A weekend filled with success and improvement ended on a frustrating note for the Volunteers with a 83-74 loss to the No. 5 Gonzaga Bulldogs on Sunday night. The loss can serve as a valuable experience for the young Vols and can help them going forward.
After cruising to a 3-0 record against mediocre opponents, Tennessee was tested for the first time at the Old Spice Classic at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.
It passed its first two tests, looking impressive in wins against Siena and No. 20 Georgetown. Several factors contributed to the Vols loss to Gonzaga in the championship game of the tournament.
Tennessee will need to take some lessons away from this loss. With another game remaining against Gonzaga, and games against top teams such as Kansas, Memphis and Marquette, it will be important to be composed in pressure situations. The Vols were not very composed against the Bulldogs, but at least they now have a game against a top 10 opponent under their belt.
Gonzaga used a zone defense which caused fits for Tennessee's inexperienced guards. Junior college transfer Bobby Mays and junior J.P. Prince turned the ball over seven times combined and shot just 35 percent from the field.
Despite out-rebounding Gonzaga 46-23, Tennessee lost because of poor shot selection. The team was just 27-76 (35 percent) on field goals. The Vols cannot shoot at such a low percentage and expect to beat quality teams.
The young Vols continue to have trouble executing Bruce Pearl's pressure defense, and Gonzaga point guard Jeremy Pargo was able to pick it apart. Tennessee became frustrated and began committing too many fouls. Prince fouled out while Maze and Tyler Smith had four fouls each.
The Bulldogs capitalized by making 15 free throws in the second half.
In order to beat the quality teams on its schedule, Tennessee will need to be focused on defense and execute its game plan better. The newcomers will become more comfortable with the defense as the season wears on and Sunday's loss provided some valuable experience. Looking at videotape from this game should help the Vols improve their defensive play.
The newest Vols, Maze, Scotty Hopson and Renaldo Woolridge, now have valuable experience in a tough game against a top opponent. This will be helpful as the Vols move along with arguably one of the toughest schedules in the country.
Tennessee will continue its quest towards the NCAA tournament on Wednesday night as the Vols take on the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs at 7 P.M. at Thompson-Boling Arena.