Defense, defense, Tennessee plays defense. It can be dominating – and discouraging.
The Georgia Bulldogs didn’t find much fun in their basketball outing against the fourth-ranked Volunteers. They lost, 70-41. It was their low output of the season. There wasn’t much drama. The primary question was whether the visitors could get out of the 30s. They did, on the final shot, just before the buzzer.
Mathew-Alexander Moncrieffe got the ball at the wrong end of the floor, took off on a fiercely determined drive and scored a layup. I thought Rick Barnes was going to call time out.
Holding Georgia so low was impressive. Vol defenders were relentless. Numbers tell the story. The Bulldogs hit 29 per cent. Example: They connected on one of 11 three-point attempts in the second half.
Terry Roberts, among the leading scorers in the Southeastern Conference, was held far below his average. He made five of 15 from the field.
The Bulldogs even had trouble with free throws. They missed seven of 12. The Vols are not particularly tough guarding free throws.
Tennessee increased defensive heat as it went along. Georgia scored 17 points in the first nine minutes and 13 in the next 23.
Tennessee’s shut-down defense is not new. It is the foundation. Georgia is the 10th opponent the Vols have held to 50 or fewer.
Be reminded of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Butler scored only 45. Highly regarded Kansas made it to 54.
There have been no let-ups against inferior opponents. Barnes takes opposing field goals personally. He has told the team that regardless of the foe or what the score is, if you don’t do your job defensively, you’re coming out of the game.
“We’re just trying to get this team to totally understand their roles. It’s a defensive mentality. We have to have it.”
Zakai Zeigler says the Vols have a measuring stick to evaluate how they are doing on defense. If they can discourage foes to where they lose composure and start yelling at each other, they begin to believe they are doing OK.
Ziggy said the Bulldogs, when the heat was on, didn’t look much like they looked in scouting video. They had defeated Auburn, Notre Dame and Mississippi State.
“We want playing Tennessee to be a miserable experience.”
The Vols were slow to launch on offense. They actually trailed for a goal or two. They were ahead 17-14 when they started to break up the game. Ziggy did it. He had a great game – 11 points, seven assists, four steals, zero turnovers.
Others added interesting statistics. Santiago Vescovi contributed outstanding defense, eight points, seven rebounds, four assists and five steals.
“I think he goes into a game thinking on what he has to do to help his team win and he starts on the defensive end,” said Barnes. “And he’s done a great job all year. He is truly the guy that, you think about it, four years ago everybody went after him. Now he’s a guy that does so much on the defensive end for us.”
Olivier Nkamhoua had eight points and six rebounds. Josiah-Jordan James chipped in strong defense, six points and seven rebounds. Julian Phillips had six assists. Tobe Awake scored 10 without missing a shot. Uros Plavic contributed seven points, six rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot. Tyreke Key was some level of terrific on defense. Jonas Aidoo tossed in six points and had three rebounds.
Tennessee’s defense influenced Georgia’s turnover troubles – 20. The Vols turned the errors into 25 points. Tennessee won big in the paint – 36 to 18.
Barnes liked the defense best of all. He liked unselfishness on offense.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]