Basket Vols couldn’t hit end of gym

Marvin Westwestwords

Keep in mind that Tennessee’s revised shooting strategy is Rick Barnes’ idea.

Months ago, the coach told this team to fire away when open. Where the shooters were when they let it fly didn’t seem to matter. The coach probably preferred inside the arena.

Sunday in Nashville, the Volunteers misfired themselves into a 78-66 loss to Colorado. Barnes and most of 12,000-plus fans were undoubtedly disappointed. Some were probably embarrassed.

The Buffalos were on the bounce-back. They were upset at Grambling on Friday.

Barnes told the team on Saturday “they’re going to come in here like a wounded dog ready to bite somebody.” And they did.

The Vols missed the message. They seemed to be counting on their reputation. They were ranked No. 11 in the country.

Tennessee’s offense was inept. It hit 16 shots and missed 47 (25.4 per cent if you don’t have your own calculator). Floor play lacked purpose. Far from the goal, the ball went back and forth across the court but there was almost no inside attack.

Misfires were not limited to long shots. The Vols were 2-for-11 around the rim.

Barnes said overall defense was bad and guard play was generally worse. He did not explain what happened to Plan B, what the Vols should do when shots aren’t falling.

Shots definitely were not falling. Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler combined to shoot 6-for-25 and 4-for-17 on 3-pointers.

The coach was magnanimous toward the tourists.

“Let’s give Colorado a lot of credit … they had one day between games to get prepared … I thought they played terrific. We had no answer for them defensively in the second half. We didn’t guard.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Colorado. They deserved to win. I thought they controlled the game pretty much from start to finish.”

In the first half, Tennessee was successful drawing fouls. The Vols made 17 of 21 free throws and actually led at intermission, 34-32. That was almost unbelievable. UT was 2-for-18 shooting in the worst 13:21 of the first-half clock.

The pattern changed. In the second half, the Buffs appeared quicker, more aggressive, more determined. The Vols fouled, instead of being fouled.

Barnes used an ugly word, complacency.

“I didn’t like our mindset coming in,” said Barnes. “If we think we’re just good enough to go out there and play, today proved that we’re not … whether we’re making threes or not, we should be able to play better basketball than we played…I mean, our defense, Colorado got whatever it wanted in the second half. Especially in the last 10 minutes.”

The coach had examples.

“We had as bad a breakdown on defense as you can have to give up a three. Then we got wild. I’m looking out there and I don’t have a clue what we’re doing. I thought our guard play set the tone in a negative way.”

Guards weren’t all bad. Santiago Vescovi, never accused of not hustling, had five steals and hit all five free throws. He was 2-for-13 but scored 11. Zakai Zeigler scored 12 and tried very hard. Tyreke Key was a bit better that his partners. He got six rebounds, hit nine of 11 free throws and scored 15.

Josiah-Jordan James was the Tennessee star. He scored 15, hit more than half his shots, claimed eight rebounds and competed on defense. He may have played too many minutes.

Olivier Nkamhoua missed seven of his eight shots but pulled 10 rebounds. Other inside players made little contribution. Uros Plavsic suffered an ankle injury in the third minute and did not return.

“The guards did not make the game easy for anybody,” said the coach. “Then when doubt started creeping in, we looked like we were frozen on the defensive end. I mean, we did things with an older, experienced group that should never happen.”

Barnes named names. He said Vescovi tries to do too much. He said when Santiago or Ziggy start driving, they are out of control.

“Zakai was wild. He was totally out of control to the point where I’ve already told him ‘you’re not starting’ because that hasn’t worked very well.”

The other team, how about the Buffalos?

They won the second half by 14. They won the rebounding battle by nine. J’Vonne Hadley and KJ Simpson got 10 each. They hit 43.5 percent from the floor. Simpson and Tristan da Silva were the most productive. Simpson scored 23; da Silva, 14.

Tristan deserves another paragraph because he is interesting: He lives in Munich. He was born in Brazil. He speaks five languages. His father was a professional boxer.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is [email protected].

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