JaJuan slaughters Hogs

JaJuan Smith had a 101-degree temperature last Saturday against LSU but he was at least twice that hot Wednesday night against Arkansas.

Smith drained a school-record 6 of 6 shots from 3-point range en route to matching his career high with 32 points as No. 4 Tennessee hammered the Razorbacks 93-71 before a fired-up crowd of 20,008 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

After sinking just 1 of 8 floor shots at LSU, the 6-2 senior bagged 9 of 13 against the Razorbacks.

"I'm pleased to report that JaJuan is recovered from the flu," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl quipped to open his post-game remarks.

Basically, Arkansas decided to play a box-and-one with a defender shadowing All-American Chris Lofton all over the court and another defender helping out whenever possible. Obviously, putting two men on Lofton left someone open. And, as Pearl so succinctly put it: "Juanie was the beneficiary."

With Smith coming off a horrendous outing at Baton Rouge, the Hogs' decision to double-team Lofton and dare Smith to beat them was a sound strategy. It just didn't work.

"They had two guys looking at Chris," Smith said. "That's our job – to make shots on the other side of the floor to get the best shooter in the country open looks."

On this night at least, the best shooter in the country was wearing jersey No. 2, not jersey No. 5. Lofton hit just 2 of 8 shots and finished with 6 points.

Duke Crews, who contributed a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) off the bench, said Smith's incredible performance made life easy for the Vols' post players.

"It cut down on my work a little bit," Crews deadpanned. "As far as boxing out, you give ‘em (opposing big men) a little bump, the ball goes in, and you get back down to the other end of the court.

"That helped me out a little bit, especially when he was shooting in transition. I could stop at halfcourt and turn around."

Smith wasn't the whole story Wednesday night but he was awfully close. He scored 15 points in helping Tennessee to a 43-38 halftime lead, then drained two 3s as UT opened the second half with an 11-1 spurt that widened the gap to 54-39.

Arkansas (17-6 overall, 6-3 SEC) closed to 62-52 but Tennessee (22-2, 9-1) blew the game open with a 14-0 explosion that boosted the bulge to 76-52. Smith scored eight points during the outburst, including back-to-back 3s to cap it.

The last trey – a 25-footer from the right wing – was especially memorable. A Razorback defender stopped in his tracks, apparently thinking, "He won't shoot it from THERE." One "swish" later, the lead was 24 points and the suspense was ended.

After going 0 for 5 from beyond the arc at LSU, Smith was on the court way before Wednesday's tip-off in hopes of finding his stroke. He succeeded.

"I came in and took some extra shots, got my shot back," he said. "Then I kept stroking it in the game."

Often criticized for his shot selection in the past, Smith obviously made outstanding decisions Wednesday night. You don't go 6 of 6 from 3 by launching low-percentage shots.

"I was feeling it, but if I'd been the old JaJuan I would've been rushing things," he said. "I just tried to stay patient and let the game come to me."

Patience was not a part of his game during his first three years on campus. The obvious question: What happened to change him?

"I grew up," he said. "I'm a senior now. When I first came in I still had the high-school mindset. I'm mature and I understand the game now."

Smith, who previously scored 32 points against Middle Tennessee back on Nov. 20, said he still isn't completely recovered from the flu.

"I got it out a little bit," he said, "but I'm still under the weather."

If he gets any healthier, the Georgia Bulldogs could be in for a long afternoon Saturday in Athens.


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