KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee had one of the stingiest defenses in the country to begin the season.
Teams struggled to move the basketball and get open shots. But the No. 20 Vols have lost focus on defense too often in their last two games.
Sophomore forward Grant Williams said before practice Wednesday that this has been a focus in recent practices.
“Just getting back to what we do well,” Williams said. “At the beginning of the year, we brought more chaos. We brought more pace. We were really concerned with doing our job. That past couple games we haven’t done our job defensively.”
Tennessee (7-1) defeated Lipscomb 81-71 last Saturday in a game that was closer than it should have been. The previous weekend, Georgia Tech pushed the Vols in a game closer than the 77-70 final indicated. The Vols forced a total of 29 turnovers in the two victories.
In the Battle 4 Atlantis last month, where the Vols played perhaps their best all season, the team forced an average of 18.6 turnovers per game.
Tennessee hosts No. 7 North Carolina on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN). The break between games has given Tennessee time to iron out some problems on defense.
Coach Rick Barnes said the extra practice has made something very clear.
“The biggest thing is we aren’t where we need to be yet,” Barnes said. “I don’t want to take anything from Lipscomb, but we weren’t very good when you look at the tape and grade out what we were doing.
“The story is, we have to get better. I’ve learned we have enough to win games. We’ve proven that. Have we proven we can win a bunch of games yet? We’re not sure.”
Tennessee’s defense does rank 19th in the country, according to kenpom.com. It hasn’t been bad recently, but the Vols are capable of consistently better play on defense when they are locked in.