Balancing act

Vol basketball coach Bruce Pearl said all preseason that his offensive scheme is built around balance. He wasn't lying. In a matter of months, Tennessee has gone from "Buzz Ball" to "Balanced Ball."

Four players topped the scoring chart in UT's first five games. Five Vols currently average double-figure scoring, including one non-starter. That's one reason Tennessee carries an 8-1 record into tonight's game (7 p.m. tip-off at Thompson-Boling Arena) against South Alabama.

Guards Chris Lofton (17.0) and C.J. Watson (16.4) lead the point parade. Post Major Wingate chips in 11.6 points per game and his backup, Andre Patterson, averages 10.7 coming off the bench. Small forward Stanley Asumnu contributes 10.3 points per game. Reserve guard JaJuan Smith checks in at 7.8 ppg but has averaged 10.5 over the last four games.

Most opponents focus on stopping Lofton but that doesn't necessarily stop Tennessee. For instance, Lipscomb limited Lofton to five field-goal tries and just six points last Thursday, only to see Watson (18 points), Wingate (13) and Asumnu (11) pick up the slack.

"We talk about having too many weapons," Pearl said. "When you've got balance and everybody plays well off the bench – Jordan Howell, Ryan Childress and JaJuan -- that's when you start to build something and make some progress."

It would be an exaggeration to say Tennessee has "too many weapons," but the Vols at least have enough weapons to keep opponents from focusing too much attention on Lofton and Watson. The lack of a clear-cut "go-to guy" may work in the Vols' favor.

"It's tougher to guard us," Asumnu says. "We have many weapons on this team. Any given night you don't know who it's going to be. Anybody on this team can step up and make plays and get the stat line."

The "stat line" shows Tennessee's balance isn't confined to scoring. Six different players have led in rebounds during the first nine games. Three players have posted game highs in assists. Clearly, the Vols are getting contributions from a lot of players. The result? Healthy balance and healthy morale.

"It feels good," Asumnu said. "Real good."

Then, noting that Smith came in to score 16 points in Game 8 against Alabama A&M, Asumnu added: "JaJuan came off the bench and didn't force anything – took what the defense gave him – and we're going to need that out of the players coming off the bench. Not saying JaJuan will score 16 every night but whatever he can come in and do will be appreciated."

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