Lofton vs. Louisville

Tennessee's Chris Lofton insists he holds no grudge against Kentucky and Louisville, even though his home-state universities made little effort to sign him following a standout senior year at Mason County High School in Maysville.

Funny thing, though. Lofton always showed a knack for snapping out of shooting slumps against the Wildcats. Consider:

As a sophomore in 2006, he scored 7 points against Vanderbilt and 12 against Ole Miss in back-to-back games, sinking a combined 2-for-10 from 3-point range in the two outings. He followed, however, by draining 7 of 10 from 3 en route to a 31-point, 7-rebound performance at Lexington the very next game.

As a junior in 2007, Lofton was coming off an 8-point outing vs. LSU and a 16-point effort vs. Vanderbilt when he lit up the Wildcats for 23 points and 5 assists in a game played at Knoxville.

As a senior in 2008, Lofton had not cracked the 20-point mark in six consecutive outings. A trip to Lexington brought him out of his funk, however, as he drained 7 of 14 shots (5 of 10 from 3) and burned the Big Blue for 22 points.

This interesting trend is noteworthy for two reasons:

One, Lofton is in another mini-slump, having made a combined 4 of 18 shots (3 of 12 from 3) and scored just 14 total points in Tennessee's first two NCAA Tournament tests.

Two, Lofton is preparing to face Louisville, the OTHER in-state school that snubbed him.

Will the Cardinals bring out the best in Lofton, as Kentucky routinely seemed to do? Don't bet against it.

Lofton faced the Cardinals once already. As a Vol freshman in 2005 he burned them for 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 assists in a game at Louisville.

In fairness to Kentucky and Louisville, it should be noted that both passed over Lofton in favor of more highly rated high school guards. Wildcat head man Tubby Smith landed prep All-Americans Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford, while Cardinal coach Rick Pitino opted for Sebastian Telfair, who was so good that he reneged on his scholarship and turned pro rather than attend a day of college.

"Louisville and Kentucky have both taken hits for not taking Chris Lofton," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl notes. "Coming out of high school, the guards they got instead of Chris were better than Chris. That's not a knock on Chris and it should not be a knock on Tubby or Coach Pitino.

"Why should they be criticized because Chris Lofton made himself into an All-American?"

Although the Vol sharp-shooter blossomed during his three years under Pearl, the coach says he can't take credit for Lofton's brilliance.

"It wasn't Tennessee or Bruce Pearl or Buzz Peterson," Pearl says. "It was Chris Lofton that did it. He's one of the hardest-working guys in college basketball."

Because Lofton works so hard at his game, Tennessee's head coach is convinced the 6-2 senior will snap out of his latest mini-slump in short order.

"I'm a little concerned (about the slump)," Pearl deadpanned, "but I'm still going to keep getting the ball to him."

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