KNOXVILLE-Bruce Pearl didn't even need the subject to be brought up.
Instead, the Tennessee basketball coach addressed on his own Monday his postgame comments about his team's lack of leadership after Saturday's Southeastern Conference home loss to Mississippi State.
"Leadership starts here," Pearl said at his weekly news conference. "It's my job to assist our players to be in position to lead. I've always said this and I've always believed this: Coaches can lead teams to victory; coaches can't lead teams to championships. That has to come from within, so I do feel like we need better leadership from me. We absolutely need better leadership from the players.
"We're going to discuss that in the sense that if my comments were we need play more as a team offensively, how many guys out there offensively make their teammates better? It's about team responsibilities. My point is, offensively, how many guys both in what they do as well as in things off the court make other guys better? That's how you have to play offensively."
Pearl didn't hide his frustration with the leadership subject or UT's stagnant half-court offense after Saturday's loss. The Volunteers (17-12, 7-7) didn't hide their frustration during Monday's brutally physical practice at Pratt Pavilion.
"This is as physical as it gets," guard Scotty Hopson said. "Last year about this time we were having shootarounds and walk-throughs. I saw a lot of anger and a lot of tension out there - guys releasing some of that frustration."
Last year the Vols entered the regular season's final week off an upset of second-ranked Kentucky. But if UT is to plays its way off the NCAA tournament bubble this Thursday at South Carolina and against Kentucky at home on Sunday, the offense must get better.
Pearl connected the leadership and the offensive struggles, hoping his players would take it upon themselves by making each other better whether it's by making better passes, distributing the ball, moving aggressively without the ball to get open or rebound, improved screening and spacing and not standing around and watching.
"Leadership on the court would help that," he said. "Leadership is what do you do by making somebody else better on the floor. We're not getting great leadership. That's not a terrible thing; it just happens sometimes.
"Leadership is the ability to get everybody on the same page or assist me in getting them on the same page. In other words, if I can teach what needs to be done, I have to have leadership from within the players also to get their teammates to be able to assist me in that area."
The poor offense has forced the Vols to stress their defense and rebounding, two areas in which they rank second in the SEC in league games. On offense, however, UT is eighth in scoring (66.4 points per game), seventh in field-goal percentage (.419), ninth in 3-point percentage (.302) and 10th in free-throw shooting (.657).
But how the Vols again respond to Pearl's admittedly premeditated public criticism of the team ultimately will determine the outcome of their roller-coaster season.
"There's nothing that would surprise me as it relates to whether or not this team couldn't get it going again," Pearl said. "Yes, this team is capable, but to do it we need better leadership all the way around, and we need some of those guys who are taking and missing those shots to make a couple of them."