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Gonzaga 89 Tennessee 79: Experience > Home Court

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I'm sure there are lots of things that both teams wish could've gone better for them inside Thompson-Boling Arena tonight in what still amounted to an incredibly dramatic basketball game...in regulation.

But in overtime, Gonzaga's veteran players did everything right, and Tennessee's mix of experience and youth combined to shoot 2 for 11 and never really give themselves a chance in the final five.

The Vols could've put the hammer down with a 14 point first half lead.  Gonzaga could've made any one of the eleven free throws they missed in regulation.  And the Vols could've made any one of the point blank looks or inside shots that mistook the home rims for somewhere else.  There are a myriad of other breaks and reasons in the game for both teams.

You could almost sense it at times inside the arena, that this was the night the winning streak was coming to an end.  When Cameron Tatum stopped getting looks, when inside shots kept not falling...when the home crowd was loud but not quite as loud, in my opinion, as they have been in years past, or at least not with the same consistency...

(which is easy to explain:  now we know we're good, whereas the first two years produced that "ohmygodohmygodicantbelievethisohmygod" level of stupified noise, and last year it hit a crescendo with a team that reached #1...now there's no surprise and less sense of urgency, and you could tell Chism was getting maybe a tad frustrated by it as he relentlessly instructed the orange faithful to get on their feet)

Even when they used the 1-2 combo of a Dane Bradshaw video followed immediately by a live shot of Bradshaw in attendance, who then by his Tebowesque presence alone caused Gonzaga to throw that inbounds pass away at the end of regulation from his front row seat...

And even when Tyler Smith, the best player on the team and the guy who probably should be taking the last shot, put one in that really had no business going there, especially given our luck with the rims all night...

Despite Tatum's career night and Wayne "play to the occasion" Chism's 15 points and 19 man-sized rebounds...

In overtime the Vols missed nine shots.  Gonzaga, after struggling there all night, missed one free throw...and made everything else.  Literally.

Along the way, the Vols allowed another guard to post a career night (Matt Bouldin with 26 points), and while Gonzaga stayed poised and got the win their season desperately needed, the Vols rushed on their end with poor shot selection, a deadly combination against a team like the Bulldogs.

Tennessee lost because they shot 36% from the field and allowed Gonzaga to shoot 53%.  The Zags' experience and the Vols' youth helped produce both numbers.  And on this night, experience was just enough to take the nation's second longest home winning streak to overtime, and then put her to bed.

I'll say this though - anyone who says this Tennessee team has "no heart" needs to find better vocabulary to articulate what they're actually trying to say.  They're young at spots, yes.  They have defensive lapses which could lead one to say "no discipline" at times, yes.  Several of them take bad shots.

But we should also all understand that the thirteen games we've seen thus far have also been about getting us ready for the next sixteen (plus Memphis).  The Vols are learning and they learned more tonight in a continuing exercise in frustrating shot selection and defensive struggles.

But they are learning.  And as close as they were tonight, and as much as it hurts to lose the home court winning streak....if they learn enough to carry it forward to conference play, and turn a close loss to a talented, veteran team into wins against younger and weaker SEC competition...

Then they'll have done their job.