KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's basketball players aren't happy when they don't play well on defense.
The Volunteers are even unhappier about the aftermath.
After allowing 177 points in losses to Memphis and Ole Miss, they play today at Alabama and hope to rediscover their defensive form.
"The last couple of days we definitely took it back to the basics, getting back to the close-out drills and the box-out drills," guard Josh Richardson said as the Vols loaded the bus Friday afternoon in Knoxville. "We don't really like it, but we know we've got to have it."
Memphis rode 56 percent shooting in scoring 85 points, and the Rebels were aggressive and scored 38 points on 44 free throws and tallied 25 points on 14 offensive rebounds.
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin pointed to poor transition defense and gave credit to Memphis in that game. He seemed much more disappointed in the SEC-opening loss Wednesday. In a switch contrary to Martin's nature, the Vols went to a 2-3 zone defense to keep Ole Miss from reaching the paint.
"The effort just wasn't at the level it needed to be," he said. "When you shoot it quick, you've got to defend at a high level. You can't shoot it quick if you don't defend at a high level.
"It's a good lesson for our guys."
After inserting Jordan McRae into the starting lineup for the offensive punch Skylar McBee wasn't providing, Martin said he and his staff had talked about giving center Yemi Makanjuola more minutes and admitted that he anticipated the sophomore from Nigeria to earn a starting spot "at some point."
Starter Kenny Hall scored no points and grabbed no rebounds before fouling out in just 12 minutes against Ole Miss, while Makanjuola had seven points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes.
"I think when it's all said and done, he'll be at that point, whether it's this year or next year," Martin said. "He's really improved his game, and he's one of the better defensive minds and guys on that side of the ball."
Yet the Vols believed the reasons Ole Miss scored 92 points were nothing complex.
"We were just getting beat," Richardson said. "We weren't playing fundamental defense like we always do. We always hung our hats on defense, and we just got too caught up trying to play fast or trying to do other stuff that's not our bread and butter.
"We're confident as ever. We haven't lost anything. We haven't lost any steps. We know we've been getting good looks the last few games and haven't been capitalizing. We haven't been playing good defense. We've just got to lock up and we'll be fine."
Tennessee scored just 37 and 38 points in its only two true road games this season -- losses at Georgetown and Virginia. The Vols played well enough defensively in both games to give themselves chances in the game's late moments, and it'll take a similar effort for a different outcome this afternoon. With three of their next four games on the road, the Vols need the win.
"It's a long season," Martin said. "You're talking about 18 games in conference play. First thing you always want to do is protect your home court. When you lose one, you've got to go get that one back."
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 ...