Tennessee Hopes To Use Auburn As Bounce-Back Medicine

Vols Have To Shake Tough A&M Loss To Get Back On Track

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 - by Special to Chattanoogan.com
John Richardson (1) will try to lead Tennessee back to its winning ways Wednesday night when Auburn invades Thompson-Boling Arena for a Southestern Conference basketball showdown.
John Richardson (1) will try to lead Tennessee back to its winning ways Wednesday night when Auburn invades Thompson-Boling Arena for a Southestern Conference basketball showdown.
- photo by Tennessee Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- For the Tennessee basketball team, Wednesday's home game against Auburn (7 p.m. ET, CSS) can't come soon enough.

The Volunteers (10-5, 1-1 SEC) are eager to put last Saturday's heartbreaking, last-second loss to Texas A&M behind them and regain their footing in the Southeastern Conference race.

"You can't dwell on a loss like that," Vols senior Jordan McRae said. "Especially in SEC play. The games come so fast, you just have to look forward."

For third-year UT head coach Cuonzo Martin, a focal point since Saturday's setback has been protecting the basketball. The Vols had excelled in that area for much of the season, occupying a spot in the top 10 nationally for fewest turnovers per game. But in its first two conference outings, Tennessee has averaged a very uncharacteristic 16.0 turnovers.

The Aggies made the Vols pay for their sloppiness, scoring 20 points off turnovers en route to the upset.

"We've got to take care of the basketball to give ourselves a chance to win games," Martin said. "Whether you're at home or the road, you've got to take care of the basketball. We've got to tighten it up there."

Tennessee junior guard Josh Richardson acknowledged as much while visiting with reporters Tuesday.

"We've been getting loose with (the ball) the last couple games," Richardson said. "We like to play fast, and we kind of got out of control the last couple games. We've got to fix it (Wednesday)."

Making the most of every possession will be key for both teams Wednesday night, as Auburn (8-5, 0-2 SEC) and Tennessee rank second and third, respectively in field-goal defense in league games (.381 and .382).

VOLS LOOK TO CONTINUE WINNING WAYS AGAINST AUBURN

Tennessee leads its all-time series with Auburn 72-37, dating to 1927.

The Volunteers enter Wednesday's meeting riding a five-game overall win streak over the Tigers and a seven-game win streak vs. Auburn in Knoxville.

In addition, Martin owns a perfect 3-0 head coaching record against Auburn, and no player on Tennessee's roster has ever suffered a loss to the Tigers.

While the Tigers have opened SEC play 0-2, those losses have come by an average margin of just 2.5 points. The Tigers had rattled off four straight wins heading into conference action, including victories over ACC stalwarts Clemson and Boston College.

Auburn's starting backcourt boasts the league's top two scorers in junior KT Harrell (19.3 ppg) and senior Chris Denson (19.1 ppg). The duo is responsible for 51 percent of AU's scoring this season.

Center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, a senior seven-footer, gives the Tigers a potent shot-blocker (2.1 bpg) and rebounding presence (6.1 rpg) in the paint.

ROYALTY ON ROCKY TOP

One of the greatest players in Southeastern Conference history, three-time All-American Bernard King (1975-77) visited the Volunteers Tuesday and will attend Wednesday's game.

King, who was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September, spent time with the Tennessee coaching staff Tuesday morning and later attended practice at Thompson-Boling Arena. He spoke to the team after practice and offered some inspiring thoughts on proper preparation and the quest for excellence.

"It's a blessing to have a guy like Bernard King as a part of our program," Martin said. "In just a short amount of time being around him, you can learn so much about the commitment and work ethic it takes to be great."

King visited briefly with reporters prior to UT's practice and went out of his way to mention his love of Thompson-Boling Arena, which opened a decade after the conclusion of his career at Tennessee.

"This is a special arena," King said. "I wish I had a chance to play in this place when Ernie (Grunfeld) and I were here."

Following his visit to Knoxville, King will make his way to West Tennessee this weekend.

On Sunday, King will and fellow former NBA star JoJo White will be presented with National Civil Rights Sports Legacy Awards at the FedEx Forum in Memphis before the Memphis Grizzlies play the New Orleans Pelicans.

The awards pay tribute to athletes who have made significant contributions to civil and human rights and who have laid the foundation for future leaders through their careers in sports in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

(E-mail Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com)


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