Lofton is no one-trick pony

There must have been audible gasps in Lexington, Gainesville, Columbia, Athens and Nashville when rival SEC East basketball coaches saw highlights of Chris Lofton's performance in Tennessee's 76-58 defeat of Memphis.

Lofton scored 34 points; the rest of the Vols combined for 42. Lofton hit 12 of 18 field-goal tries; the rest of the Vols hit 13 of 44. Lofton hit 6 of 11 from 3-point range; the rest of the Vols hit 3 of 15.

Still, the most impressive aspect of his career-best scoring output was HOW he accomplished it. In addition to nailing 6 of 11 from beyond the arc, he was 6 of 7 on drives to the basket. The 6-2 sharpshooter was hard to contain when he was one-dimensional. Now that he's two-dimensional, he could be virtually unstoppable.

Chris Lofton was a one-trick pony during his first two years at UT. He couldn't drive and he couldn't create his own shot but he could catch a pass and knock down 3-pointers all night long.

Last winter he broke school records for 3-point baskets in a game (9), for 3-point attempts in a game (18), for 3-point baskets in a season (114) and for 3-point attempts in a season (261). He was voted the SEC's top shooter in a poll of league players conducted by Sports Illustrated and tabbed second-team All-America by Sporting News.

Still, he was a one-trick pony. So, acting on a suggestion from head coach Bruce Pearl, Lofton spent the off-season working to improve his driving skills. When the season began, however, he was so intent on looking to score inside that he stopped looking to score outside. Playing tentatively, he attempted just six shots in the opener vs. Middle Tennessee and nine in a Game 5 loss to Butler.

That was not what Pearl had in mind.

As the coach recalls: "There was a time there where you say, 'Stop dribbling it, Chris. Shoot it!'"

Lofton took the advice to heart. After scoring just 80 points in the first five games (16.0 per outing), he has scored 103 in the past four games (25.8 per outing).

It took awhile, but Lofton has evolved into a player who can beat you off the dribble AND with the 3-pointer. He proved that Wednesday night, finally giving Pearl the kind of versatility he has been looking for.

"Exactly," the coach says. "Memphis pressured him up so much and they were so extended that he was able to go by and finish."

Vol forward Dane Bradshaw, whose game is taking the ball to the hoop, was thrilled to see his teammate complementing his patented long-range bombs with some nifty drives against Memphis.

"They didn't come off the shooters like they usually do," Bradshaw said of the Tigers. "They stayed in the passing lanes and wanted us to finish tough twos around the basket. Chris was able to figure that out before any of us."

Unfortunately for Tennessee fans, Lofton won't get to display his newfound driving skills for a while. The Vols are in the midst of a 10-day break for finals and don't play again until they host Western Kentucky Dec. 16. Lofton says that's OK, though.

"I'll take the break," he said. "I'm tired a little bit right now."

No wonder. He carried his team for 40 minutes Wednesday night.

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