Major makes a move

For two years Tennessee basketball fans have been wondering when Major Wingate would start using his 6-10, 250-pound frame to become a force on offense.

That time may be at hand.

Wingate rammed home four dunks in Game 8 against Alabama A&M. He tried seven field goals in the first 15 minutes of Game 9 vs. Lipscomb. The shots weren't falling that evening but he still finished 5 of 11 (including a 3-pointer) for 13 points.

Wingate stepped up his game another notch Wednesday night in Game 10 vs. South Alabama, muscling in 8 of 11 floor shots en route to a team-high 17 points.

What's happened the past three games to snap him out of his doldrums?

"I'm being more vocal," Wingate said. "I had a talk with Coach (Bruce Pearl) and the main thing I said was that my guards weren't giving me the ball when I was open. He made it known in a few of our practices, and they're doing a good job getting me the ball now."

Wingate's increased productivity can be traced to more than increased opportunities, though. He's much more aggressive when he gets the ball inside. Instead of shooting fall-away six-footers as he did in the past, he's using his heft to bull his way to the hoop for lay-ups. And he's using head fakes to shake free for occasional dunks. This new-found forcefulness is a credit to assistant coach Jason Shay, who works with Vol post players.

"Coach Shay and I work hard on finishing at the rim every day," Wingate said. "All the post players and even the guards work on finishing at the rim."

In addition to being UT's biggest player, Major Wingate is the biggest key to the team's continued success. He MUST provide an inside threat to take some heat off hot-shooting guards Chris Lofton and C.J. Watson. That's why the Vols' head coach has been monitoring the big man's progress closely.

"Certainly, Major is getting comfortable with what we're asking him to do," Pearl said. "South Alabama wasn't very big on the inside, so we went there and took advantage of it."

Guard JaJuan Smith recalls that Wingate was really disappointed after a poor outing against Oklahoma State on Dec. 22. He sank just 2 of 6 from the floor that night, finishing with 8 points and 4 rebounds as Tennessee suffered its only loss to date. His teammates rallied around him, though, and that lifted the big man's spirits.

"He had a downfall game," Smith said. "We talked to him, and ever since then he's been playing real different."

Indeed. Showing more fire on offense AND defense, Wingate has averaged 12. 7 points and 3 blocked shots over the past three games.

"He's come a long way, and tonight he showed it," Smith said following the South Alabama game. "If he can play like this for the rest of the season we're going to be a hard team to beat."

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