Dec. 15, 2009
BY JOSH PATE, UTSports.com
It wasn't a walk-up-the-court type of game, and there was not shot-clock watching or four corners offense. But for Tennessee, the second half of Tuesday's 77-58 victory against Wyoming was about as slowed down as it gets.
The No. 9 Vols (8-1) found themselves in a struggle with the Cowboys at the half, coming back from a 10-point deficit to lead 42-41 at break. Shooting wasn't expected to be off the charts anyway, as both teams are known for their run-and-gun style of play. Tennessee was cold from long range and was just 10-of-16 from the free throw line.
That's when assistant coach Jason Shay stepped into the conversation.
"Jason Shay made an excellent observation at halftime," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "This team can't beat us in a halfcourt game. It was nothing new because we talked about not allowing the tempo to get so fast that we don't take care of the basketball. So that got me to slow things down."
Just as Tennessee's approach changed, so did the players' attitudes.
"Just coming out with the mind-set that we were down 10 (at one point), that really boosted us up," said Scotty Hopson, who finished with a team-high 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting. "We were tired of playing with these guys. We came out and wanted to take the game over. It was just a different mind-set that we had."
Coming out of the break, Tennessee's baskets looked like a layup drill: Hopson jam, Wayne Chism in the paint, Hopson again with a dunk, Tyler Smith, Brian Williams, Hopson again and Melvin Goins. Within seven minutes, Tennessee was leading 59-49 and never looked back.
Another run of inside baskets allowed the Vols to outscore the Cowboys 9-2 late in the second half to push the lead to 20.
"Last year, I don't know what we would have done, but I don't think things would have turned out the same," said Smith, who finished with 10 points as one of three Vols in double figures. "This year, we have really focused on defense and that's something that really helped us get this win.
"Coach really talked about what we were going to do as far as facing adversity. It was really us players who wanted to step up and show Coach and ourselves that we can shut people down when we want to, and that's what we've got to continue to do all year long."
The Vols maintained their fast pace, but defensively they packed it in and forced Wyoming to try and beat them from beyond the arc. It didn't work. The Cowboys were 0-of-8 from 3-point range in the second half, finishing 4-of-21 for the game.
Wyoming shot 37.8 percent from the floor and committed 29 turnovers. Tennessee, despite the fast pace and bad long-range shooting (4-of-20), had just 13 turnovers and dished 18 assists.
Pearl said the unselfishness comes from his senior leadership.
"I want Tyler or J.P. (Prince) on the floor at all times," Pearl said. "Getting 12 assists from Tyler and J.P., I really wanted to keep one of those guys on the floor at all times. When they're both out of the game, we lose that breakdown element."
Prince, who has been coming off the bench for the Vols, finished with four points, six assists and four steals. Wayne Chism tossed in 13 for Tennessee.
"We wore them down so we could take advantage of them defensively in second half," Pearl said. "We stayed with pressure and weren't afraid of that tempo. We didn't think Wyoming could beat us with the 3. They got some pretty good looks, but we really tried to close the paint down.
"I said early on that we have a better understanding defensively. I didn't know we were going to be better. After a year of playing together ... I think we're doing a better job."