SEATTLE (AP)—JaJuan Smith remembered what he learned at camp last summer.
Smith scored 18 points and played great defense on Gonzaga star Jeremy Pargo, leading No. 11 Tennessee to an 82-72 victory over the Bulldogs.
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.
“Our best defensive effort,” Smith said proudly. “We were told to press them really hard, to try to see if they could handle our pressure.”
Smith led the defensive effort with a solid job on Pargo, who burned Oklahoma for a career-high 28 points in his previous game. Pargo shot a season-worst 1-for-7 and finished with eight points, six from the foul line. Hounded by Smith as far as 70 feet from the basket, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer missed two 3-pointers in the first 14 minutes and then didn’t shoot again until midway through the second half—when Tennessee led by 14.
Smith said his experience playing with Pargo at a basketball camp helped.
“I had the advantage playing with him this summer, knowing his moves,” Smith said. “I knew if I could keep him frustrated, we had a great chance of winning.”
Pargo told a different story.
“I don’t think it was so much him knowing what I was going to do,” he said. “Their entire team was waiting on me to make a move, not just him.”
Matt Bouldin scored 21 points for Gonzaga (9-4), which lost for the third time in five games.
“Our athleticism was definitely on display. We were quick to the ball,” said Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl, whose team went 5-0 in December with four of the wins coming away from Knoxville.
Tennessee’s relentless, trapping defense from three, ultra-quick guards kept it 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, who fell behind by 18 before cutting it to five late.
At one point, Gonzaga coach Mark Few yelled to his team that certain players would not be allowed to bring the ball upcourt against the pressing Vols the rest of the game.
“They are an aggressive, athletic, opportunistic team,” Few said. “They take every opportunity you give them—and they create opportunities.
“High-octane. Every pass, every dribble challenged.”
Bouldin’s 3-pointer with 1:15 remaining cut Tennessee’s lead to 76-71. That briefly had the “home” crowd roaring for one of the few times in Gonzaga’s annual game in Seattle.
But J.P. Prince, playing his fourth game since becoming eligible following a transfer from Arizona, 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.
“You can’t give up an offensive rebound on a free throw. You have to make those plays,” Few said.
Chris 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. He finished with 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting. After he missed his first three tries, 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 9:52 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 timeout.
“That may have been interpreted as, ‘We have this game won.’ But that it was for Chris Lofton making a couple of shots,” Pearl said of the impromptu celebration.
Gonzaga’s Josh Heytvelt scored 12 points in 24 minutes, his second game of the season following surgery that inserted pins in his ankle Nov. 12. Few said former leading scorer is “not even close yet,” to being at full condition.