March 22, 2008
Vols Tabb defends from the heart
Keep the breakaway dunk. Or the wide-open 3-pointer. All things equal, Josh Tabb doesn't want either.
Tennessee's 6-foot-4, 196-pound sophomore would much rather score a defensive stop.
"A lot of people get a lot of hype, but sometimes if you see people just getting a lot of hype that are playing good, they really don't have pressure defense being played against them," Tabb said. "They have people playing defense who relax and don't really pressure the ball like we do. When you get the opportunity, you just really have to take it to their heart and try to shut your man down."
Praised by UT coach Bruce Pearl for his defensive prowess on the heels of the Vols' 72-57 NCAA Tournament opening-round win against American, Tabb embodies the quintessential teammate, according to senior All-American Chris Lofton. Tabb's effectiveness in Sunday's Round of 32 game against No. 7 seed Butler (30-3) could be key if the Vols are to reach a second consecutive Sweet 16.
"When you have a player on his team who knows his role and isn't going to try to do something outside of his role, that's the sign of a great teammate," said Lofton, who's improved his defense to the level that on Friday he became UT's career postseason steals leader. "Just doing whatever it takes to help the team win."
That's not always been easy this season for Tabb. After establishing himself as the team's defensive stopper during his freshman campaign a year ago, Tabb was just getting comfortable in December when an injury sidetracked his progress. He leaned on his mom during a beleaguering stretch that saw Tabb not play in seven of nine games either because of injury or coach's decision.
"My mom always tells me, 'Never go down. Never let 'em see you frown,'" said Tabb, who says a close relationship with Pearl and his teammates assured him of his place in Knoxville. "For me, it's just helping get these guys prepared in practice and going hard in practice on scout team or whatever I can to help.
"Me and my Mom talked a lot. My mom, that's my best friend. She's my backbone. She jus told me to stay positive and good things happen to good people. That's what I did, and here we are once again in the NCAA Tournament going into the second round."
Tennessee has struggled defensively in its last three contests but forced 22 turnovers against American. The Vols needed all of them to offset getting handled on the glass 39-27, including an 18-6 deficit on the offensive glass.
"I think it really gets our team fired up, playing 'D.' JaJuan Smith is a great defensive player," said Tabb, who embraced his defensive role and deferred to the team's other offensive options. "I think once JaJuan gets going on defense, it really fires up our whole team. It's just to a point where you get defensive stops and your teammates like Chris (Lofton) can come down and hit a 3 and everybody gets going. Defense and rebounding win championships, and that's what we're trying to do here."
To that end, Tabb took a major step against the Eagles. He logged seven minutes and helped UT contain guards Garrison Carr and Derrick Mercer.
"It's just coming in night out and night in being prepared and telling yourself that you won't let your man score on," Tabb said. "Trying to hold your man to a certain point total, whether it's 10 or six points. As I recall (Friday), I think I only got scored on one time. The little guard took me baseline.
"It's just in the heart, and you've got to have that heart to tell yourself that you're not going to let your man score."
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