Pearl pounds Pearl

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl began his Monday news conference by noting he was "not going to beat up on my players" because they lost to Alabama and Arkansas in the past 10 days.

Instead, he beat up on himself.

Pearl continues to second-guess his failure to give Vol starters sufficient rest during last Saturday's loss to Arkansas. Point guard C.J. Watson played 35 minutes, forward Andre Patterson 34 and shooting guard Chris Lofton 33. The three combined for one basket (by Lofton) in the game's final 8:48, during which time UT squandered a 14-point lead.

Watson, who took a physical pounding in the game at Florida, could not get the Vols' transition attack moving in the final minutes of the Arkansas game. Pearl blames himself for that.

"Coming off the heels of the Florida game, where C.J. played so well and so many minutes and so physically, for me to play him 35 minutes (vs. Arkansas) was an error," Pearl said. "You can't do it."

Pearl generally limited Watson to between 30 and 33 minutes per game this season. The coach felt compelled to utilize his point guard more than that at Florida because the SEC East title was at stake.

"Florida was an exception," Pearl said. "He HAD to play that many minutes at Florida. The game dictated it, as far as the closeness of the score."

After taxing Watson against the Gators, however, Pearl believes he should've rested him more against the Razorbacks.

"I knew going into the game after the long trip back I should play him less," the coach grumbled. "It didn't cost us the game but it's something I can look at and say, ‘This is something I could've done.'"

With another big test coming up Wednesday night against Kentucky, what can Pearl do to make sure Watson doesn't run out of gas again?

"I've got to play Jordan more and be committed to that," the coach said, referring to backup point guard Jordan Howell. "He played a good rotation in the first half (vs. Arkansas) but only got one shortened rotation in the second half. He needs to play more."

Pearl generally plays Howell eight minutes per game. He played him five against Arkansas, apparently concerned that UT would lose its momentum with Watson on the bench. In retrospect, the coach wouldn't go that route again.

"You can't respond too much to the time and the score," Pearl said. "You've got to be committed to it (resting Watson).

"I don't care if it's Jordan Howell or (fellow reserves) Jordan Smith or Eddie DeBro. It doesn't matter. C.J. cannot be out there (too long), just for the sake of being able to make a play down the stretch."

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