published Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Tide’s defense smothers UT Vols

Tennessee's Jordan McRae (52) and Trae Golden (11) go for the ball along with Alabama guard Trevor Lacey (3) during the first half of a game of an NCAA college basketball game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012
Tennessee's Jordan McRae (52) and Trae Golden (11) go for the ball along with Alabama guard Trevor Lacey (3) during the first half of a game of an NCAA college basketball game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012
(AP Photo by Michelle Lepianka Carter/The Tuscaloosa News)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The turnovers and missed shots were back, and the confidence was gone.

So, too, is the Tennessee basketball Volunteers’ four-game win streak.

They struggled against shorthanded Alabama, as the energetic Crimson Tide used a swarming defense for a 62-50 Southeastern Conference win Saturday afternoon at Coleman Coliseum.

“Coach [Cuonzo Martin] said the hungriest team hunts best,” said UT forward Jeronne Maymon, who led the Vols with 20 points and six rebounds. “It’s all about who’s hungry and who’s going to come out and play the hardest. They obviously came out and went all out there.”

Though still without suspended forwards JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, Alabama (17-9, 6-6) hardly looked like it was missing its top two scorers and rebounders. The Tide scored 19 points off 17 turnovers and outrebounded the Vols 37-31. The Tide’s pressure defense, whether it was a full-court press and trap or a mixture of zone and man-to-man in the halfcourt, made everything difficult for the Vols (14-13, 6-6).

Trevor Lacey and Andrew Steele combined for nine of Alabama’s 15 steals, and Moussa Gueye, a 7-foot sophomore from Senegal, blocked six shots in his first start.

“You have to give those guys credit for really getting out in the passing lanes and being assertive,” Martin said. “I thought we were hesitant in making passes and making plays and moves. You have to give those guys credit for that. They were very active.”

UT led 13-8 before Alabama went on a 10-0 run and eventually took a 27-17 lead. Trae Golden made shots on three consecutive possessions to cut UT’s halftime deficit to 29-25. The Vols had possession down a bucket early in the second half before the wheels came off.

Alabama outscored the Vols 17-2 during a 10-minute stretch during the second half amid of flurry of UT fouls, missed shots and what Martin called “careless” turnovers.

“We turned the ball over three or four times in a row, and we weren’t knocking shots down at all,” said Golden, who scored 12 points but had six turnovers. “It was a rough night. They were making good plays, their defense was really effective and they were beating us off the dribble.

“I didn’t do a really good job of controlling the team. We were shooting quick shots, and I was turning the ball over a lot.”

Alabama’s trapping full-court press gave UT the most trouble, but the Vols didn’t do much when they did manage to advance the ball past midcourt. UT shot 34 percent and made just four of 20 3-point attempts. Guards Skylar McBee and Cameron Tatum each missed all six of their shots.

Though he had six points and six rebounds and returned from a scary fall on his shoulder, guard Jordan McRae, who averaged 12 points during UT’s streak, made just two of his eight shots. Forward Jarnell Stokes played just three first-half minutes after picking up two quick fouls, but the freshman finished with eight points and eight rebounds.

“We didn’t make shots, and I think the press bothered us,” he said. “We were really surprised that their press was that effective. Double teams were coming and people were in the passing lanes. They were the aggressive team, but just making shots, that’s the biggest thing for us.”

Lacey led Alabama with 18 points, and Trevor Releford scored 13 points off the bench. Steele had and seven assists to go along with his 10 points. Swedish 7-foot sophomore Carl Engstrom had seven points and seven rebounds, and Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper each sank two 3s.

“I thought they were hungry trying to get a win,” Martin said. “They were aggressive, they were assertive and they wanted to win that game. Those young guys wanted to prove that [they] can play and wanted to represent their team in the right way.”

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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