Balance is big

Guards Chris Lofton (24) and C.J. Watson (22) combined for 46 points in Tennessee's Game 1 defeat of East Tennessee State. The question is: Can the Vols win on a regular basis without that kind of production from their dynamic duo?

"They depend on us a lot," Watson says, "but there's still five players and a whole bench that's going to help us win. Me and Chris can't carry the load every night. We need Dane (Bradshaw) and Stan (Asumnu) and Major (Wingate) and JaJuan (Smith) to chip in buckets wherever they can, and we'll try to do what we can."

Even if Watson and Lofton could score 20 points each every night, head coach Bruce Pearl isn't sure that would be a good thing.

"Balance is very important to what we do," the first-year coach said. "We run a spread offense, and it's not going to be the same guy every night."

In addition to keeping opposing defenses honest, Pearl figures balanced scoring keeps his players happy.

"When the guys leave here and it is balanced, they feel like they contributed," the coach said. "It means a lot when the team is doing it, instead of one individual carrying the load."

One guy who appears capable of carrying part of the load this year is reserve guard JaJuan Smith. He contributed 6 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals against ETSU.

"JaJuan is very talented," Pearl said. "I thought he did a good job in that he had a lot of different guys rotate on him. These guys all have to contribute because we've only got seven or eight (scholarship players) out there."

Watson, now in his fourth year as the starting point guard, was encouraged by the opening game. He believes the Vols can surprise some people if they continue to play with hustle and intensity.

"That's all Coach Pearl wants – play hard and play well," he said. "If we lose we lose. If we win we win."

Asked what he sees as the most encouraging development to date, Watson replied: "The confidence Coach Pearl has in us and the obedience we have to Coach Pearl, to do what he says and the way he wants us to do it."

The Vols must believe in Pearl because they endured the basketball equivalent of Marine Corps boot camp during preseason drills. They're better conditioned than a year ago.

"We're in a lot better shape," Watson said. "We go harder in practice than we do in the games."


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