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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Vols Earn Tigers' Respect

Vols earn Tigers' respect

By Jimmy Hyams

Posted Dec 7, 2006

Maybe Memphis will respect Tennessee’s basketball program after Wednesday night. Maybe an 18-point defeat will convince John Calipari the Vols aren’t just a regional team. Maybe, just maybe, Calipari won’t look at a loss to Tennessee like it’s a takedown by little brother.

Tennessee’s resounding 76-58 victory over the 16th-ranked Tigers was almost as alarming as last season’s major upset at Texas.
That win a year ago gave the team confidence in Bruce Pearl’s system.

The win Wednesday night convinced the young team it was capable of playing with the big boys.

Pearl called the victory a great team effort. You can spell team C-h-r-i-s L-o-f-t-o-n. Lofton was a virtual one-man wrecking crew. He scored a career-high 34 points, hitting 12 of 18 field goals and six of 11 from 3-point range.

He had 21 of UT’s 43 first-half points. At one juncture in the second half, he had 29 points on 11 of 15 shooting while his teammates had 26 on eight of 31 shooting.

``Chris was phenomenal,’’ said power forward Dane Bradshaw.

He was also clutch. After the Vols built a 23-point lead during the first half, UT went over eight minutes with just two points as Memphis cut the margin to 12. But Lofton hit a 3-pointer for 50-35 lead, then nailed a fade away trey for a 17-point lead a minute later. He delivered the dagger with another three for a 70-54 lead with 3:30 left.

``Chris was making NBA plays,’’ said Pearl.

And it didn’t matter what Memphis did. The Tigers tried different defenders and different defenses on Lofton, but he just kept firing – and hitting. He was in a zone after drilling his first five shots, and he scored taking the ball to the hoop, a new ploy in his repertoire.

Before the final horn sounded, UT fans were chanting ``over-rated’’ at Memphis.

But that might have taken away credit from a gutsy performance by Tennessee. The outsized Vols won the battle on the boards, 50-48. They also held the Tigers to 28 percent shooting (22 of 77), although Memphis missed quite a few attempts from point-blank range.

While the team defense was outstanding, so was the foul shooting. The Vols made 17 of 20, after hitting just 61.5 percent entering the game. Pearl chided himself for his team’s woes at the free-throw line.

``You would think a Jewish guy could coach something that’s free,’’ Pearl quipped.

Pearl said one reason for the foul line struggles is the loss of 90 percent free throw shooter C.J. Watson. Another is that freshmen big men Wayne Chism and Duke Crews are getting fouled two or three times more per game than Major Wingate and Andre Patterson, and Chism and Crews aren’t good foul shooters.

``What we’re doing is not acceptable,’’ Pearl said. ``But I try not to make too big a deal about it so it doesn’t get in their head.’’

Bradshaw, the Memphis native who had 21 points and 10 rebounds in a loss at Memphis last year, had 11 points and nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

``I’ll have to recruit five or six guys to replace Dane,’’ Pearl said. ``He’s my All-American.’’

Point guard Ramar Smith had seven points, seven rebounds and hit six of seven free throws. Smith and Jordan Howell, who also played the point, combined fort just two turnovers.

Duke Crews, who surrendered his starting spot to Chism so Chism could start against his high school teammate Willie Kemp, had 10 hard-fought rebounds.

``Duke was a man out there,’’ Pearl said. ``He was a man.’’

Josh Tabb didn’t score, but he scored points with his coach. He played outstanding defense and got into the passing lanes to disrupt Memphis offense.

``I think they were frustrated at times,’’ Bradshaw said.

Tennessee’s victory should give the Vols a huge boost going into a stretch that includes games against Western Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Texas.

``Dane said he likes the chemistry of this team,’’ Pearl said. ``And Dane has a pretty good feel for things like that.’’

Bradshaw certainly felt good after beating his hometown school.


Pearl said Chism and Crews might continue to play more minutes together, but one thing is certain: Chism has earned more playing time.

``Here’s the deal,’’ Pearl said. ``Wayne Chism needs to play more than he’s playing because he’s playing well. That’s the deal. And I told the team that he’ll get it at the four (power forward) or five (center).

``Then, it’s up to Duke Crews and Ryan Childress to determine how much more he’ll play. If Duke starts playing better – and I think he is – Wayne could play the four. And they could play together. Or if Ryan keeps playing well, Ryan and Dane will take the four spot and I won’t be able to play Wayne more minutes. But Wayne Chism deserves to play more than he’s playing right now.

``Does Duke deserve more than 20 minutes or Ryan Childress less than 10 or 15? That’s the question.’’

Chism was averaging 17.9 minutes before the Memphis game. He was scoring 9.3 points per game and grabbing a team-high 6.6 rebounds.


When Pearl said Memphis has less respect for Tennessee than any program in the country, he was directing his remark at Calipari, because Calipari doesn’t want to play the game.

``He feels like he’s got everything to lose and nothing to gain because they’re supposed to beat us,’’ Pearl said. ``While that may be true of a top-10 program, we’re closing the gap. I’d go as far as to say we helped them get a one seed (in the NCAA tournament last year) because we were a two seed and it might have been their best win. They had the best non-conference crowd of the year for us. We might have the best non-conference crowd of year for them.’’

Pearl said playing Memphis is good for a lot of reasons.

``I don’t need the game to recruit Memphis,’’ Pearl said. ``I don’t need it. But I think it’s good for lots of reasons. It helps our attendance. It helps our RPI. It brings national television to Thompson-Boling Arena. The last thing might be recruiting.

``Which game is easier for Coach Pearl to win, Murray State or Memphis? Coach Pearl is paid to win games. This is a tough game for me, too. I think the game should be played for lots of right reasons and the fact they don’t want to play us just speaks to the fact they don’t respect us.’’

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