Every shooter hits occasional slumps, so Vol coach Bruce Pearl isn't terribly worried. Still, he admits that getting JaJuan Smith back on his game is important.
"Clearly, when your second-leading scorer is off a little bit, it's going to have an effect on you," Pearl said.
That's for sure. When Smith plays poorly, Tennessee generally loses. Consider his scant contributions in the Vols' four losses to date:
- He was 3 of 10 from the floor with 5 turnovers in UT's 56-44 loss to Butler on Nov. 22.
- He was 5 of 13 with early foul trouble that limited him to 21 minutes in a 101-87 loss to North Carolina on Nov. 24.
- He was 2 of 11 with early foul trouble that limited him to 24 minutes in the 82-81 loss at Vanderbilt.
- He was 2 of 9 and fouled out after just 28 minutes in the 68-66 loss at Ohio State.
Although Smith is coming off his two lowest scoring outputs of the season – 6 points at Vandy, 5 at Ohio State – he has not allowed frustration to affect his focus.
"I think JaJuan's attitude's been good," Pearl said. "He's been working really hard. During the time off between (practice) sessions he spent a lot of time in the gym. Clearly, he feels the pressure of wanting to hold up his end as our second-leading scorer."
Smith is the streakiest shooter on the Vol roster. When he's hot, he's red-hot. When he's cold, his fingers turn to icicles. The problem is, he tends to get flustered when his shots aren't falling.
The Vols need for Smith to be more like teammate Chris Lofton. When Lofton is struggling with his jump shot, he'll attack the basket and get his points off drives and/or free throws. He also ratchets up his defensive effort a notch.
"JaJuan gets more attention than he did as our sixth-man a year ago, and he's not getting quite as many open looks," Pearl said. "The thing you guard against is, you can't let that affect other aspects of your game because there are a lot of other things JaJuan does for us other than score."
Certainly, two bad games do not constitute a prolonged slump. That's why Pearl expects Smith to snap out of his doldrums soon – perhaps Wednesday night at Auburn.
"All it takes is a good outing," the coach said. "You just need to have a good outing. His teammates continue to support him and have confidence in him."
Smith also has the support and confidence of his head coach. Pearl's advice has been pretty simple.
"Go to your strengths," Pearl noted. "Stay away from your weaknesses, and it'll come around."