Major momentum

Tennessee basketball player Major Wingate averaged 10 points and less than 4 rebounds per game during the 2005-06 regular season. When the NCAA Tournament tipped off, however, the 6-foot-10 Vol went off, elevating his game to another level.

Wingate produced 15 points and 6 rebounds in Tennessee's Round 1 defeat of Winthrop. He came back even stronger in Game 2 – recording 15 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks in a loss to Wichita State. He also limited 6-10 Paul Miller, the Missouri Valley Conference MVP, to 1-of-9 shooting.

So, what got into Major Wingate?

"I wanted to win," he said recently. "I tried to take things a whole lot more serious."

Despite the loss of four-year starting point guard C.J. Watson, Wingate believes the Vols have an excellent chance to make an even deeper run in the NCAA tourney next March.

"With the mentality we have now under Coach Pearl, we're going to win a lot of games," he said. "We're just trying to get to the Big Dance because anything can happen in the Final Four. That's what we're going to try to get this year."

Wingate went head-to-head with two of the NCAA's premier centers last winter – Texas' 6-foot-10 LaMarcus Aldridge and Florida's 6-foot-11 Joakim Noah – and acquitted himself pretty well.

The big Vol limited Aldridge to five field-goal attempts and forced him into four turnovers. In addition, Wingate scored 12 points, nearly equaling Aldridge's total of 15 as the Vols prevailed 95-78.

Wingate provided solid post defense in his first meeting with Noah, as well, limiting the Gator star to six field-goal attempts and 11 total points. Apparently flustered, Noah fouled out in 27 minutes. Wingate struggled offensively that day, however, sinking just 2 of 7 from the floor. The rematch at Gainesville saw Major play better offensively (5 of 6 from the floor, 11 points) but worse defensively (allowing Noah to score 20 points).

Interestingly enough, Wingate played just 21 minutes in each of the meetings with Florida due to foul problems. Although the Vols won both regular-season games, the Gators caught fire in March and won the national championship. Wingate wasn't terribly surprised.

"In the back of my mind I suppose I knew they are a little bit better than us," he said. "We beat ‘em twice but that didn't matter. In the end they played good … like they did at the beginning of the year. We should've done the same thing but we didn't."


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