"I love this pace," senior point guard Bobby Maze said. "I just pray that we do it every game."
That's understandable. Maze signed with the Vols out of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College in the spring of 2008 because he wanted to play a fast tempo. A few weeks into the 2008-09 season, however, coach Bruce Pearl
decided the Vols could win more by running less.
To say Maze struggled with the slower pace would be an understatement.
"My better games last year came when we was pressuring and getting a chance to run," he recalled. "When I can get in the open floor I'm going to find guys. I think all of the games where I had a lot of assists was when we was running and pressuring and not slowing the ball up."
The Vols may have been better at the slower pace but they weren't nearly as entertaining. When they finished 21-13, matching Pearl's career high in losses, the coach decided to try and speed up the tempo in 2009-10. No one is happier about that than Maze, who registered 9 assists and just 1 turnover in the exhibition opener.
"Coach did a good job instilling in us that we are going to press and we are going to run," Maze explained. "With that, I look to have those kind of nights every night."
Tennessee's greatest strength this season is its depth. The Vols can go 10 deep without a significant drop-off in quality. That enabled them to play a brisk pace Friday night without growing weary.
"Everybody understands that our 10 guys will be better than the other team's seven or eight," Maze said. "We're deep at every position, so it doesn't matter how many minutes you play. You just play hard every minute you're out there."
The 2009-10 Vols clearly have the depth to play fast but they may not have the discipline. Their full-court defense gave up a lot of breakaway layups Friday night and their transition offense produced a whopping 26 turnovers. If that kind of sloppy play continues Pearl hinted that he will again slow the pace. Maze is convinced that won't be necessary.
"This was our first game," he said, "and I think this team at times has been a little too unselfish. Guys sometimes have the easy layup and they try to make the next pass. We want those guys in the post to be more aggressive but it's in their nature to make another play and try to get the assist. That's what all of that (26 turnovers) is about.
"I think this game was a learning experience. We do need to cut down on the turnovers but this was an exhibition game and a chance for guys to get the rust off."
Since a fast pace is more taxing than a deliberate pace, Tennessee's starters will be playing fewer minutes this year. Maze says he and his teammates are fine with that.
"The best thing about the (exhibition) game was that nobody was being selfish," he said. "Guys was playing together and nobody was pouting when they came out of the game."
Of course, if the Vols go back to last year's tempo ... well, there might be a little pouting then.