Rhythm and Blue

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Like his rap alter-ego "Swiperboy," Renaldo Woolridge has hit a few sour notes during his Tennessee basketball career.

The 6-foot-9 senior found his groove Tuesday night at top-ranked Kentucky, however, draining his first five 3-point tries en route to matching his career high with 17 points. It was a dazzling performance from a guy some fans probably forgot was even part of the program.

"I just felt in rhythm," Woolridge said prior to Thursday's practice. "The first shot I took went in, and I was kinda having the attack minsdet as far as my shot: If I feel it, shoot it because we needed points."

Tennessee needed points, all right. Down 5-22, the Vols were on the verge of being blown right out of Rupp Arena when Woolridge entered the contest. Once he nailed his first shot he knew it was going to be his night.

"I usually can tell from the first shot," he said. "I kinda got the feeling because I had a hand in my face when I made it. I knew it was going to be a good streak for me, so I tried to hit as many as possible and give us as many points as possible."

He succeeded. His five-basket barrage accounted for 15 of 17 Vol points over the next seven minutes as Tennessee closed to 22-32. Although the Big Blue rallied to win handily, Woolridge finished 6 of 9 from the field (5 of 6 from 3) in perhaps the finest performance of his college career.

Swiperboy apparently saves his best outings for top-ranked teams. He nailed 4 of 6 shots — all behind the arc — en route to 14 points in helping the Vols shock No. 1 Kansas in January of 2010.

When the Vols aren't playing top-ranked teams, however, Woolridge is alarmingly inconsistent. This season is a perfect example:

He came off the bench in the opener versus UNC Greensboro to nearly post a double-double — 11 points and 8 rebounds — in 26 impressive minutes. Then he disappeared in Games 2, 3 and 4, scoring just 5 points in the three outings combined.

Woolridge broke loose again in Game 5 — 11 points and 6 rebounds — then produced a mere four points in the next four contests combined. Just as fans began writing him off, he nailed 3 of 6 shots from 3-point range en route to a career-high 17 points in Game 10 versus UNC Asheville.

Swiperboy played well enough in Games 11, 12, 13 and 14 to move into the starting lineup at center for Game 15. The new role apparently rattled him, though, because he went 3 for 18 from the field (1 for 7 from 3) and scored just 7 points in four starts.

With Woolridge slumping and 5-star freshman Jarnell Stokes enrolling, head coach Cuonzo Martin moved Stokes into the starting lineup at center and relegated Woolridge to a backup role at small forward, the position he played his first two college seasons. Being a team player, he swallowed his pride and made the switch without complaint.

"It was tough," Woolridge said. "I knew it would be an adjustment with him (Stokes) coming in because he was one of the top post players in the country. The post is his natural position and I'm naturally a wing but I knew the adjustment would take a few games."

He got that right. Woolridge was so slow readjusting to the perimeter that he played just three minutes each in Games 19 and 20, then did not leave the bench in Game 21 versus Auburn.

"Back on the perimeter I'm chasing guys (on defense), being pressured and having to use my dribble," he said. "It's different but I have those skills. It's just a matter of getting comfortable."

Just as it appeared he would finish his senior year in a mop-up role, Woolridge found himself "getting comfortable" against Kentucky.

"He was a guy on the perimeter making shots," Martin said. "The key is for him to be able to do that at the small forward position."

Guarded by Kentucky posts in the first half, Woolridge hit 5 of 5 shots. When the Cats assigned wings to cover him in the second half, he went just 1 for 4.

"It was probably a little tougher to get shots off," Martin said, "because the perimeter guys were more mobile (and better able) to stay with him."

On a Big Orange roster filled with inconsistent players, Swiperboy may be the most inconsistent of them all. He's had five double-figure scoring performances this season but also six scoreless efforts.

"I think my biggest issue is second-guessing myself," he said, "and not being confident in my shots."

With the Vols desperate for perimeter scoring, teammates and coaches alike have been urging Woolridge to launch from long range whenever the opportunity arises. He plans to heed the advice.

From here on out," he said, "my mindset is: 'Let it fly. Be confident and be that spark plug, as far as scoring.'"

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