Bullish on the boards

There's a reason Tennessee is a much better rebounding team this year, and that reason can be summed up in four syllables ...

Brian Williams.

The 6-foot-10, 270-pound sophomore from The Bronx has been the chairman of the boards for the Volunteers this season. Despite playing just 15.7 minutes per game, he is averaging a mind-boggling 8.1 rebounds per game.

In other words, if he were starting and playing 32 minutes per game he would project to average 16 rebounds per contest. That figure has been surpassed by just one player in program history – the inimitable Gene Tormohlen.

Williams' rebound production has been remarkably consistent. He grabbed 12 in Game 2 vs. UT-Martin and 15 in Game 6 vs. Gonzaga. He had 9 in 18 minutes in Game 7 vs. UNC Asheville, 6 in 17 minutes in Game 1 vs. Chattanooga, 6 in 13 minutes in Game 4 vs. Siena and 5 in 9 minutes in Game 5 vs. Georgetown. His only off night on the backboards came in Game 3 vs. Middle Tennessee, when he grabbed 4 in 17 minutes.

"Brian Williams' rebound production has been great," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "It's something I've tried to get him excited about."

The coach must be succeeding because Williams is emerging as the Southeastern Conference's premier rebounder, a title that most assumed would fall to Kentucky superstar Patrick Patterson.

"Brian has got almost as many rebounds as Patrick Patterson has in half the minutes," Pearl noted. "Brian has been very effective rebounding the ball."

Williams is doing a good job in post defense, as well, recording 4 blocked shots and 3 steals through the first seven games.

"Defensively," Pearl said, "Brian is doing very well, also."

Williams' offense has been another matter. He scored 21 points in Game 2 vs. UT-Martin but was scoreless in Game 5 vs. Georgetown and managed just one point in Game 3 vs. Middle Tennessee.

As Pearl noted: "I'd like for Brian to be more aggressive offensively ... the balls he gets his hands on being able to come up with them more and finish at a higher percentage."

Oddly enough, Williams has been a very poor foul shooter in practice but a pretty good foul shooter (75 percent) in games.

"He's done a good job at the foul line in games," Pearl said. "He's struggled in practice but he has really stepped up and done well in games and shot them well."

Williams has been playing so productively lately that he is cutting into first-team center Wayne Chism's minutes.

"Brian Williams' improvement has put him in a situation where he and Wayne are very close (in terms of value to the team)," Pearl said. "I think that bodes well for us in the future.

"But the future is now."

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