Confident McBee key for Vols, especially on road

Confident McBee key for Vols, especially on road

February 18th, 2012 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE - Thompson-Boling Arena public address announcer Jeff Jarnigan broke form when Tennessee guard Skylar McBee swished a 3-pointer early in the second half of the Volunteers' win against Arkansas on Wednesday night.

Instead of just using McBee's last name, Jarnigan, a Knoxville radio host, used one of his many nicknames: "Skylar McThree!"

McBee admitted Friday he neither heard it nor held a preferred nickname.

"I don't really worry about it," he said. "They can call me whatever they want to. As long as we're winning, I don't really care."

The Vols have done more winning recently, and the former star at nearby Rutledge's Grainger County High School deserves his share of the credit. When McBee scores in double figures, UT is 10-0 this season. The junior has started each of the four games and is averaging 13.3 points per game in that stretch.

After struggling mightily in UT's first seven road games of the season, McBee broke out with 13 points and four 3-pointers in 38 minutes last weekend in the win at Florida. The Vols could use another strong performance from their best shooter today at Alabama.

"I think his struggles, I mean, we struggled as a team," first-year UT coach Cuonzo Martin said Friday. "I don't think we were a very good team at that time because we were learning and we were growing as a team. We're a better team now.

"He understands the system, they know when to find him, he's confident in shooting his shots. I just think you're a better team, that's why he's having success. I don't think it's anything other than that."

McBee had scoreless games in UT's losses at Oakland, Memphis and Vanderbilt and scored just three points in losses at Mississippi State, Georgia and Kentucky. Prior to his performance in Gainesville, McBee's best game came at College of Charleston, when he scored nine points on 3-of-8 shooting from behind the 3-point arc. He made just six of 31 shots and played less than 20 minutes per game in the Vols' first seven road games.

The struggles -- for McBee and all the Vols -- went away at Florida.

"I think I was just playing with a little bit more confidence," he said. "Against Florida we really went out there with confidence."

Once dubbed the "Grizzly Gunner" or the "Rutledge Rifle" from his high-school days, McBee recently has made opponents pay for leaving him open. The long-haired, mustached McBee has had identical 4-of-7 shooting lines in each of UT's last three games. For the season, McBee is shooting 42 percent from 3-point range, which is fourth in the SEC.

"It helps us so much," said point guard Trae Golden. "That's probably why my assists are up, because he's shooting the ball so well. He spreads the floor out for everybody, so it's a good thing whenever he's shooting the ball well."

McBee has taken thousands of shots at Thompson-Boling Arena and Pratt Pavilion in his career. He's used to those rims and their respective backgrounds, but that goes away when he goes on the road and teams and shooters can struggle in new environments where they're not able to gather as much of a feel. McBee, though, said he doesn't change his routine on the road.

"I think it's all in between the ears," McBee said. "You've just got to go in thinking that every goal is the same. I think it helps when they have rowdy fans. As a competitor, you go in there and you've kind of got chip on your shoulder."

Now McBee and the Vols head to Tuscaloosa with the confidence from last weekend's win at Florida.

"Like I told our guys, I think we're good enough to win on the road now," Martin said. "Obviously we've got to do the job and compete and win the game, but we're in a position where we can win on the road."