Vols struggle to get to line

photo Kentucky's Terrence Jones (3) tries to drive to the basket on Tennessee's Tobias Harris during the first half of their NCAA college basketball game in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

KNOXVILLE-- It took a while, but Tobias Harris finally played like a freshman.

And whether it was a nagging ankle injury or Kentucky's smothering defense that forced Tennessee's fantastic forward to have possibly the least effective game of his Volunteer career, an area where Harris struggled in Tuesday night's loss to the Wildcats was one that's plagued UT's whole team in a recent stretch.

"One of the things that's killing us and I don't understand it," UT coach Bruce Pearl said after UT's road loss, "and I'm certainly not blaming anyone but ourselves, but early in the year we were leading the nation in going to the foul line for shots attempted.

"We've consistently not gotten to the line in SEC play. Our inside guys shot two free throws, and that was Tobias and that was late."

UT (15-9, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) shot just a dozen free throws against Kentucky, continuing its struggles in reaching the line in recent games.

After Kentucky went 22-of-27 on free throws on Tuesday, UT's opponents in nine conference games have made nearly free throws (131) as many as the Vols have attempted (138).

In their last 10 games, the Vols are shooting just less than 15 free throws per game, compared to more than 28 foul shots per game through the season's first 14 games. UT shot 20 or more free throws in 13 of its first 14 games but have reached that mark just three times since.

"We've got to do a better job of getting to the foul line," Pearl said. "Our inside guys aren't going, and that's definitely a factor."

Harris, UT's leader in free-throw attempts, shot his two free throws against Kentucky with 1:08 left and the outcome already determined. To that point he had scored just five points of his 10 points, and he only had two rebounds and turned the ball over five times.

UT's second-leading scorer rolled his ankle in the win at Ole Miss two weeks ago, and though the ankle didn't affect Harris against Auburn (14 points and five rebounds) or Alabama (19 points and 11 rebounds), it's still there.

"I think you can see that Tobias is still not a 100 percent," Pearl said. "He's playing through it, feeling better. He's been a double-double guy. He's the leading rebounder in SEC games and he's a freshman.

"[Tuesday] wasn't one of his better nights. It's hard to come to Rupp [and win] when you don't have one of the better performances from one of your better players."

Harris has reached double figures in all but two games this season, but he impacted the game in other areas both times.

He added seven boards with seven points in UT's win over Pittsburgh and had 12 rebounds in a six-point performance against Ole Miss. In both games he added three assists (double his season average) and two blocked shots.

"It's a team effort -- we don't blame it on one guy or two guys," reserve guard Josh Bone said. "We didn't play tough as a team, and [Kentucky] punked us."

Follow our Vols beat writer Patrick Brown on Twitter by following this link.