Feb. 28, 2013
HOOPS REPORT: Martin Seeking Volunteers to "Accept the Challenge"
As the calendar turns to March, the Tennessee basketball team finds itself as the hottest team in the Southeastern Conference. Unbeaten in their last six outings, the Volunteers look to keep the burners set on high as they travel to Athens, Ga., for a Saturday showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs.
Tipoff is set for 1:45 p.m. ET at UGA's Stegeman Coliseum, and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
When UT head coach Cuonzo Martin met with the media before Thursday's practice at Pratt Pavilion, he acknowledged that effectively defending several of the SEC's athletic wing players has been an Achilles heel for the Vols this season.
"We have to accept the challenge, at some point, against really talented guys," Martin said. "Elston Turner (of Texas A&M), Marshall Henderson (of Ole Miss)... we've got to be able to stop those guys."
Tennessee (17-10, 9-6 SEC) knows all too well that the Bulldogs' roster boasts just that type of offensive threat in sophomore wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. In a 68-62 home loss to Georgia on Feb. 6, Tennessee saw Pope pour in a game-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
"He's very efficient offensively," Martin added. "He doesn't take a lot of bad shots. He executes well. You've got to be able to accept that challenge. Make his looks tough. Deny him the basketball. He can't be a guy that beats you - and he beat us at our place."
That loss set the stage for what has now grown into a six-game win streak for the Big Orange. Junior point guard Trae Golden - sidelined for this season's first clash with Georgia due to a hamstring injury - has returned to action and is performing at an All-SEC level.
Stokes averages a double-double in SEC play, with 13.6 points and 10.5 rebounds. The backcourt tandem of Golden and McRae - both Georgia natives - have accounted for 51.4 percent of Tennessee's scoring during the six-game streak.
McRae ranks third in the SEC in scoring, with 18.3 points per game. Pope lurks less than a half point behind in fourth place (17.9 ppg).
McRae knows it's unlikely that Pope will be shut down completely Saturday, regardless of how well the Vols defend.
"A player like that, you're not going to shut him down," McRae said. "He's a (future) millionaire. We just have to do a better job containing him. We can't let him go off for (24 points) like he did last time."
Georgia (13-15, 7-8 SEC) has lost four of its last five games and is coming off a one-point defeat at Vanderbilt on Wednesday.
SATURDAY'S CONTEST PEACH-FLAVORED
Saturday's game in Athens marks Tennessee senior Kenny Hall's final college game in his home state.
The Stone Mountain, Ga., native has seen the Vols post a 3-4 record against the Bulldogs during his career.
However, for the 6-9 forward, the desire to finish his career .500 against his home-state school is taking a backseat to his drive to simply extend UT's current win streak.
"Of course it's cool that it's my last go-round at Georgia," Hall told reporters Thursday. "But other than that feeling, I'm just looking for another win."
That quartet has been tremendously productive for the Vols this season. Those four players account for 51.4 percent of the team's scoring, 62.0 percent of the club's assists and 34.9 percent of the squad's rebounding.
In total, six of the 10 projected starters for Saturday's clash are Georgia natives, with the Vols and Bulldogs each boasting three.
HARRIS THRIVING IN ORLANDO
After being traded from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Orlando Magic last Thursday, second-year NBA standout and former Tennessee Freshman All-American Tobias Harris (2011) has impressed in his first week with his new team.
In just three games, Harris has already led the Magic in scoring twice. He totaled 16 points in a victory over Philadelphia, and he dropped a career-high 23 points in a loss to Sacramento on Wednesday.
Thus far, Harris has made 21 of 31 field-goal attempts with the Magic while averaging 17.7 points and 6.3 rebounds. He has excited the Orlando fanbase by displaying a tendency to aggressively attack the rim.
Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn seems to share the fans' optimism about the franchise's versatile new weapon.
"Tobias gives us the ability to guard multiple positions and create mismatches on the other end," Vaughn said. "We've already seen frequently Tobias' ability to grab the rebound and show the ability to push the ball up the floor himself. It allows us to increase our pace, which is good for us."
Tennessee fans also may be glad to learn that Harris is wearing jersey No. 12 with Orlando. He wore that number during his lone season on Rocky Top, but it was not available when he started his NBA career with Milwaukee in the 2011-12 season.