While Tennessee was on their 19 game win streak, the Vols offense took center stage. Tennessee surpassed 80 points 13 times during the streak and were among the Nations leaders in both points and assists.
Then came February and the offenses time in the limelight began to dim. The Vols posted a four game streak where they failed to shoot fifty percent from the field and were held to a season low 58 points against Vanderbilt (0-16 in SEC).
In the game prior to the Commodores, the Vols defensive shortcomings had seemingly hit a climax. Tennessee had season lows in both blocks and defensive rebounds and Kentucky soared to a 17 points win over the then No. 1 team in the country.
“Well I think really when you get down to it, after the way we got beat at Kentucky, we saw that we really weren’t in positions we needed to be in,” Rick Barnes said. “I do think the biggest thing – and we talked about was we got more of our fight back against LSU down there, where we really worked hard. Then we have been able to continue to build on it.”
Since then the Vols have held opponents to less than 50% shooting and amassed 25 steals four games.
“I think our guys realize more than ever they are going to be in close basketball games,” Barnes said. “They realize how important every possession is. They are holding each other responsible.”
In their second act against the Wildcats the defense woes of Tennessee seemed to have hit a resolve. The Vols held Kentucky to a season low 52 points while shooting 31.2 percent from the field – another season low for Big Blue – and the 17 point loss Tennessee suffered in Lexington was avenged with a 19 point victory at Thompson-Boling.
“I think our guys truly know that we have to have our identity with the defensive end,” Barnes said.
Tennessee will look to build upon their recent defensive success Tuesday at 9 pm against Mississippi State. The contest is the Vols final game at Thompson-Boling Arena this season.