Lofton doubtful for Dawgs

Chris Lofton's return to action does not appear imminent. Tennessee's sharp-shooting guard tested his injured ankle a bit during Monday's practice but did not show enough improvement to suggest he'll be available for Wednesday's game with Georgia.

"He's doing everything he can to get back out there," head coach Bruce Pearl said, "but he's just not ready."

Lofton will not take part in today's practice, so that team doctors can see how the ankle responds to Monday's activity. The more swelling and discomfort there is, the more unlikely it becomes that Lofton will play Wednesday night against the visiting Bulldogs.

A pre-season All-American, Chris Lofton leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring (21.5 points per game) and in 3-pointers made (3.68 per game). He ranks third in 3-point percentage (46.1). The talented junior severely sprained his right ankle against South Carolina on Jan. 20 and has not played since.

How much have the Vols missed him? Consider this:

In the 19 games Lofton started Tennessee averaged 83.2 points per game. In the two he missed - losses at Ole Miss and Kentucky – the Vols averaged just 63.0 points per game.

On a positive note, junior guard JaJuan Smith has stepped up in Lofton's absence – scoring 22 points against Ole Miss and a career-high 25 against Kentucky. He also displayed improved shot selection and ball security.

"JaJuan Smith I thought was patiently working for his opportunities to get shots," Pearl said of the UK game. "He didn't turn the ball over, was under control and, at the same time, continued to play really good defense and kept a real positive posture."

Still, Lofton's absence leaves a gaping hole in Tennessee's lineup. He combines with Smith to give the Vols two top-notch perimeter threats. Without Lofton, Smith is pretty much all the offense Tennessee has from the outside.

"It's difficult to score without Chris," Pearl said, "because we're a team that really tries to score in transition, and Chris is the best transition offensive player in the country from the standpoint of (when you) get it down there, he doesn't need much time."

Tennessee depends heavily on steals to ignite its transition offense, and Lofton ranks 11th among SEC players with an average of 1.58 steals per game. Thus, the Vols miss him in their full-court press, as well as in their transition offense.

As Pearl noted: "The things we're committed to, the things that are our identity – not having Chris, we didn't score as easily out of transition."


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