Vols close out 2012 schedule with Xavier on Saturday

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- The Tennessee basketball team will finish out its 2012 calendar year Saturday when it plays host to Xavier (7-4) at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tipoff is set for 6:05 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

The Volunteers (7-3) are a perfect 5-0 at home this season and own a 20-4 (.833) home record under second-year head coach Cuonzo Martin.

Tennessee is allowing just 58.2 points per game at Thompson-Boling Arena this season and is outscoring its opposition by 15.0 points per game at home. The Big Orange also enjoy a +9.2 rebounding margin on Rocky Top.

“We have some of the best fans in the country, and some of the best facilities, too,” senior guard Skylar McBee said. “When you’re playing in front of a crowd like that and they’re cheering you on, I think that’s a huge advantage.

“In college basketball, homecourt advantage is a really big asset, and I think we have one of the best.”

Junior point guard Trae Golden has enjoyed increased scoring (15.4 ppg) and assists (6.0 apg) production in UT’s five home games thus far, and he echoed McBee’s sentiments about playing in an energized Thompson-Boling Arena.

“It gives us a huge advantage,” Golden said. “It’s kind of like our sixth man.”

The Vols allowed Kennesaw State to score 67 points in the season-opener – marking the most points an opposing team has managed in Knoxville this season. Since that game, visiting teams have averaged just 56.0 points.

In its most recent outing, Tennessee defended its home court with a 66-52 win over Western Carolina on Dec. 21. That marked UT’s 300th all-time win at Thompson-Boling Arena. Since the arena opened for the 1987-88 season, the Vols own a 300-104 (.743) record on their home floor.

“Our fans definitely make it a great atmosphere for us,” junior guard Jordan McRae said. “They’re really loud… who doesn’t like playing at home?”

Thursday’s “Emphasis of the Day” – daily midcourt talking points spearheaded by head coach Cuonzo Martin prior to each practice – focused on visualization.

Visualization – You must first see yourself winning the game. See yourself as a leader. When you desire to see, you will see your desire.

Martin told reporters Thursday that true freshman guard Derek Reese has been cleared to participate in full practice work, including live contact drills.

Reese, a versatile 6-8 wing from Orlando, Fla., underwent shoulder surgery Aug. 21 to address a labral tear. Initial estimates for his return to action were set at six months, but his recovery and rehab has progressed ahead of schedule.

Reese, who has been conditioning with first-year strength coach Nicodemus Christopher for several weeks, took part in all of Thursday’s practice. Associate director of sports medicine Chad Newman anticipates that Reese could receive game clearance from team physicians within the coming weeks.

“Derek’s moving well and his conditioning has been good,” Martin said Thursday. “Now it’s a matter of physical contact in practice. But he’s been cleared to go, and he’s looked good.”

With senior forwards Jeronne Maymon (knee) and Dwight Miller (knee) sidelined by injuries, Reese’s return could provide a frontcourt boost for the Vols. Martin has stated that Reese’s size and skill set could translate to minutes at the No. 4 spot.

“(Derek) is a guy who can really stretch a defense,” Martin said. “In our offense, if you have a four-man who can make plays off the dribble and make shots, that’s a major asset for what we try to do offensively.”

Entering Saturday’s contest against Xavier, 10 teams have tried – and failed – to reach the 70-point mark against the Volunteers.

UMass flirted with the 70-point mark during an up-tempo clash with UT at the Puerto Rico Tipoff on Nov. 18, but the Minutemen stalled out at 69 points as Tennessee emerged victorious.

Tennessee’s current streak of holding 10 straight opponents to fewer than 70 points is the program’s longest such streak since the 1995-96 Volunteers held 16 straight foes to 68 or less.

Excluding postseason action, Tennessee’s active streak of holding opponents below 70 stands at 16 games. Florida totaled 70 points last season in Gainesville during a 75-70 loss to the Vols.

The opponents’ offensive struggles can easily be attributed to the hard-nose, unrelenting, disciplined style of defense that Martin demands from his team.

Golden was asked Thursday if Martin was ever truly “happy” with the team’s performance defensively.

“No,” Golden replied with a grin. “He told us yesterday that as long as he’s coaching, it’s never going to be acceptable for someone to score on you. So he’s never going to be totally happy with our defense. But as long as we continue to do what we’ve been doing (defensively), we’ll be fine.”

McRae offered a similar response to the same question.

“Nope,” McRae said. “Unless they don’t score at all.”

Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, Xavier University is a Jesuit, Catholic school that competes in the Atlantic 10 Conference and owns a 7-4 record this season under fourth-year head coach Chris Mack.

Xavier is one of only four schools in the nation that have made the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen four times in the last five years.

For last Saturday’s home game vs. Wofford, Xavier wore special green and white uniforms, socks and shoes to honor those who perished at Sandy Hook Elementary. The jerseys and shorts will be auctioned at GoXavier.com through Jan. 4, and the proceeds will benefit the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.

Xavier freshman Semaj Christon leads the Musketeers in scoring (14.2 ppg) and has already garnered two A-10 Rookie of the Week awards. Forward Travis Taylor — who began his college career at Monmouth University — totaled 20 points and 11 rebounds against Wofford Saturday. Taylor’s 20 points marked his highest scoring output as a Musketeer.

Tennessee is 39-25 (.609) all-time against current members of the Atlantic 10 Conference and 10-4 vs Xavier. As a head coach, Cuonzo Martin is 3-0 vs. Atlantic 10 opponents. He led Missouri State to a pair of wins over Saint Louis, and his Vols defeated UMass earlier this season at the Puerto Rico Tipoff.

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