Slumps end

Tennessee guards C.J. Watson (20 points), Chris Lofton (16) and JaJuan Smith (16) starred in Wednesday night's 89-76 defeat of Georgia. So what else is new? The backcourt play has been outstanding all season, spurring the Vols to an 11-1 record.

If Tennessee is to entertain serious hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid and a 20-win season, however, it will need quality play from 6-10 post Major Wingate, 6-7 backup Andre Patterson and 6-5 small forward Stanley Asumnu. They must provide enough of an inside threat to provide some offensive balance.

That balance wasn't present in Game 10 vs. South Alabama or Game 11 vs. South Carolina. Patterson registered 9 points and 1 rebound in the former, 2 points and 1 rebound in the latter. Wingate had a fine outing in Game 10 but contributed just 7 points and 3 rebounds in Game 11. Asumnu produced 6 points and 0 rebounds in Game 10, 2 points and 2 rebounds in Game 11.

Fortunately for Tennessee, all three players bounced back with good showings in Game 12 against Georgia.

Working exceptionally hard on the inside, Patterson attempted a team-high 12 shots, finishing with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, a block and an assist. Wingate hit six of eight floor shots en route to 14 points and six rebounds. Asumnu made four of six on his way to 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal.

"I was really happy with that," head coach Bruce Pearl said when asked about Asumnu's play. "Sometimes players have to overcome their coach. I've been on Stanley a little bit because he's been in a little bit of a slump."

Asumnu is a streaky player whose performance level often mirrors his emotional level. When he makes a play or two, he tends to get fired up and perform even better. In Games 10 and 11, though, he seemed a bit flat.

"One thing I told him (during his mini-slump) is that there were some effort plays he could be making," Pearl said. "When I don't see him checking out, I don't see him defending, don't see him running the fast break or getting pursuits … those are things Stanley can control."

"Like a lot of players, he needs some offense to get himself going. But you're not going to have offense every game. I love Stanley to death but I've been on him pretty hard … put a lot of pressure on him. He overcame that (against Georgia)."

Pearl was equally pleased with the inside play of Wingate and Patterson against the Bulldogs. Both attacked the basket, combining to sink 11 of 20 field goal attempts.

"We have to have better balance, with some inside/outside stuff," Pearl noted.

The coach also was pleased that Wingate and Patterson got to the foul line seven times between them, although they converted on just three of the opportunities.

"It was good to see those guys get there," Pearl said. "Gate (Wingate) was 2 for 3 from the line, Andre was 1 for 4. In addition to their shooting percentage, we've got to get those inside guys making their free throws."

One thing's for certain: If Tennessee's inside play ever catches up to its guard play, opponents had better watch out.


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