Stanley stars in win

Tennessee's 78-68 defeat of Georgia Saturday night undoubtedly was Stanley Asumnu's finest hour at Thompson-Boling Arena. Whether it also was Buzz Peterson's FINAL hour at TBA remains to be seen.

Asumnu came off the bench to hit 6 of 6 floor shots and score a career-high 14 points in just 10 minutes. He almost single-handedly snapped the Vols out of some first-half doldrums and helped avert a potentially humiliating loss in the regular-season finale.

Asumnu wasn't Tennessee's only star, however. Freshman Chris Lofton scored a team-high 20 points, including 12 in the game's final 11 minutes, as the Vols moved to 13-16 overall and 6-10 in SEC play. Scooter McFadgon returned from a knee problem to score 12 points. Fellow senior Brandon Crump produced 11 points and 12 rebounds. Junior C.J. Watson contributed 9 assists.

Sudiata Gaines and Levi Stukes scored 22 points each for Georgia, which closes the regular season 8-19 and 2-14.

Tennessee trailed for much of the game's first 10 minutes. Asumnu entered the fray at this point, however, and scored eight quick points as the Vols surged ahead ahead 29-20. The lead was 36-29 at halftime.

After the Bulldogs closed to 47-43 midway through the second half, Lofton basically took the Vols on his back. He scored 12 points during an 18-11 spurt that widened the lead from four points to 11.

First, he drove for an 8-foot floater and was fouled. The three-point play boosted Tennessee's lead to 50-43. Georgia closed to 50-47, but Asumnu scored inside, then Lofton drained back-to-back 3-pointers, expanding the lead to 58-47 with 6:12 remaining.

Moments later, he whipped a laser-like 30-foot pass to Asumnu for a layup that made the score 62-51. When Stukes nailed a 3 to narrow the gap to 62-54, Lofton answered with a 3 of his own, boosting the lead to 65-54 with 4:13 to go.

''A crucial point for us all year has been that five-, six-, seven-minute mark, when you've got to have some buckets,'' Peterson noted. ''Chris Lofton has had a tremendous season but these past couple of weeks, he's been phenomenal.''

In his last four outings, Lofton scored 25 points against South Carolina, 30 against Arkansas, 19 against Kentucky and 20 against Georgia. He hit three consecutive 3-pointers between the 6:46 mark and the 4:13 mark against the Bulldogs.

''When he hit those three shots in a row tonight I don't know where he pulled them out from,'' Peterson said. ''I was telling him to reverse (pass) the ball but he hit some big shots.''

So did Asumnu, a little-used junior whose playing time has been limited due poor shot selection and a tendency to make unforced turnovers.

''Stanley was 6-for-6; you'd think he was a shooter, wouldn't you?'' Peterson quipped. ''Old Stan took good shots.... We look to him for defense but tonight his offense got going. Hopefully, this will give him some confidence and he'll play the same way against Arkansas on Thursday night (in Round 1 of the SEC Tournament).''

UT athletics director Mike Hamilton attended Saturday's game and Peterson's post-game news conference. He expects to announce BEFORE the SEC tournament opens Thursday in Atlanta whether or not the beleaguered Vol head man will return for the 2005-06 season.

Peterson had little to say about his shaky future.

''I'm just focused on this ball club,'' he said. ''That's all I'm going to do.''

Tennessee lost its SEC tourney opener in both 2003 and 2004. Peterson is determined to avert another first-round loss when the Vols play Arkansas in this year's opening test.

''I have not been happy with the way we played in last year's tournament or the year before,'' he said. ''I want us to win that first game badly. We've got to do everything we can these next several days to win that ballgame and get ready to play Kentucky (the potential second-round foe) again.

''My focus is with this team right now. My job is to make sure I get these guys to win that ball game. That's what I'm supposed to do, and I'm going to do it.''


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