published Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Vols look to improve defense

  • photo
    Tennessee guard Wes Washpun (4) looks to pass as he drives by Chaminade guard Waly Coulibaly, rear, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Tennessee defeated Chaminade 86-60. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Cuonzo Martin's biggest question a month ago was how his Tennessee basketball team would score enough points.

Six games into his first season with the Volunteers, the coach's new primary concern is how to stop other teams from scoring.

Physical, in-your-face defense has been Martin's calling card from the instant he took the UT job in March, but the Vols are allowing 75 points per game this season when Martin would prefer it to be 10 to 15 points less.

"Defensively we've got to do a better job with our one-on-one defense more than our team defense," he said Wednesday. "We've got to take pride in getting stops individually."

UT (3-3) couldn't get timely stops or rebounds in Monday night's 89-81 loss at Oakland. The Vols, who arrived from a week-long stay in Hawaii for the Maui Invitational 72 hours before playing a tough mid-major opponent in a small, noisy gym, allowed the Golden Grizzlies to grab 17 offensive rebounds and shoot 31 free throws. Oakland guard Reggie Hamilton toyed with the Vols and scored 35 points.

Duke shot 48 percent and scored 77 against the Vols in the Maui opener. Memphis scored 99 in a double-overtime win in the second game at Maui, as the Tigers scored 55 first-half points, shot 62 percent in the opening frame and made more than half their shots for the game.

Sophomore guard Jordan McRae, who's scored 25 points in UT's last two games, attributed the defensive struggles to facing some ranked competition right out of the gate.

"We've played some tough teams early, so guarding those kinds of teams early is going to help us later," he said. "I think it's been good for us. I think we've done well so far."

Martin said improving the individual defense is more pride than the technique he's been teaching his players since he arrived at UT.

"You want to be able to stop a guy," he said. "The last thing you want to do is go in the locker room and your guys are teasing you about a guy scoring 30-plus points on you. These guys have been hearing me say this, but if I felt like as a player the technique wasn't working, I was going to stop my guy the best way I knew how.

"I think that's the most important thing, and that's really taking pride in doing it. You do a lot of technique, and technique is always a team thing. But if I'm on an island one on one with a guy and I feel if my legs are a certain way I can guard him better, then stop him, that's the bottom line."

In addition to Hamilton's Monday-night outburst, an opposing guard has led his team in scoring in four of UT's five games. Louisiana-Monroe's Fred Brown and Duke's Austin Rivers scored 18 points apiece, and the Memphis brotherly duo of Will and Antonio Barton combined for 46.

For all the concerns of how the Vols would generate their own points, UT is averaging 85 points per game. Trae Golden (17.0), McRae (15.3), Jeronne Maymon (13.3) and Cameron Tatum (11.3) are all averaging double figures. The Vols are shooting 47 percent from the field and 43 percent on 3-pointers.

As Martin has repeatedly reminded his team, though, it all starts with defense.

"If we can stop these teams and keep them under a certain amount of points, there's no reason why we couldn't be 6-0," said forward Dwight Miller. "My coach last year [at Midlands Junior College in Texas], he'd always say, 'It's better to learn your lesson early than to learn it late, like in March.' Right now we're learning this lesson, and it's something that we're definitely going to learn from and something we have to fix in order for us to accomplish what we set in the beginning of the season."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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