Nixon's the one

At 6-feet-2 and 230 pounds, Long Beach State wing Aaron Nixon is the same size as Tennessee middle linebacker Jerod Mayo. And Nixon's approach to basketball is the same as Mayo's approach to football: outhustle the big guys and outmuscle the small guys.

This strategy enabled Nixon to average 18.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game en route to recognition as the Big West Conference Player of the Year. He also earned MVP honors in the league tournament last weekend, producing 29 points and 11 rebounds in a 94-83 title game defeat of Cal-Poly.

Given all of this, it is no surprise that Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl says containing Nixon will be Job One for the Vols Friday at 2:45 in the NCAA Tournament's South Region at Columbus, Ohio.

Nixon is as tough as he is talented. He averaged 33.1 minutes per game for the 49ers and poses tremendous matchup problems because of his thick build. Essentially, he's a post player who lines up at guard.

"Nixon is a 4 man (power forward) at 6-2 that plays on the perimeter," Pearl said. "He's the Player of the Year in their conference and he's a very tough cover. You just don't know who you're going to guard him with. He's about 230 pounds. He's a bull."

So, which Vol will play matador to the 49ers' bull? At 6-4 and 205 pounds, senior Dane Bradshaw is probably closest to Nixon in terms of size and strength. Bradshaw's experience guarding heavier players should help him, too.

"Bradshaw is definitely an option," Pearl said. "Bradshaw probably would be able to cover him a little easier on the inside but he'd be challenged to cover him on the perimeter."

Tennessee's JaJuan Smith is the same height as Nixon and a step quicker. At 6-2 and 195, though, Smith is 35 pounds lighter, so he could get pushed around a bit by the hefty Nixon. Probably the best defensive matchup for UT would be Josh Tabb, a 6-4, 205-pound freshman with good quickness and toughness. He's a role player off the bench, however.

"The problem is, Nixon is difficult for anybody," Pearl said. "If you put a guard on him, he goes in and posts you up. If you put a big on him, he goes in and takes you off the bounce. That's why he was Player of the Year in their conference."

Teams who focus too much attention on Nixon risk being burned by his hot-shooting teammates. Kevin Houston (41.5 percent), Kejuan Johnson (36.7) and Sterling Byrd (36.3) are all excellent shooters from beyond the 3-point line. Nixon can bomb from long range, too, hitting a team-best 77 treys and shooting 38.7 percent from outside the arc.

After noting that Nixon is "terrific," Pearl added: "But what makes them so good is that he's out there with three guys you've got to respect from 3, so he gets a lot of one-on-one coverage in the post or off the bounce."

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