Tennessee Walk-Ons Reinvent BruceBall and Outlast Kansas, 76-68

It shouldn't have happened.  It just shouldn't have happened.



 

Kansas was the #1 team in the country.  They had depth.  They had talent.  They had a frightening interior presence.

And they didn't have a swath of missing players due to marijuana and de-serialized weapons in a rental car.

Bruce Pearl had precious little time to adjust the starting lineup for the game, much less figure out a brand new depth chart and team chemistry.  But somehow, he managed just that.  If this was the first game somebody ever watched a Pearl-coached team play (and without any former knowledge of his style), they would have walked away with a completely different perception of Bruce Pearl than the common knowledge.  For this was not a team that won by turnovers, fast breaks, and organized chaos.

This was a Tennessee team that simply put a stranglehold on the shotclock.  And they did it with Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince in foul trouble.  Bruce Pearl's response?

Send in the walk-ons.  With no advance notice.  Against the #1 team in the country.  And win.

Their stats don't look all that impressive, but this game was absolutely unwinnable without Josh Bone, Steven Pearl, and Skylar McBee.  The most important stat they had was zero:  zero turnovers by the walk-ons, despite logging a combined 45 man-minutes of action in the game.  Their ball control and patience allowed the Vols to hold a lead throughout nearly the entire second half, waiting for Kansas to come to them rather than trying to play hero.

In the second half, the Volunteers routinely held the ball until the final seconds of the shotclock, risking clock violations and occasionally being forced into awkward attempts.  But by running the clock down, they kept the ball out of the Jayhawks' hands and never let them set up a good offensive rhythm.  It was the most unnatural style of play for those accustomed to Pearl's 'controlled chaos' style - halfcourt control, set plays, timid rebounding, back on defense quickly.  But it worked.

It was disciplined, patient play by the scout team that allowed the starters to get their rest and be selective in their shots, and that made all the difference.

That's not to say that the starters didn't earn their keep.  Hopson led UT scorers with 17 points; Woolridge had 8 rebounds; Maze had 7 rebounds (!) and 8 assists in one of the better point guard performances this year.  It was truly a team effort, from the head coach all the way down to the most unlikely contributors.  And it was beauty.

Bruceball.  Reinvented.

Buckle up folks, we have a brand new season.

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