KNOXVILLE - Bruce Pearl made it a point on Monday to send a message to his point guards, and the Tennessee basketball coach kept that message to Melvin Goins and backup Trae Golden simple.
"Our point guards have got to do a better job of finding a way to get the ball distributed some more," Pearl said at his weekly news conference. "I'm not unhappy with Melvin or Trae: We need better point guard [play] for us to win. I want to challenge my point guards. I want to challenge Melvin and Trae to play better. I think they both can."
Neither Goins (32 percent) nor Golden (29 percent) is shooting the ball well in Southeastern Conference play, where the Volunteers are just 5-5, and as a team UT has a negative ratio of assists (132) to turnovers (134).
"We've got to do a better job of having guys create shots for each other," Pearl said. "Point guards are the best guys at going by their [defenders] by virtue of their speed, quickness and ball-handling ability, but our guys aren't going by and turning corners well enough.
"I think Melvin's playing really solid defense and I definitely love his toughness, [but] in order for us to play better that's an area we've got to improve in."
Goins did not participate in Monday's practice because of a sore neck and back following a hard fall to the floor in Saturday's loss at Florida. Pearl said reserve guards Skylar McBee and Josh Bone would get looks at either starting or backing up at the point, though McBee got the longest time there in practice.
"I like point guard," said McBee, who's played some point this season when Goins and Golden missed games. "I'm the kind of guy, I'm going to do whatever I need to do to help this team win. If that's play point, it's point. If that's play [center], play [center].
"I think one of the big things is knowing the play calls and knowing the position well enough to get everybody else in their spots and get the offense set up and everything running."
Said Pearl: "I think the big thing is sometimes for the ball not to stay in your possession as long. Move it quicker, reverse it quicker and advance pass it more.
"Melvin can create advantage-disadvantage for himself any time, I believe. But when he goes in there, he's going in looking to score versus getting guys the ball. I've got to encourage him to get guys the ball. It will make us better."
Freshman forward Tobias Harris had a rough week in UT's road losses to Kentucky and Florida, scoring just 19 points and attempting only three free throws. Despite the lingering ankle injury and increased focus from opposing defenses, Pearl still wants increased touches for his second-leading scorer.
"He's not an excuse-maker," Pearl said. "He'll tell you he's 100 percent and he's fine, but I will tell you he's not. But he's toughing it out and playing through it. He's not quite as quick or explosive. He probably won't be pleased to hear that I've even commented on it -- that's not what he's about.
"He gets a lot of attention, but at this point the book's out on everybody. Not only do I want to get it to him in the post more but also getting him more looks off the bounce and our point guards getting him the ball more in position where he can make plays."