Vols' silver linings

With a 7-6 record in the past 13 games, Tennessee's basketball team isn't giving head coach Bruce Pearl a lot to smile about these days. Individually, though, two Vols have him grinning ear to ear.

Heading into tonight's game with visiting LSU (8 o'clock tipoff at Thompson-Boling Arena), Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince rank among the most improved players in the Southeastern Conference.

Chism, a 6-9 240-pound junior, has been a force in recent weeks at both the post and power forward positions.

He had 26 points and 11 rebounds in Game 9 vs. Marquette, 18 points and 15 rebounds in Game 11 vs. Louisiana, 17 points and 8 rebounds in Game 12 at Kansas, 15 points and 19 rebounds in Game 13 vs. Gonzaga, 18 points and 9 rebounds in Game 15 vs. Kentucky, 20 points and 7 rebounds in Game 17 at Vanderbilt, then 15 points and 6 rebounds in Game 18 vs. Memphis.

Prince, a 6-8 205-pound junior wing, is showing his versatility by contributing in a number of areas.

He produced 11 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in Game 13 vs. Gonzaga, then 10 points, an assist, a block and a steal in Game 14 vs. Georgia. He contributed 4 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in Game 15 vs. Kentucky, then 8 points and 2 steals in Game 16 vs. South Carolina. He registered 16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a block in Game 17 vs. Vanderbilt, then added 10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks in Game 18 vs. Memphis.

Prince doesn't take a lot of shots but he makes them count. Over the past five games he has made 20 of 30 attempts for a sizzling 66.7 field-goal percentage.

"It's just wonderful to see your players develop and grow and improve," head coach Bruce Pearl said this week. "You want prospects to look at your program and say 'Guys get better in the program.'

"JaJuan Smith got better. Chris Lofton got better. C.J. Watson got better in his last year. Dane Bradshaw ... you can go up and down the roster ... and you can certainly say it with Wayne. I think he's still got upside. He can do things inside/outside, offensively and defensively.

"Another guy I want to give some credit to is J.P. Prince. J.P. has turned it on. He's been very consistent in practice, played very well at Vanderbilt and did a lot of good things against Memphis."

In addition to his scoring prowess, Chism is a very good post defender. Prince is a tough guy to score against, as well.

"When I put him on Tyreke Evans, with the exception of the last basket – J.P. got caught on a ball-screen where we should've provided more help – he shut him down," Pearl said. "He took some charges and made some big plays."

Slowed by an assortment of injuries, Prince struggled a bit in November and December. Vol fans were patient, however, and that patience has been rewarded in recent weeks.

"I really appreciate our fans responding to J.P the way they did," Pearl said, "not just because it was the Memphis game but also because he's had to battle through injuries and is really playing well."

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