KNOXVILLE — Just about every college basketball team has big hopes for glory when the calendar turns to the all-important month of March, and Tennessee is no different.
Don’t expect the Volunteers to be looking too far down the road to the postseason, though.
“A goal is to get to the NCAA tournament and hopefully win it all,” UT freshman Tobias Harris said. “But for our goals, right now it’s one step at a time. Each game coming down the stretch, us winning is going to help us for the future and for the NCAA tournament, so we know we need to just grow as a team right now.”
That first step for UT (17-12, 7-7 SEC) is Thursday at South Carolina, a team the Vols handled with difficulty at home two weeks ago. But UT has one more win on the road (four) than at home (three) in league play, including wins at Georgia and Vanderbilt, two teams ahead of them in the SEC East.
“When you go on the road,” Vols wing Cameron Tatum said, “you’ve got to have a lot more focus. Everybody’s against you.”
Said Harris: “We just lost some close ones here at home. Those are games that [had] we won, which we should have, there wouldn’t be much talk about it. On the road I just feel that we have a lot going against us. We come together better on the road.”
Tatum is UT’s third-leading scorer at a shade more than nine points per game, but he has scored more than six points just once in the Vols’ last six games. UT is 10-4 when Tatum reaches double figures.
“Cam’s going to jump out,” UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “I believe he’s going to jump out. Cam is extremely accountable. He’s aware he needs to be that third option. It’s probably hard for Cam because we do a lot for Tobias and Scotty [Hopson], and you can understand why. We don’t do as much for Cam to get him open. We clearly need Cam, and he knows that.”
Tatum has said he likes to let the game come to him offensively, but his 3-point shot has left him recently. Tatum has made just five of his 24 long shots during his six-game slump.
“I don’t want to try to do too much out there,” he said, “that’s going to get me out of the confines of my game or get us out of the norms of how we play ball and how the sets are run. No doubt it’s been on my mind that when I do excel more, especially on the offensive end, we play a lot better.”
Ailing big guys
Center Brian Williams missed his second consecutive day of practice because of continuing treatment on his sore back. Starting center John Fields was very limited Tuesday with a stomach virus.
“I am concerned,” Pearl said of Williams. “It’s two days now we’ve kept him down. His back is really tight, and he’s had a bad back historically. He aggravated it Saturday, but it’s something that really tightened up more over the weekend.
“If Brian can’t go, it takes our best 5-man, a guy that’s a sixth-man-of-the-year candidate, a really good passer against the zone and an important rebounder for us. He anchors that back-side rebounding.”
Fields got sick in the locker room after Monday’s hard practice. Pearl said he was available only for play-call review Tuesday. If neither Williams nor Fields can play Thursday, Jeronne Maymon and Kenny Hall would have increased roles.
“It’s an area we have some depth in,” Pearl said, “so we’re going to have to tap into that depth.”
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 ...