Lofton Lite

Preseason All-America basketball player Chris Lofton isn't nearly as hearty and robust as he was before his recent ankle injury. Basically, if the guy were a beer, you'd have to call him Lofton Lite.

Tennessee's 6-2 junior guard severely sprained his right ankle Jan. 20 against South Carolina. During the rehabilitation process he was off his feet for awhile. Now he's back on his feet but off his game.

Through Tennessee's first 19 games Chris Lofton was draining an impressive 50.6 percent of his field-goal tries and a sizzling 46.0 percent of his 3-point attempts. He was averaging 21.5 points per game, best in the Southeastern Conference.

In the four games since he came back from the ankle injury, however, he has made just 38.8 percent (14 of 36) from the field and 33.3 percent (8 of 24) from 3-point range. He is averaging 15.0 points per game during this span.

In other words, his shooting percentage is 17 points below normal and his 3-point percentage is down 13 points. Not surprisingly, he's averaging 6.5 fewer points per game, as well.

Lofton rarely needed screens or picks to get off shots before the injury. He was able to elevate and unload his deadly jumper without much assistance from his teammates. Now that he's lost a step of quickness and a few inches off his vertical leap due to the tender ankle, he's needing a little help from his friends.

He didn't get much help Saturday against South Carolina. As a result, he made just 3 of 10 shots (1 of 7 beyond the arc) in the 81-64 loss.

"We've got to get Chris good looks," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "Obviously, his shooting percentages are quite down from before his injury. He's shooting less than 40 percent from two and 30-some percent from 3.

"He's not 100 percent, and you can see it in his numbers."

The tender ankle may be affecting Lofton's defense even more than his offense. He wasn't particularly fast before the injury. Now that he's lost a step, he's really struggling to cover the quick SEC guards that he must face on a regular basis.

"It was pretty obvious in the South Carolina game that it's very difficult to press with Chris," Pearl conceded, "because he's not physically able to make plays."

In other injury news, JaJuan Smith and Wayne Chism – two players injured Saturday against South Carolina – are improving. Smith suffered a bruised hip when he took a nasty spill on a drive to the basket. Chism also came away with some bumps and bruises.

"They both had treatments yesterday, and they're both going to practice today," Pearl said matter of factly. "It's that time of the year. Everybody's banged up. Everybody's sick.

"It's that way for everybody."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories