT contained him, Walker, who's scored 30-plus points six times this season, is a steeper challenge, especially in transition.

"I think you do have to put different people on him, but he's really good in space," Pearl said. "That's why he's so good in transition, and we've really worked hard [in practice] to get back defensively. We send guys to the offensive glass, we get the ball in deep offensively with lots of personnel. If you miss, and even if you make sometimes, you've got to get back."

UT's defense has improved since a December slide and two losses to open SEC play. The Vols held Vanderbilt and Georgia to 41 and 42 percent shooting.

"For us, when we guard we win," Pearl said. "When we guard and rebound, we win. It's not like we have guys on the floor on the perimeter that are shutdown guys. We need help. We've got guys that need some help out there on rotations. In certain matchups against certain teams that do certain things, we've been able to guard."

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

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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