January 8, 2009

Tatum breaks out, eyes more

Yes, Cameron Tatum couldn't help but feel like he was tossing a basketball into the planet's largest bodies of water.

But Tennessee's redshirt freshman wing likewise couldn't escape the feeling that he could have done more for the Volunteers Wednesday night in a beguiling 89-79 overtime loss at home to Gonzaga. A Lithonia, Ga., native, Tatum matched his career high of 19 points by halftime and closed with 22 in a losing effort.

The basket was "about the size of an ocean. It was a good first half, but in college right now, there are 20-minute halves and it's about putting both those halves together and the team," said the 6-foot-6, 196-pound Tatum, who earned his first career home start. "So we've just got to continue to strive to get better. Lot of progress we made (Wednesday). Passion was there, poise was there at times. Purpose was there. The main word now is completion because we've just got to complete these games."

Vols coach Bruce Pearl, whose team lost at home for the first time in 38 games, praised Tatum's performance -- particularly as he carried the Vols to a 40-33 halftime bulge with 19 points in the game's first 20 minutes. Tatum's personal 14-point spree to begin the scoring for Tennessee is believed to be a school record.

"(Tatum) had a great start. He stepped up big-time when Scotty (Hopson) was out," said Pearl, whose team lost its second consecutive game. "We wound up calling his number early. As soon as he made one or two, we kept calling it. He deserved it. I was happy for Cameron shooting so well because he's one of the guys who shoots more than anybody else (in the gym trying to improve). Cam has deserved this. Where we go from here � because he had the same effort from Georgetown (in November). � I would have loved for Cameron to pull the trigger a couple more times in second half."

With just three of his points coming in the second half and none in the game's final 19 minutes, 52 seconds, Tatum pointed to both his defense and offense as areas he needs to elevate for 40 minutes.

"Especially in the second half, there's a lot more I could've done on defense," Tatum said. "Ignore the offensive side, but there's just so much more I could've done on defense. I could've taken the initiative and grabbed (Matt) Bouldin (the Gonzaga guard who led all scorers with 26 points) or (Austin) Daye or put a body on the floor, but I didn't. That's something coach is trying to instill, to have some purpose and pride on defense."

Tatum said those intangibles were the biggest factors in the second half and overtime, when the Vols blew a 12-point second-half lead en route to their fourth loss this season. Gonzaga shot 44.4 percent from the field in the first half but closed with a 19-for-32 effort -- 59.4 percent.

"We didn't come out with that same pride or effort or intensity," Tatum said of UT's defense over the final 25 minutes.

Benched bench?

Tennessee, which touts a deep bench as a team strength, instead saw Pearl eschew much in the way of substitutions down the game's stretch. Once Tatum was reinserted for the ailing Hopson with just under 10 minutes to play, the Vols didn't seem to make another substitution until team leader Tyler Smith was briefly injured deep into the overtime period. The Vols' five starters all played at least 33 minutes. Wayne Chism, who continued his torrid play with a 15-point, 19-rebound effort, logged a team-high 38 minutes. Bulldogs players Bouldin and Steven Gray logged 42 and 41 minutes, respectively. Gonzaga got 40 minutes from its bench players; UT logged 48.

Pain for predecessors

Tatum said the end to the Vols' record home winning streak was painful on a variety of levels, not the least of which was letting down the players who constructed the winning binge.

"It really does sting," Tatum said. "Having people � guys like Dane (Bradshaw) watching from the crowd, it kind of hurts. He worked so hard to build that up. It hurts for us, and I know it probably hurts for him. We've got to continue to strive to get better."

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