KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's men's basketball team is guard-oriented, and the Volunteers usually go as their backcourt does.
More often than not, though, second-year head coach Rick Barnes is unsure what he's going to get from each player, and one guard will make noise while another fades.
"Our guard play is not consistent," Barnes said after Sunday's loss to unbeaten Gonzaga in Nashville. "I think Kwe (Parker), I would liked for him not to have been hurt, because I think he's starting to figure it out as much as anybody. Hopefully we'll get Jordan (Bone) back at some point in time.
"I thought Lamonte (Turner) tried harder today than I've ever seen him try defensively. I thought he really tried. That's why he hasn't played. I think he was getting the idea that if he made shots and all that, he could play, but he can't unless he really tries to work at (defense). I thought he really did try to work at it today. But we've still got to get more consistent play at our guard spots, defensively more than anything, guys that can stay in front of the ball. We need to improve there."
The next chance for the Vols (6-5) to show progress is tonight as they face East Tennessee State University (9-2) in Johnson City.
Barnes recently has complimented the play of Detrick Mostella, who scored a team-high 17 points Sunday, and his defense and rebounding in particular, but a couple starters have cooled after solid stretches.
Point guard Shembari Phillips played a season-low 13 minutes against the Zags and recorded just two points on 1-of-7 shooting with two turnovers and lackluster defense. After being named the Southeastern Conference freshman of the week following standout performances against Presbyterian and North Carolina, Jordan Bowden scored nine or fewer points in his next three games while shooting just 33 percent (7-of-21) from the field and 22 percent (2-of-9) from 3-point range.
"I told Jordan, 'Now you know what it's like when you start getting a reputation of being a pretty good player. People game plan for you,'" Barnes said. "'This is where you're going to decide if you want to be better or are you going to stay where you are, because as the season goes on and the intensity starts to climb, are you going to do that? Are you going to learn to work harder without the ball? Are you going to learn to use your teammates to get open? You're going to have to learn to get set up quicker and little things.'
"If I were playing us, I would give him some attention, and people are doing that, obviously."
Parker, slowed by an injury at the start of the season, mixed good (three rebounds and four assists) with bad (four fouls and 1-of-3 shooting) in 15 minutes against Gonzaga. But the freshman showed energy, and Barnes thought Parker avoided the "stage fright" the coach believed affected other Vols.
Turner was 2-of-10 from the field but still leads lead the Vols in 3-pointers made.
"Where the youth, I think, shows up is guys start feeling good about themselves," Barnes said. "They think, 'I'm there, I've got a little more leeway.' But there's no leeway yet. There's never enough leeway when you're not winning the way we want to win. We need everybody, and that's what we talk about. We need everybody on edge for 40 minutes."
The Vols expect an energized opponent and building tonight, and they'll need a total team effort to knock off the streaking Buccaneers.
"After every game, we're going to show them — on this tape, too — how we could have won this game," Barnes said. "Showing them is one thing. They've got to go do it. I thought our coaching staff, I thought those guys did a great job as they have all year (showing) what these guys are going to try to get done.
"We just haven't gotten it to the level we've got to get to to compete on both ends."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.