JaJuan Smith scored 18 points and No. 11 Tennessee made up for star Chris Lofton's cold shooting with its usual strong defense in an 82-72 win over Gonzaga on Saturday.
Tennessee's first trip to the state of Washington turned into its best start in seven seasons. The Volunteers are 12-1 for the first time since the 2000-01 team started 16-1.
Relentless, trapping defense from three, ultra-quick guards kept Tennessee in front for all but 30 seconds -- and Gonzaga from getting into most of its halfcourt plays. Simply getting the ball across halfcourt or on a pass out to the wing were adventures for the Bulldogs.
Matt Bouldin scored 21 points to lead Gonzaga (9-4), which lost for the third time in five games.
Bouldin's 3-pointer with 1:15 remaining cut Tennessee's 18-point lead to 76-71 and briefly had the "home" crowd roaring for one of the few times in Gonzaga's annual game in Seattle.
But J.P. Prince made a free throw and Jordan Howell grabbed a deep tip out by Wayne Chism off a miss to set up two more free throws from Prince. That put the Vols back up comfortably, 79-71.
Lofton, Tennessee's career leader in 3-point shooting, missed seven of his first eight shots -- all from behind the arc and some from behind the NBA line -- and finished with 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting. After he missed his first three tries, coach Bruce Pearl pulled him from the game.
But Lofton's drive and runner high off the glass, his first shot attempted inside the 3-point arc, gave Tennessee an 11-point lead 3 minutes into the second half. And when he finally made consecutive 3-pointers with 9:47 left, on his eighth and ninth tries, the Volunteers had their biggest lead at 64-46.
Lofton celebrated his breakout with a scream and leaping chest bumps with giddy teammates as Gonzaga slumped off the court for its time out.
The Bulldogs' leading scorer had far more problems than Lofton. Jeremy Pargo, coming off a career-high 28 points in a loss to Oklahoma, missed two bad 3-pointers early in the first half and didn't shoot again until deep into the second half.
Pargo finished with eight points on 1-for-7 shooting.
Tennessee missed 13 of its first 16 3-point shots, but its stifling defense allowed the Volunteers to lead by nine with 4 minutes left in the first half, after Tyler Smith made a circus-like scoop shot from about knee level while splitting two defenders underneath the basket.
Gonzaga then scored eight of the last 12 points of the half -- including a thunderous dunk off a missed shot and then two free throws from Josh Heytvelt -- to trail 36-31 at halftime.
Heytvelt scored 12 points in 24 minutes, his second game of the season following surgery that inserted pins in his ankle Nov. 12.
T.Smith 5-13 1-2 11, Chism 5-8 0-0 10, J.Smith 7-13 0-0 18, Lofton 4-13 0-0 11, Howell 2-4 1-1 6, R.Smith 4-7 0-0 10, Prince 2-4 8-12 12, Williams 1-1 0-0 2, Childress 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 31-67 10-15 82.
Pendergraft 3-6 5-6 12, Sacre 0-2 0-0 0, Pargo 1-7 6-7 8, Bouldin 7-16 4-5 21, Downs 0-3 0-1 0, Daye 4-7 2-2 11, Sorenson 0-0 0-0 0, Gurganious 0-1 0-0 0, Kuso 0-1 0-0 0, Gray 3-7 0-0 8, Heytvelt 4-6 4-7 12, Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-56 21-28 72.
Halftime-Tennessee 36-31. 3-Point Goals_Tennessee 10-29 (J.Smith 4-9, Lofton 3-12, R.Smith 2-3, Howell 1-3, Childress 0-1, Chism 0-1), Gonzaga 7-23 (Bouldin 3-7, Gray 2-4, Daye 1-3, Pendergraft 1-4, Downs 0-2, Pargo 0-3). Fouled Out-Pendergraft. Rebounds-Tennessee 32 (T.Smith 11), Gonzaga 41 (Pendergraft 6). Assists_Tennessee 20 (T.Smith 6), Gonzaga 11 (Pargo 7). Total Fouls-Tennessee 24, Gonzaga 17. A-15,141.
Story Courtesy: UT Sports Information