Developing depth

Slowly, but surely, Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl is developing some much-needed depth. And, with Southeastern Conference play rapidly approaching, he's going to need it.

Basically, Pearl relies on five starters and four reserves – forwards Andre Patterson and Ryan Childress, guards JaJuan Smith and Jordan Howell. Here's a progress report on the four backups:

Patterson, a 6-7 senior, has scored in double figures six games in a row. Over the past three games he has hit 5 of 7, 3 of 3 and 4 of 8 from the floor, shooting 66.7 percent. He leads the team in field goal percentage (55.6) and blocked shots (8). He averages 21.7 minutes, 11.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Fifteen of his 36 rebounds this season have come off the offensive glass.

Childress, a 6-9 freshman, committed two turnovers in just four minutes of action in Game 5 vs. Appalachian State. Since then, however, he has played 19 turnover-free minutes against Texas and Oklahoma State. Counted on for rugged play inside, Childress provided that by fouling out in just 14 minutes vs. Texas and grabbing three rebounds in five minutes vs. OSU. The raw rookie averages 8 minutes per game with half of his 14 rebounds to date coming on the offensive end.

Smith, a 6-2 sophomore, has emerged as the team "super sub." He's averaging 23.6 minutes, 6.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Over the past three games he has drained 50 percent of his 3-point attempts (nine of 18) and averaged 9.0 points per game. His quickness and hustle provide a real boost for Tennessee's up-tempo offense and full-court defense.

Howell, a 6-2 sophomore, has improved dramatically the past three games, hitting five of his last six field goal tries and four of five 3-point attempts. Last time out he recorded season highs in minutes (13) and assists (2), plus a career high in points (8). For the year he is averaging 6.6 minutes per game, while shooting 63.6 percent from the floor (7 of 11) and 62.5 from beyond the arc (5 of 8).

Although Childress and Howell don't play a whole lot, Pearl is determined to give them a few minutes of playing time each game.

"It helps get them ready for when you have an injury or have somebody in foul trouble," the coach said. "It keeps Chris Lofton, C.J. Watson and Major Wingate fresh by giving them some rest (so UT can) have them in there at the end. You've got to play your bench, and I'm trying to do that."

Because Tennessee starts 6-foot-4 Dane Bradshaw at power forward, Childress' continued progress is huge. He can provide some much-needed size against bigger foes. Like most freshmen, though, Childress tends to be erratic. He played 14 solid minutes in Game 6 vs. Texas but just five minutes in Game 7 vs. Oklahoma State.

"Ryan didn't play well (vs. OSU) but he got three defensive rebounds … some pretty good quality rebounds," Pearl noted. "My problem with Ryan is I know how much better he can play, and I'm probably hard on him because of that."

Tennessee has three more opportunities to upgrade its depth – vs. Alabama A&M (Tuesday), vs. Lipscomb (Thursday) and vs. South Alabama (Jan. 4) – before opening SEC play Jan. 8 at South Carolina.

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