Life of Brian

Given South Carolina's glaring lack of size, you figured Tennessee would go to its big man early and often Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

You just didn't figure that big man would be Brian Williams.

When 6-9, 240-pound junior Wayne Chism trudged to the bench after picking up two fouls in the game's first 2 minutes and 44 seconds, however, Williams found himself thrust into the lineup and the limelight.

For a guy averaging just 15 minutes and 5.7 points per game, the 6-10, 270-pound sophomore accepted the unexpected development with surprising calm. Asked what he was feeling as he trotted onto the floor, Williams smiled.

"Confidence ... knowing I ain't going to come out early," he said. "Usually, I'm looking at the bench. If I do something (wrong) I know Wayne's going to come in and pick it up.

"That's half the battle. If you've got confidence, I think you can be the best player on the court."

Williams' confidence showed on Saturday night. He rammed home a dunk off a nifty feed from Tyler Smith about a minute after entering the lineup. Moments later he muscled his way inside for a three-point play. Shortly before giving way to freshman Emmanuel Negedu, Williams ignited a 14-1 Vol spurt with a pair of free throws.

His first-half stat line was imposing – 7 points, 8 rebounds and a blocked shot in just 12 minutes of action. Essentially, it was a Chism-caliber performance, even if his understudy wouldn't admit as much.

"Wayne's been picking up, rebound and point-wise," Williams said. "I think he's top five (in the SEC) in rebounding and he's been bringing it up point-wise. But I picked it up and Emmanuel came off the bench and picked it up. And Tyler (Smith) picked it up, as usual."

Asked if he felt any pressure to fill Chism's shoes, Williams shook his head.

"Nah," he said, "because I've got somebody behind me doing the same thing in Emmanuel."

Though he's only a 6-7 freshman, Negedu has been pushing Williams for the backup job at center. That has made both players better.

"Definitely," Williams said. "Emmanuel runs the floor in practice, and I've got to run with him. He's getting me in shape."

Getting in shape and building stamina is an ongoing battle for Williams, who weighed 367 pounds four years ago. After producing 7 points and 8 rebounds in the first half, he managed zero points and 3 rebounds in 13 second-half minutes.

"I think conditioning was a factor for Brian in not continuing to play as dominantly as he did early in that game," Pearl said.

Even so, Williams' performance was encouraging. Asked if it was his best as a Vol, however, he shook his head emphatically.

Nah. Definitely not," he said. "Western Kentucky was my best game to this day."

No doubt. He posted 16 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks in an 88-82 defeat of the Hilltoppers Dec. 15, 2007. Chism was in foul trouble that time, too. But, as happened Saturday night, Williams picked up the slack in relief.

"The fact that the basketball team wins a game without Wayne Chism is really something," Pearl said. "It speaks volumes of Brian Williams, who has been coming with some consistency."

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