Wingate opened the rally with two free throws, then nailed a 12-footer from the baseline as Tennessee closed to 51-45. Bradshaw stopped a drive with an aggressive defensive play, then sank a couple of free throws, closing the gap to 51-47. Moments later, Bradshaw misfired on a slashing drive but rebounded and dished to Wingate, who drained two more free throws to give the Vols their first lead of the game at 52-51. Wingate then hit a 17-footer from the key to widen the gap to 54-51 with around 7:00 left.
Although UT couldn't hold the lead, head man Buzz Peterson noted that Wingate ''did a fabulous job'' and that Bradshaw ''did a heck of a job once C.J. got his fourth foul. That's when we made our run.''
Bradshaw and Wingate nearly won the game for Tennessee, even though their statistics were unimposing. Bradshaw finished 0 of 5 from the floor, but he was 5 of 6 from the line, with 3 rebounds, 2 assists and only one turnover in 20 minutes. He clearly contributed more than starters John Winchester (0 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers) and Stanley Asumnu (0 points, 1 rebound, 0 assists, 2 turnovers) -- two sophomores whose development appears to be stunted.
At 6-3 and 220 pounds, Bradshaw looks like a linebacker and plays basketball like one. He's not about finesse. Although he lacks the quickness of Winchester and the athleticism of Asumnu, he shows more court savvy than the two of them combined. He makes the usual freshman mistakes but his aggressiveness sparks the team whenever he's on the floor.
You can make a similarly strong case that Wingate deserves to play ahead of sophomore Jemere Hendrix. Wingate was 2 of 6 from the field and committed 2 turnovers in 26 minutes. However, he was 4 of 4 from the line, was UT's third-leading scorer with 8 points and was the second-leading rebounder with 6. He also contributed 2 assists and a steal. Hendrix, meanwhile, was a virtual no-show, contributing just 2 points and 1 rebound in 19 minutes.
This isn't a knee-jerk reaction based on one game. Winchester, Asumnu and Hendrix have had 14 games to prove themselves ... and they haven't. Winchester is hitting 38.1 percent from the floor and Asumnu is hitting 50 percent from the foul line. Each is averaging a paltry 6.5 points per game. Bradshaw has more assists (26) than Winchester (25) despite playing nearly 100 fewer minutes (207 to 301). He trails Winchester by one in steals. Wingate, meanwhile, has one more blocked shot than Hendrix (8 to 7) and two more steals (8 to 6), despite playing 135 fewer minutes (195 to 330).
Obviously, giving two freshmen prominent roles will bring inevitable growing pains; Tennessee might lose a few games this season that it would've won otherwise. But it's becoming increasingly apparent that the Vols will win more games over the next 2 1/2 seasons with Bradshaw and Wingate on the floor than they will with Winchester, Asumnu and Hendrix on the floor.
Unless the downward spiral ends soon, it may be time for Tennessee to bite the bullet and go with a youth movement.