Christmas comes early for UT

Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl is a Jewish man who is going to Temple this Saturday to observe Christmas.

And, yes, that might be the most confusing sentence in the history of sports writing.

Pearl's visit isn't to a religious temple but to Temple University. And the Christmas he'll be observing isn't a holiday but the Owls' star player, Dionte Christmas.

Temple's Christmas is celebrated but not in the same sense that Dec. 25 is. He's celebrated as one of the top players in college hoops. The 6-5, 205-pound guard opened his senior year with 26 points and 11 rebounds in a 79-65 defeat of East Tennessee State, then came back with 26 points and 7 rebounds in a 70-65 Game 2 win vs. College of Charleston. Those outings earned him recognition as Atlantic-10 Player of the Week, the eighth time he has received that honor.

Through seven games, Christmas is averaging 19.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. He is shooting 45.1 percent from the floor and 37.9 percent from 3-point range. He'll provide a stern test for a youthful Vol squad that is still learning the nuances of Tennessee's defensive scheme.

"Scotty Hopson and Cameron Tatum will have Christmas," Pearl said. "But there's more to it than that because of the way Temple plays. There's ball-screen defense and down-screen defense and some opportunities to switch. Cameron and Scotty's understanding of team defense (is critical)."

The coach went on to note that the Vols' team defense is "light-years from where we need to be, and the only way you can learn it is by doing it.

"We'll try to simulate a lot of things in practice this week, but there's going to be some more exposure (of UT's weaknesses)."

Bottom line: Christmas may not be much of a holiday for the Vols this year.

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