published Saturday, February 1st, 2014

UT Vols try to break Coleman Coliseum curse

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin shouts out to his team during their NCAA basketball game against Florida on Jan. 25, 2014, in Gainesville, Fla.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin shouts out to his team during their NCAA basketball game against Florida on Jan. 25, 2014, in Gainesville, Fla.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Alabama's Coleman Coliseum is probably down the list of most intimidating basketball venues in the Southeastern Conference.

It's closer to the top for the Tennessee Volunteers.

In its past eight trips to Alabama, Tennessee is just 2-6, and the third visit for Cuonzo Martin to the 15,383-seat arena perhaps will be the charm. He's lost his first two trips to Tuscaloosa as the Vols' coach.

"Down the stretch of the games, we didn't take care of the ball," Martin said Friday evening, summing up those losses. "Last year we really didn't care down the stretch, had a good lead, turned the ball over against the press.

"We've got to do a good job against the press, but also in transition. I think they've scored like 36 percent of their points in transition against us in the four games we've played. We've got to do a good job of our transition defense, but also taking care of the ball."

Last season, Tennessee led Alabama 55-52 with a little less than five minutes left. The Tide, spurred by three steals by Andrew Steele, went on a 10-0 run and held on for a 68-65 win.

In Martin's first season as coach, the Vols went to Tuscaloosa riding a four-game winning streak and lost by a dozen after being on the wrong end of an 18-2 Alabama spurt in the second half.

Tennessee combined for 33 turnovers in those two games, as the "Coleman Curse" reappeared after the Vols snapped a decade-long drought in Tuscaloosa with wins in 2008 and 2010.

"They play a real physical style of basketball," said Vols forward Jeronne Maymon, who didn't play in last year's visit to Alabama. "Their press is really hard to crack sometimes. We've got to make sure we go down there and hold our composure and don't turn the ball over.

"The game I remember I played in, we turned the ball [over] quite a bit in the second half, and it really gave them a spark. They really thrive in transition. I think Coach Martin said they're like 50 percent on 3s when they get in transition. We've got to cut that down."

Despite returning All-SEC guard Trevor Releford and a few other key players from a team that went 23-13 and 12-6 in the SEC last season, the Tide have been disappointing this season. The latest chapter came Thursday night, when Auburn snapped a 16-game SEC losing streak with a 74-55 rout of its in-state rival.

The Vols expect to face a desperate Alabama team tonight.

"It's just like how we were when we played against Florida, coming back and playing two nights ago," said freshman Darius Thompson, who again will start at point guard. "Everybody wants to come in and get a win. They're going to come in and play really hard."

Tennessee lost 19 times in its last 22 trips to Coleman, so this trip already was going to be a tricky one for a Vols team that lacks any room for SEC slip-ups.

"You expect any team to try to play and compete," Martin said. "They didn't play well against a rival school, and that's part of it, but for us, we expect every team to play well. It's not a case of, 'Well, this team won a big game so they won't be emotionally into it,' or, 'This team lost a tough one.' They'll come ready to play, and we expect that."

The Vols already have played Kentucky, Florida and LSU on the road and face a two-game swing at Alabama and Vanderbilt and a visit from South Carolina before a rematch with the Gators in Knoxville on Feb. 11.

"We've got two road games coming up, and we're definitely looking at it as taking one game at a time," Maymon said. "I think once you start doing that, you start plucking them off one by one.

"Then I think you'll be in a good position at the end of the year."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com

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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