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Vols sick of self-inflicted wounds

One of the many reasons Bruce Pearl has won many more games than he’s lost is his ability to take a complex game like basketball and break it down with words anyone can understand.

Freshman point guard Trae Golden is one of many Vols frustrated by the team's turnover problems.

Pearl broke down one of his struggling team’s biggest problems in exceedingly simple terms Sunday night.

“Every time you turn over the ball, you don’t get a shot,” he said. “And every time we don’t get a shot, we don’t have a shot at an offensive rebound. We’ve got good size, and inside shots lead to inside rebounds.”

Taking better care of the ball wouldn’t fix all of UT’s problems — it’s not quite that simple, obviously — but it’s a necessary first step, starting with tonight’s big SEC home game Florida.

If the Vols (10-5, 0-1 SEC) lose for a sixth time in nine tries, the former top-10 team will fall two games back of the Gators (12-3, 1-0) and others after just two league games.

“We can’t get any more behind the 8-ball,” senior forward John Fields.

And what’s the easiest way to fix that?

Stopping the unforced turnovers.

Many of the Vols’ 18 turnovers in Saturday’s loss at Arkansas were stunningly avoidable. Passes into double teams. Drives into triple teams. Balls dribbled off their own feet.

Basketball 101.

Failed.

“Not being strong with the ball,” Pearl said. “Being disrupted by physical play and ball pressure.”

In other words, things than can — and should — be fixed. Things that shouldn’t be happening in January.

“A lot of our turnovers are kind of teeing other guys’ shots up,” freshman forward Tobias Harris said. “Those are things we can fix. It’s not something that will kill us over the season. It’s just something that killed us that game.”

As on-point as Harris typically is, Saturday was clearly not the first time UT’s turnovers have directly led to a loss.

The Vols are 6-1 when they have more assists than turnovers, and they’re 3-4 when they have fewer assists that turnovers. They barely won their second game against Belmont when they had the same number of assists and turnovers.

UT had 18 turnovers and 11 assists in losses to Arkansas and Southern Cal. It had 11 turnovers and eight assists in a loss at Charlotte, and it had 11 turnovers and nine assists. The Vols out-rebounded all four of those opponents, and all but one by at least 12, but it didn’t matter.

The same word — “frustrating” — popped up in nearly every Sunday night player interview.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” junior guard Cameron Tatum said. “It’s unforced turnovers, and it’s still that we can’t control. It’s nothing they did to force, and it’s just frustrating when it contributes to us losing. We just have to be more tight with our ball-handling and our passes and being able to handle ball pressure. It’s things we have to expect and be ready for.”

Added freshman point guard Trae Golden: “When you look back on it, you realize it’s things that we can change, and things that we can fix, so it’s something we really need to work on. It’s really frustrating, because that’s something we really emphasize on throughout the game, is to make sure we don’t turn over the ball and make sure that we stay strong with the ball. I just think it’s a lack of focus that we went through, and we’ve got to make sure we stay focused and that that doesn’t happen any more.”

Added Fields: “I had one on an in-bounds pass that I beat myself in the head about. People aren’t beating Tennessee. We’re really beating ourselves. Arkansas played a great game, but to be honest, we just shot ourselves in the foot with a lot of unforced turnovers. And it is frustrating — really frustrating — because we’re just beating ourselves.”

Senior center Brian Williams simplified the situation as much as anyone.

“We have to limit our turnovers,” Williams said. “We just have to, ...or we’re not going to win a lot of games in this league.”

Contact Wes Rucker at wrucker@247sports.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247.

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