KNOXVILLE — Asked again and again about Trae Golden, Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin kept referring the question to his point guard.
Though he answered the questions about his bruised left shoulder and recent struggles, what Golden does on the floor under the lights will resonate more.
The junior has shot 1-of-16 in his last three games and delivered just six assists during that stretch after averaging five per game in Tennessee's first nine games, and with SEC play beginning tonight against Ole Miss, Tennessee needs one of its more important players to rediscover his potential.
"He reminds me. I said it last year, Coach Martin, he doesn't play any type of favorites game," Golden said Monday. "He'll be the first to yell at me or Jarnell [Stokes] in front of everybody.
"He'll tell you. He always tells me. He'll praise me, but just as much as he praises me, he'll tell me when I'm doing something wrong. It helps me out a lot. We talked for maybe 20 to 30 minutes the other night, and he really helped me."
Golden hasn't made a shot in the past two games, and he played 21 and 23 minutes -- well under his team-leading 30 minutes per game -- against Xavier and Memphis because of it. Backup walk-on Brandon Lopez played 13 and 14 minutes in those games after playing just 20 combined minutes in the first 10 games.
While disappointed in his own ineffectiveness, Golden praised Lopez.
"B-Lo is a huge spark," he said. "He came off the bench against Xavier and did a great job. I think against Memphis I just didn't have that pop to myself. B-Lo came in and really rallied us together."
After bruising his shoulder in practice, Golden has worn a sleeve on it the past two games, prompting questions to Martin about the injury affecting Golden's play.
The Vols' second-year coach had said subtly he didn't believe the injury was causing Golden's struggles, and he made that sentiment clear Monday.
"I don't think it's bothering him," Martin said. "I think [it's] just him shooting the basketball. I don't think it's a lack of confidence [because] he has the green light and shoots the most balls on the team. We need him to score the ball."
Golden said it's an injury that's progressively going to take care of itself and admitted it's causing him some pain.
"It's just hard to lift my arm up in that area," he said. "But injuries are part of the game, so it's just something you've got to fight through. I think some of it may be mental with me, but after a while you just have to get over it and play.
"It's not like an ankle sprain. An ankle sprain, it's either it's sprained or it's not. This is just more aggravating, it's going to be aggravating and it's something I have to deal with."
Though Golden knows why and how he needs to break out of his funk, Martin acknowledges a need to talk about it.
"I think as a coach, even if you have an all-league guy, you have to do those things," he said. "He's returning as a starter [and] he knows what to do out there, knows the system, knows when to attack and be aggressive. It's just a matter of doing it."
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 ...