SC blocks Vol path

Tennessee needs a win tonight to clinch at least a share of the SEC East title but South Carolina is literally blocking the Vols' path.

The Gamecocks have turned into a shot-blocking machine since 6-foot-9 216-pound Sam Muldrow joined 6-foot-7 230-pound Mike Holmes and 6-foot-7 200-pound Dominique Archie in their starting five. Just ask the Kentucky Wildcats.

South Carolina blocked a school-record 16 shots in a 77-59 blitz of the Big Blue Feb. 25 at Columbia. Muldrow registered 7 blocks that day, with Archie contributing 4 and Holmes 3. Six-foot-8 reserve Austin Steed and 6-foot guard Zam Fredrick got one block each. Patrick Patterson, UK's 6-foot-9 superstar, had eight of his shots rejected in what he called the "most frustrating" game of his career.

Since Tennessee relies heavily on the inside scoring it gets from Wayne Chism and Tyler Smith, the Vols are acutely aware of the shot-blocking abilities of tonight's opponent.

"With Holmes being physical and Muldrow and Archie being long, they can really put a hurt on you when that ball goes inside," UT coach Bruce Pearl said earlier this week. "Obviously, they really gave Patrick Patterson a hard time. Kentucky got the ball in there but they couldn't get it in the basket."

On a positive note, Tennessee responded well to a similar challenge eight days ago at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs lead the NCAA in blocked shots as a team and 6-foot-9 Jarvis Varnado leads the NCAA in blocked shots individually. Thanks to superior ball movement, however, the Vols had just 4 shots blocked (3 by Varnado) and prevailed 81-76. The Big Orange will need to employ the same strategy tonight.

"We'll have to make the extra pass," Pearl said, "and use inside-out offense to open things up on the inside."

Both Tennessee (18-10 overall) and South Carolina (20-7 overall) bring 9-5 SEC marks into tonight's 7 o'clock tipoff at Colonial Life Arena. The winner will grab a one-game lead in the SEC East with just one game to play, assuring itself of no worse than a tie for the division title.

Although Tennessee has a 4-3 record as an SEC road team this season, the Gamecocks are nearly invincible on their home floor.

"South Carolina is 16-1 at home," Pearl noted. "The only loss was a close game to a Clemson team that was highly ranked. They're undefeated (7-0) at home in the conference and obviously in their last game at home against Kentucky they were just overwhelming athletically – blocking shots, forcing tempo. That place (Colonial Center) will be absolutely jumping."

The Vols had better be jumping, too. Otherwise, they might get 16 of their shots blocked tonight.

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