Bradshaw and Childress continued to split time at the power forward position in the second half until the 5:31 mark. Then, because freshman centers Duke Crews and Wayne Chism were saddled with four fouls each, Childress filled in at the post position down the stretch.
He finished with 7 points, a team-high 10 rebounds (5 of them offensive), 3 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot in 22 productive minutes, helping the Vols notch a 93-79 triumph.
Given Bradshaw's recent shoulder problems, Childress was thinking he might get an early introduction to the action Saturday afternoon.
"Yeah, Dane's been playing through a lot of pain," he said. "He's a warrior about it and he hasn't complained. He just keeps going back out every single day. My hat's off to him on that."
Because Crews and Chism are so inexperienced, Childress wasn't terribly surprised to get a few minutes at the post position, either.
"We got in a little bit of foul trouble with Wayne," he said, "so I knew I might get a rotation at the 5.
Given that Bradshaw was limited by injury to 23 minutes and Chism was limited by fouls to 12, Childress picked a great day to snap out of his recent doldrums.
"Ryan Childress had a career-high rebounding game ... the best game he's played since he's been here," head coach Bruce Pearl noted. "He had struggled for three or four games prior to this. It was great timing, considering Dane Bradshaw being banged up and both freshman centers playing poorly."
Childress agreed that his timing was impeccable. But he says he isn't the first unheralded Vol to step up in a time of need.
"I think that's the way our system is," he said. "Every night can be somebody else's night."
The Vols may need several more big nights from Childress, given that Bradshaw's shoulder is causing him serious pain.
"Dane's really hurting," Pearl said. "But he's a warrior and he'll continue to battle."
Still, Tennessee got very little out of Bradshaw (6 points, 0 rebounds) and Chism (0 points, 0 rebounds) against Western Kentucky. If that trend continues, Childress may see action at the 4 and 5 spots for the foreseeable future. He relishes the thought.
"I like it. It's a good mix for me," said Childress, a banger who is a stranger to the concept of finesse. "I like being inside, mixing it up a little bit."
With a laugh, he added: "Big surprise, huh?"
Childress nailed a 3-pointer – his fourth of the season – less than two minutes after he joined the lineup Saturday. He has good range for a big man.
"I like to go outside and shoot a little bit," he said. "I'm just trying to learn a lot with Wayne, so we're able to be versatile if we have any problems, such as foul trouble."