March 11, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl slowed his Volunteers down against LSU in the opening round of the SEC tournament, hoping to conserve energy with Mississippi waiting in the quarterfinals.
The 15th-ranked Vols nearly conserved too much energy.
Wayne Chism had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Tennessee overcame 25.9-percent shooting in the first half -- its worst performance of the season -- to beat the Tigers 59-49 on Thursday.
"If we would have lost that game I would have put that one on myself," Pearl said. "I'm already putting it on myself that we didn't come out as aggressively as we should have."
Despite being ranked ahead of No. 2 seed Vanderbilt, the Vols (24-7) drew the third seed in the East Division, making them the only ranked team to play on the first day of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
That set up the possibility of playing four games in four days, including a quarterfinals matchup with the Rebels, a team Tennessee struggled to beat at home in the regular season.
So Pearl put the Vols in a zone defense against the Tigers (11-20) to conserve energy, but it was LSU's zone that seemed more effective. The Vols missed open shots on the perimeter in the first half, held the ball for much of the shot clock and then made sloppy passes trying to get inside, committing 17 turnovers by the end of the game.
"The zone always gives Tennessee problems," LSU's Tasmin Mitchell said. "The've never been a real good shooting team beyond the arc. The zone was working, and I feel we played OK, we just didn't grasp it at the end of the game when we could've captured the game."
LSU, the SEC's least-productive offense, couldn't take advantage of Tennessee's struggles and scored only 11 points off the giveaways, shooting 35.7 percent from the field.
The Vols also outrebounded the Tigers 41-34.
With the teams tied at 30, Cameron Tatum stretched across the lane to hit a layup with 14:28 left and launch a 16-4 run for the Vols. J.P. Prince dunked off an alley-oop pass from Brian Williams to extend the lead to 46-34, their largest margin of the game.
"We sort of lost momentum there. We could never get that back," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "We don't have a margin for error when that happened. That took the wind out of our sails."
Mitchell hit consecutive 3s to cut Tennessee's margin to 54-49 with 1:02 left, but Aaron Dotson missed a layup and a foul on Storm Warren sent Bobby Maze to the free-throw line. Maze sank both of his shots to help Tennessee preserve the lead.
"The difference (in the second half) was the type of shots we took," Maze said. "We drove the ball outside and then kicked it out. We were able to get to the free throw line. I think we took the first available shot instead of waiting."
Maze finished with 14 points and Prince added 11. Brian Williams, who was suspended for the teams' regular-season meeting, grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds.
Mitchell entered the game needing 21 points to reach 2,000 but finished with 10 to end his career with 1,989. Storm Warren led LSU with 18 points.
The Vols, who have won 13 of the last 18 between the two teams, also struggled in their Feb. 4 meeting with the Tigers, hanging on 59-54. LSU fought back after trailing by 14 points in that game, but Mitchell missed a potential tying 3 with 6 seconds left.
The two teams last met in the tournament in 2007, too, but the Tigers won 76-67 in overtime.
The Vols now face a rested Mississippi team that grabbed a first-round bye as the West's No. 2 seed. Pearl said Tennessee's 71-69 overtime win at home against the then-No. 21 Rebels was one of his team's toughest wins of the season.
Tennessee's previous worst single-half shooting performance was 28.6 percent in the first half against Southern California. The Vols' worst single-half shooting against an SEC team was 28.9 percent against Mississippi.
"If we play like that (Friday), we won't advance," Pearl said. "We will get beat. We have to play better to beat Ole Miss."