Editor’s Note — NCAA officials announced the 2010 NCAA men’s tournament seeding late Sunday night. UT will be a part of the Midwest region as a No. 6 seed and will take on the No. 11 seed San Diego State Aztecs, who were the Mountain West Conference champions. Overall No. 1 seed Kansas, Ohio State and Georgetown will be among those joining the Vols in the Midwest region.
Tennessee will start its tournament journey Thursday in Providence, R.I.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee men’s basketball team traveled to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena last Thursday for the 2010 SEC Men’s Tournament. After surviving its first two matchups against LSU and Ole Miss, UT (25-8, 11-5 SEC) fell to the East’s top seed, Kentucky (31-2, 14-2), in Saturday’s tournament semifinals.
‘Survive and advance’
Tennessee’s first round SEC Tournament game against LSU may not have been the prettiest outing for either team.
But as UT coach Bruce Pearl later stressed, the Vols only needed to make it past the Tigers.
“It wasn’t a thing of beauty,” Pearl said. “But it is called survive and advance.”
No. 3-seeded Tennessee survived the West’s No. 6 seed LSU 59-49 on Thursday despite poor offensive outings from both squads.
Wayne Chism led the Vols with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Bobby Maze added 14 with J. P. Prince chipping in 11. Brian Williams recorded seven points and snagged 14 rebounds.
The Vols shot 37 percent from the field and 17 percent (4-of-23) on 3-pointers while also turning the ball over 17 times. Despite their offensive woes, including 7-of-27 from the field, Tennessee held a 21-21 tie at halftime.
Though LSU shot only 36 percent in the first half without a 3-pointer, Pearl was quick to credit the Tigers’ zone defense for slowing down the Vols on the other end.
“They zoned us the whole game,” Pearl said. “It really slowed the game down. There’s a reason we’re last in the league in three-point percentage.”
Tennessee turned up the tempo in the second half. The Vols jumped ahead 38-30 on a Melvin Goins jumper with 11:13 remaining in the game, and the Tigers never threatened for the remainder of the contest.
“I can’t fault our effort. I can’t fault our execution,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said. “What (UT) did was a very good job at attacking when they needed to.”
Though the win meant a Friday matchup with Ole Miss, Pearl was not excited about his team’s effort.
“If we play like that (against Ole Miss), we’ll get beat,” he said.
Friday’s matchup with the Ole Miss Rebels gave Tennessee another chance to find its energy in the second round of the SEC Tournament.
But against the Rebels, UT’s veterans proved energy was not an issue down the stretch.
Seniors Wayne Chism, Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince combined for 46 points to help Tennessee advance past Ole Miss 76-65 on Friday afternoon.
“Our guys don’t want this to end,” Pearl said, “so they’re playing hard so that can continue. Nobody wants that more than the seniors.”
Early in the contest, Ole Miss, the West’s No. 2 seed, showed some hot hands from the perimeter. The Rebels knocked down two early 3-pointers to jump out to an 8-3 lead.
UT crept back into the game as sophomore guard Cameron Tatum connected on four 3-pointers in the first half to keep the Vols within striking distance. Tennessee closed the gap, trailing Ole Miss 35-34 at halftime.
Pearl’s squad took control of the game after the break. A Renaldo Woolridge trey gave the Vols a 49-44 advantage at 11:42, and UT’s defense kept the Rebels at bay, forcing 14 turnovers.
“We won the first half, and we needed to come out and win the second half by at least one point,” Ole Miss’ Zach Graham said. “And we didn’t do that.”
In a win-or-go-home situation, UT’s seniors did not forget the importance of high energy.
“Down the stretch in these games, you’ve got to have energy,” Chism said. “I did good things down the stretch.”
Kentucky’s victory over Alabama put the Wildcats next on the Vols’ agenda. Pearl acknowledged the importance of the matchup to the tournament’s outcome.
“If you want to be a champion, you’ve got to beat the best,” Pearl said. “And Kentucky is the best.”
End of the line
After Tennessee and Kentucky split their SEC season series 1-1, a matchup in Saturday’s semifinals was a chance for both teams to make a statement on a neutral court.
Thanks to the help of thousands of Big Blue faithful, the Wildcats did just that.
Top-seeded Kentucky held UT scoreless for the final six minutes of the first half and never looked back, overwhelming the Vols 74-45 on Saturday in front of a Wildcat-dominated crowd, ending the Vols’ tournament run.
“Defense and rebounding win championships,” said Pearl, whose Vols lost the battle of the boards 44-29, “and they are the best defensive rebounding team in the league. Like a great team, they put us away and made shots.”
Scotty Hopson led the Vols with 11 points, with no other UT players hitting double figures. DeMarcus Cousins paced Kentucky with 19 points and 15 rebounds, while fellow freshmen Eric Bledsoe and John Wall notched 17 and 14 respectively.
Tennessee kept the game close early after a Hopson 3-pointer cut Kentucky’s lead to 10-8 at the 11:56 mark. A Chism layup with 6:12 remaining in the first half kept Kentucky from making an uncontested run, but the Vols failed to score again before halftime, heading into the break trailing 32-19 while shooting 29 percent from the field.
“We just couldn’t get stuff to fall,” Prince said. “They made big shots when they had to.”
The Vols weren’t able to make a run in the second period. Kentucky’s Darnell Dodson nailed two 3-pointers and a dunk to boost the Wildcat lead to 58-41 with 6:14 left.
Tennessee had no answers for Kentucky in the waning moments of the game, as the Wildcats finished the contest on a 29-6 run to lead by as many as 29.
“I think we got dominated at every position,” Pearl said. “We just did not have the energy.”
UT No. 6 seed after SEC loss
Published: Mon Mar 15, 2010