Vols seek scoring spark

Vols seek scoring spark

December 13th, 2012 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee guard Josh Richardson (1) celebrates with teammate Yemi Makanjuola (0) after he was fouled by Savannah State guard Patrick Hendley (10) during the second half of an NIT first-round college basketball tournament game.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - The frustration for guard Josh Richardson and his Tennessee basketball teammates has been stewing for one long week.

The Volunteers have spoiled two excellent defensive performances in ugly losses at Georgetown and Virginia because they couldn't score 40 points.

Naturally, Tennessee is ready for the funk to end when 23rd-ranked Wichita State visits Knoxville.

"It's pretty high," Richardson said before Tuesday's practice, "because we're getting the looks we want at it, but we're just not capitalizing off it."

The Vols shot a paltry 30.6 percent (30-of-98) in their past two games against the Hoyas and Cavaliers and kept both games close despite scoring 36 and 38 points. Tennessee is 288th nationally out of 347 Division I teams in scoring at 61.4 points per game. In the SEC, only Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Georgia are scoring less, and those teams are 8-15 combined.

Throw in the 45-point performance against Oklahoma State, and Tennessee is averaging 39.7 points in its three games against major-conference opponents, which were all losses.

"I wouldn't necessarily say [I'm] not worried about it," coach Cuonzo Martin said. "As a coach you always assess every situation. For example, we walk away from the Georgetown game, and I didn't think we did a very good job against the zone, so as a coach I've got to do a better job of putting our guys in position.

"Against Virginia, I thought we had good looks. I thought we missed some layups, I thought we had some open threes in the first half we didn't make and that's part of the game. My job as a coach is really to try to put us in position to have those opportunities."

Tennessee might try to create some more opportunities for itself by cranking up its tempo and trying to score more in transition to better use its stingy defense.

"The team all agreed we're not pushing in transition," guard Jordan McRae said. "Being that our wings are so athletics and we can all run and our bigs are not really traditional bigs, we need to really get out and run a lot more. That's what we plan on doing."

It wouldn't hurt to make some shots, either. In the country, Tennessee is 224th and 267th in field-goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage, respectively. In four wins, the Vols averaged nearly 78 points, shot 51 percent and made 24 3-pointers.

"I know it's a long season," point guard Trae Golden said. "We can't dwell on two games or early-season troubles. It's not worth it because it could affect the rest of the season, so we just have to stay confident."

Tennessee continue to work on their offense individually and as a team. Richardson said there's been more focus on executing Martin's motion offense in practice the past week. With fall semester classes completed and more time with final exams ongoing, the Vols have had some extra time for extra shooting practice, and a lot of it.

"We're bumping it up to 500 [shots per day]," McRae said.

"Five hundred and up," added Golden.

"Before we were just trying to come in and get shots," McRae continued, "but it's obviously not working. There was no set number. If you do miss the shots in the game, you can feel better knowing that you put in the work and it's just not falling."

When and if the shots do begin falling for the Vols, the offense combined with the Vols' stingy defense -- Tennessee is 24th in the country and second in the SEC behind Florida at 57 points per game allowed -- should lead to wins.

"Our defense is fine," Martin said. "I don't think the defense is the issue. Then you look at the offense, you've got to step to the plate.

"I think as a ball player, if you're frustrated, you've got to do something about it. As players, you've got to go out the next night and perform. The one thing they are doing a great job [with] is they're playing hard and competing.

"You've got to make shots."