Lousy timing

Bad timing is suffering a bloody wound just before you jump into a shark tank. Or seeing your two centers slumping and your top forward hurting as you challenge the toughest front line you may face all season.

So, figuratively speaking at least, Tennessee's wounded Basketball Vols (8-2) will be entering shark-infested waters when they challenge unbeaten and nationally ranked Oklahoma State tonight at 7 (EST) in Nashville. ESPN2 has the telecast.

Freshman centers Duke Crews (8 points, 3 rebounds) and Wayne Chism (0 points, 0 rebounds) played poorly last Saturday against Western Kentucky, while forward Dane Bradshaw (6 points, 0 rebounds) played sparingly because of a shoulder injury. Still, that's the front line the Vols will send against a Cowboy team that is 11-0 and ranked No. 15 nationally – a Cowboy team that boasts two of the most physically imposing inside players UT will face in 6-7, 247-pound Mario Boggan and 6-8, 245-pound David Monds.

Monds pounded the Vols for 15 points and 11 rebounds last year as OSU romped 89-73. He's being overshadowed this year, however, by Boggan. The burly Florida transfer is averaging 20.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

Oklahoma State returns all five starters from a 2005-06 team that outrebounded Tennessee 38-25 a year ago and, shooting mostly from point-blank range, hit 70.8 percent in the second half and 63 percent for the game.

Vol head man Bruce Pearl recalls the loss as "brutal," adding: "They just pounded it inside on us. Who's next to get dunked on?"

Tennessee couldn't stop Oklahoma State's inside game last year with 6-10, 250-pound Major Wingate, 6-7, 210-pound Andre Patterson and a healthy Bradshaw. Thus, you wonder how the Vols hope to corral the Cowboys with Wingate and Patterson gone and Bradshaw reduced to one good shoulder.

Bottom line: Crews and Chism must perform three or four notches above the shoddy level of play they exhibited vs. Western Kentucky. Are they capable of doing so? Pearl believes they are.

"I think both Duke and Wayne are terrific," the Vol coach said. "But we are in big trouble if those two don't get it going because Oklahoma State will bite their heads off."

Pearl noted that Crews "picked it up a little bit" in the second half vs. Western Kentucky but that Chism "never got it going." Asked why, the Vol coach shrugged and replied, "I'm not really sure."

Particularly troubling to Pearl was the fact Chism let his offensive struggles affect his defense and rebounding. The 6-9 freshman seemed to lose his composure at times, resulting in some silly fouls.

"If one part of your game's not going, you've got to find something else," Pearl noted. "Wayne is a terrific defensive player, a really good rebounder. If he's struggling a little bit offensively, he can help (in other areas)."

Junior guard Chris Lofton, who scored 21 points in last year's loss to Oklahoma State, recalls that the 2005-06 Cowboys were "real physical and they put it on us."

Still, Lofton believes Crews and Chism will bounce back and play well tonight against the imposing OSU front line.

"They've got heart," he said. "I'd put them against anybody. They play with tremendous poise, and I think they're ready for Oklahoma State."

They'd better be.

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