KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s two victories against ranked opponents this season reflects how good the Volunteers can be when they’re at their best.
“If we come ready to play, we can beat any team in the country,” junior forward Derek Reese said.
The Volunteers (10-5, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) generally have shown up ready to play, but they only occasionally have been ready to score.
Tennessee recorded its lowest home point total in the history of the shot-clock era last week while losing 56-38 to Alabama. The Vols followed that up by shooting over 50 percent Tuesday in a 74-69 triumph against No. 19 Arkansas.
That makes it tough to guess just what kind of performance Tennessee will produce Saturday at Missouri (7-9, 1-2), which is trying to rebound from an 86-37 loss at top-ranked Kentucky on Tuesday.
“If you look across the country, the teams that are consistently good and play consistently well are usually junior- and senior-dominated teams,” Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said. “We haven’t been consistent. I don’t expect that to change a whole lot. I do hope we get a little more consistent as the year goes on, but with so many newcomers, guys are going to be up and down. Guys are going to play well one night and not the next.”
— Derek Reese
Tennessee has been reliable in at least some respects.
The Vols have played solid defense pretty much all season. They haven’t been intimidated by anyone, as evidenced by their wins against Butler and Arkansas when both teams were ranked. They also have played with energy in just about every game and have shown a penchant for bouncing back from adversity.
“Our team has competed every night,” Tyndall said. “I expect that to continue. I think we share the basketball. We’re not the most skilled team, we’re not the best playmaking team, but I think we play very unselfish and we share the basketball, and the third thing is we attack the glass at both ends of the floor.”
They just haven’t been able to score consistently, though the Arkansas game at least offered some signs of encouragement. Tennessee’s trio of Josh Richardson, Armani Moore and Robert Hubbs combined to score 50 points and shoot 20 of 26 in that game. Hubbs scored a career-high 16 points, raising hope that the former five-star prospect had turned a corner.
But this is still the same team that went 14 minutes without a basket in that loss to Alabama a week ago.
“We’re still a young team,” Reese said. “We still have a lot to learn. A lot of players haven’t played in this environment yet. … We’ve still got a lot to learn, still have got a lot to improve, so it kind of gives us a lot of confidence, knowing we’ve got a lot of potential.”
In that respect, they’re not much different from Missouri. Tyndall says he and new Missouri coach Kim Anderson encountered “very similar situations” at their respective programs.
Missouri’s starting lineup often features two freshmen and two sophomores. Tennessee has one freshman, two junior-college transfers and a sophomore ranked among its top six scorers. Missouri ranks 12th out of 14 SEC teams in scoring, while Tennessee is 13th.
Now, just as Tennessee rebounded from a poor performance against Alabama by knocking off Arkansas, Missouri is attempting to redeem itself after getting blown out at Kentucky.
“I think they’ll bounce back,” Tyndall said. “We’ll get their best shot, that’s for sure.”
This article was written by Steve Megargee from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.