UT encounters wing woes

You need functioning wings to fly, and Tennessee's wings haven't been creating much lift in recent weeks.

To say true freshman Scotty Hopson and redshirt freshman Cameron Tatum have struggled lately might be the understatement of the year.

Consider:

After producing a career-high 22 points against Gonzaga on Jan. 7, Tatum has scored just 34 in the five games since, an average of 6.8 per game. During that five-game stretch he made a chilly 13 of 37 shots from the field (35.1 percent), 5 of 20 from 3-point range (25 percent) and 3 of 10 from the foul line (30 percent).

Hopson hasn't exactly been lighting it up, either. Over his past four games he has made just 12 of 34 shots from the field (35.2 percent) and 2 of 11 from 3-point range (18.2 percent). To his credit, he has been exceptional (10 of 12) from the foul line, which has helped him average 9.0 points during the four-game span.

Although Tennessee has evolved into a post-oriented team, the Vols need a lot more than they've been getting from their wings. Hopson (0-6) and Tatum (0-3) combined for 0-of-9 shooting and one point in Saturday's home-floor loss to Memphis. They were a combined 3 of 14 (Hopson 1-6, Tatum 2-8) for 11 points in a home-floor loss to Kentucky three games earlier.

"It's just a matter of being young at the position," head coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "I think our fans and our media have been patient with Scotty and Cam. What are you going to get from young players? You're going to get some inconsistency. I know they are both better offensive players than they've shown."

In addition to their recent shooting slumps, Hopson and Tatum have been a little careless with the basketball. Hopson has 25 turnovers and just 22 assists, while Tatum has 31 turnovers and just 18 assists. Both players have struggled a bit defensively, as well, although Hopson is making some progress of late.

"Scotty Hopson defensively had so far to go," Pearl said. "Now you look at him, and they don't score on Scotty much. He's got to put forth two or three times more energy on the defensive end than he ever did in high school. He played the game in high school standing around, blocking shots and staying out of foul trouble. Offensively, he went to work. That's where he put all of his energy.

"Now he's having to put all of that energy into guarding, and he's doing a really good job."

Some fans expected Saturday's UT-Memphis showdown to be a shootout between Hopson and Tiger freshman Tyreke Evans since both played in the McDonald's All-American game last year. It wasn't. Evans scored 17 points, while Hopson managed just one. Pearl says those numbers are meaningless, however.

"Different players, different worlds," the Vol coach said. "Scotty Hopson might eventually be better than Tyreke Evans. If you look at your top freshmen in the country – Willie Warren from Oklahoma, Tyreke Evans from Memphis, Greg Monroe (from Georgetown) – they're big, strong, physically mature players.

"You see some freshmen who don't look like freshmen physically. Scotty Hopson looks like a freshman physically, so his best basketball's ahead of him. I don't think it's fair (to compare Hopson and Evans) because they both played in the McDonald's All-America game.

"In the McDonald's All-America game, how much defense is being played? There is no defense being played. If no defense is being played, Scotty Hopson can do what Tyreke Evans can do. When defense is being played, then physicality becomes a factor. Scotty's making progress in that area but that's an area where he's got a ways to go."


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