Vols hope to take learned lessons to LSU

Vols hope to take learned lessons to LSU

February 22nd, 2019 by Gene Henley in Breaking News

Tennessee's Kyle Alexander (11) is held back by a Vanderbilt player as he looks for the rebound during Tuesday's game in Knoxville. The Vols beat Vanderbilt to bounce back from last Saturday's loss at Kentucky, and defense and rebounding will be crucial for Tennessee again in this Saturday's game at LSU.

Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey

Updated with more information at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2019.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee guard Lamonte Turner believes he and his teammates didn't properly prepare for last Saturday night's high-profile Southeastern Conference matchup at Kentucky, an 86-69 loss that dropped the Volunteers from the top of the national rankings.

Turner was pleased with how the Vols handled their lone practice between that defeat and Tuesday's 58-46 home victory over hapless Vanderbilt, but if Tennessee has really learned from the loss that ended its program-record winning streak after 19 games, the proof will be in Saturday's performance.

The No. 5 Vols (24-2, 12-1) visit the 13th-ranked LSU Tigers (21-5, 11-2) for a noon EST game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge. Tennessee is alone atop the SEC standings, a game ahead of both LSU and No. 4 Kentucky (22-4, 11-2), which hosts Auburn (18-8, 7-6) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday as the league schedule begins to wind down.

LSU, which beat Kentucky 73-71 last week in Lexington, entered this week tied with the Vols for first but fell to visiting Florida on Wednesday, 82-77 in overtime.

Now Tennessee has a chance to cushion its league lead and get back to doing the things that helped it get to the top.

Against Kentucky, all of the Vols' normal methods went out the window. The inside-out style of play, the ball movement, the extra pass, all of it was gone, prompting coach Rick Barnes to call his players' approach in that game "selfish."

Turner, who shot 2-for-11 against the Wildcats, admitted he was one of those players, saying some of the Vols were "trying to take over and do certain things." He also believes one reason that happened is because of how they prepared.

"I think going into the Kentucky game, I don't think we had competed enough," Turner said Tuesday. "Practices were not as intense as we needed to be. We had a great practice after the Kentucky game; guys came in ready to work, ready to compete against each other and have fun again. When we compete and focus on that, everything else takes care of itself."

Asked if there was a reason the Vols didn't compete, Turner said he felt "guys weren't mentally locked in."

"Maybe we were not as focused on competing, on doing our job as much," he explained. "It's just the mental part of it, but it's how you bounce back."

The Vols did that against the Commodores, who have lost 14 in a row. Somewhat.

There were times they appeared to be trying so hard to make the right play or the extra pass that they passed up open looks at the basket. But the defensive intensity, lacking at times this season, was there against Vanderbilt and that will have to be the case against LSU.

Like Kentucky, the Tigers are big and physical inside. They lead the SEC in offensive rebounds, with an average of 13.2 per game, and are second to the Wildcats in offensive rebound percentage (.374).

West Virginia is among the nation's best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, but when Tennessee beat the Mountaineers 83-66 in a Big 12/SEC Challenge game last month in Knoxville, the teams matched each other with 11 offensive rebounds apiece.

"We thought that West Virginia presented that challenge as well going into that game," associate head coach Rob Lanier said Thursday. "Obviously, we thought we were prepared for what we were going to see against Kentucky, but we weren't."

Lanier highlighted the need for consistency against LSU.

"This is as big as a challenge on the glass as anybody," he said. "Even if we fight that fight really hard like Florida did (Wednesday against LSU), you are going to lose some of those battles throughout the game because of their size and talent. If we stay constant in the fight, then maybe we will win enough over the course of the game."

Lanier said every game this season has been a learning experience for the Vols. They spent four weeks as the top team in the land and had to learn how to be the hunted, instead of the hunter.

"Even the Kentucky game was a good experience for us," he said. "How do you know what it's like to be No. 1 unless you get to be No. 1? We got into a situation where we were taking teams' best shot. It turns out that Kentucky's best shot is better than most. We just learned another lesson.

"The elite programs have a sense of what that is. We have guys on our team that have had 16-win seasons. We have a group of guys that have had a losing season. Most teams who have had a losing season don't get to experience being No. 1. We chalk it up as an other experience to grow from."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.


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