Will Hoop Vols 'hit wall' tonight?

There comes a point in every distance race when a runner ''hits the wall'' and feels as if he/she can't go on. Vol basketball coach Buzz Peterson is concerned that his team may be nearing that point heading into tonight's game with UMass (7:30 tipoff at Thompson-Boling).

''There's still a lot of season left,'' Peterson said. ''A big concern of mine is that this is 'wall time' ... hitting the wall. We've got a freshman point guard (C.J. Watson) who, as of a couple of weeks ago, had played more minutes than anyone in this league. I'm concerned that he doesn't hit a wall.''

Maybe he already has. Watson, who is averaging a whopping 36.5 minutes per game, committed four first-half turnovers last Saturday at Auburn. What makes that significant is that he was averaging just three turnovers PER GAME in the previouis 16 outings.

Ron Slay and Jon Higgins also appear to be in danger of hitting the wall. Slay is averaging 33.6 minutes per game, Higgins 33.1.

Peterson conceded that he is concerned about ''some of the other guys going to hit that wall ... that they stay focused and look forward to these next couple of games.''

In an attempt to prevent his team from hitting the wall, Peterson has shortened practices lately and is giving Watson more breaks during workouts.

TONIGHT'S KEYS: Umass is weak from 3-point range (28.2 percent) and may be without its best shooter, off guard Michael Lasme, who has a sore ankle. In addition, the Minutemen are being outrebounded by an average of two per game. UT, meanwhile, shoots 36.9 from 3-point range and outrebounds its foes by 7.5 per game. The key for the Vols is limiting turnovers. They're averaging 16.8 per game to UMass' 15.2.

Still, assuming Watson, Slay and Higgins don't hit the wall tonight, Tennessee should be resourceful enough to win at home.

My pick:
Tennessee- 70
UMass- 60


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