Townes torments Tennessee

If Darian Townes played every game against the Tennessee Vols, he'd probably be an All-SEC player. Maybe an All-American.

Arkansas's 6-10, 245-pound senior forward was a key figure in the Razorbacks' 73-69 upset of Tennessee in 2006 at Knoxville. He sank 7 of 9 shots and finished with 15 points, 6 rebounds, a blocked shot and an assist in just 24 minutes of relief action.

Townes started last year's game in Fayetteville and again tormented Tennessee. This time he hit 5 of 11 shots en route to 12 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists in 23 minutes.

"Townes killed us last year," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl noted this week. "He was a man amongst boys."

Given Darian Townes' knack for vexing the Vols, you'd figure UT would give him extra attention when the teams meet tonight at 8 in Thompson-Boling Arena. That isn't feasible, though. Arkansas has too many other inside threats.

"He's one of five good post players for Arkansas," Pearl said of Townes. "Arkansas has the deepest front-line in the country. They've got five posts that could play for anybody. Their front-line is formidable."

That's a fact. Steven Hill, a 7-foot senior, is hitting 68.2 percent of his field goal attempts (45 of 66) and has nearly twice as many blocked shots (45) as Townes (27). Michael Washington, a 6-10 sophomore, has been starting ahead of Townes recently because he's pulling down nearly as many offensive rebounds (47) as defensive rebounds (58).

Still more inside depth comes from 6-8 senior Charles Thomas and 6-10 senior Vincent Hunter. Thomas, who has started 16 games, is hitting 54.7 percent of his shots en route to averaging 10 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Hunter, who has two starts, is the best shooter among Razorback big men, hitting 38.5 percent (5 of 13) from 3-point range and 100 percent (10 of 10) from the foul line.

Arkansas used its superior size to kill Tennessee on the backboards in the 2006 meeting at Knoxville, outrebounding the Vols 45-24 en route to a 73-69 upset victory. The Hogs outrebounded UT 38-30 last year in Fayetteville but lost 83-72.

After getting dominated on the backboards earlier this season, Tennessee has outrebounded its last five opponents. The key?

"I think that's fewer 'huh' shots," Pearl said, referring to ill-advised shots that are taken while no Vols are in position to rebound.

Conversely, when Tennessee takes shots within the framework of its offense, the coach said his inside players are "at an advantage to go to the offensive boards."

In addition to taking fewer "huh" shots, the Vols' recent improvement on the boards can be traced to all-out hustle. This has improved their rebounding AND their defensive statistics lately.

"This team's effort has been tremendous," Pearl said. "Our effort defensively has been tremendous. We don't have a huge shot-blocker back there defensively, yet we're able to extend the floor defensively, put pressure on the ball, and our defensive numbers have improved greatly.

"We're not taking possessions off defensively, and I believe that's going to continue to serve us well. That's the one thing you can control. You can control that effort."

Now the Vols must figure out a way to control Darian Townes.

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