Perimeter scoring key for UT

Tennessee's three starting guards must shoot better than last time if the Vols are to avenge a regular-season loss to Ohio State in tonight's NCAA Sweet 16 action at San Antonio. This shouldn't be too difficult, however.

All-America wing Chris Lofton sank just 3 of 11 shots from 3-point range when the Vols fell 68-66 Jan. 13 in Columbus. Fellow junior JaJuan Smith was 1 of 8 that afternoon and freshman point guard Ramar Smith was 0 of 3. That's a combined 4 of 22 ... a mere 18.2 percent.

With Ohio State 7-footer Greg Oden stationed under the basket to discourage inside shots, the Vols (24-10) will need better perimeter production in tonight's rematch if they are to beat the top-ranked Buckeyes (32-3).

"I think it's real important for us to get going, knocking down open shots," Lofton said. "That's the key to beating Ohio State – knocking down open shots – because you know Oden controls the lane pretty well."

Tennessee probably cannot upset the Buckeyes if Lofton shoots 4 of 16 from the floor, as he did in last Sunday's Round 2 defeat of Virginia. History suggests he'll bounce back tonight, however. His shooting slumps tend to be brief.

"He's the most dependable, consistent player I've ever been around," senior forward Dane Bradshaw said. "I've played with a lot of great players but, as far as a guy you know is going to come with it night in and night out, he's the best I ever saw."

Yet, to be such a high-profile star, Lofton has an amazingly low-profile personality.

"He's quiet, real down to earth," Bradshaw noted. "He doesn't have a superstar swagger at all.... I think he's almost scared to be cocky because he thinks it will come back to haunt him."

Although he tends to be a man of few words, Lofton conceded that the Vols and Buckeyes have changed significantly since their earlier meeting.

"They've grown a lot. They've gotten the idea to pound it in to Greg Oden a lot more," he said. "Their guards are playing great – knocking down shots like they're supposed to do. And we've gotten better, I think. We're playing more together as a team."

Tempo will be a key tonight. Tennessee hopes to score in transition before Oden has time to position himself near the basket. A fast pace also will mean more rest breaks for the big Buckeye. Since the Vols have better depth now than they did on Jan. 13, a quick tempo could be a huge advantage.

"That's a real big factor," Lofton said. "When you play our style of play, you're going to get tired. You can't play 40 minutes like that, so it helps when you get to come out and rest."

Asked if he thought the Buckeyes wore out near the end of the previous meeting, Lofton nodded.

"I think so," he said. "They played a lot of guys 35-plus minutes. I think that showed toward the end of the game."


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