Vols face tall order tonight

Tennessee has the top-10 national ranking, yet the Basketball Vols will be looking up to their opponent tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena.

That's because Wyoming (5-4) is the tallest team the Big Orange (7-1) has faced to date. The Cowboys' starting lineup goes 7-2, 6-10, 6-8, 6-6 and 5-9. The Vols answer with a lineup that measures 6-9, 6-7, 6-7, 6-6 and 6-3. If you throw out the two point guards, Wyoming has better than a two-inch per man height advantage at the other four positions.

That means Tennessee's inside game could be in for quite a test tonight.

"Offensively, it's not going to be as easy to score in around the basket against Wyoming," UT head coach Bruce Pearl said, "because they have a 7-foot-2 guy that's going to be in there about 15 to 20 minutes and a 6-10 guy off the bench. Inside shots won't be always be high-percentage shots. If we take low-percentage inside shots, they're going to be coming back at us."

To exploit its superior size on the offensive end of the floor, Wyoming likes to work the ball inside for layups and/or foul shots. The strategy is working so far. Through nine games the Cowboys have shot 316 free throws, an average of 35.1 per game. Conversely, Tennessee has shot 165 in eight games, an average of just 20.6 per game.

Shooting a lot of free throws would be inconsequential, however, if Wyoming were unable to capitalize. The Cowboys make their foul shots count, however, hitting a hefty 74.1 percent from the line.

"Wyoming makes more free throws than any team in the country," Pearl said. "That's a national stat that you can't take your eyes off of. They pound it inside and drive the ball to the basket, and they're very difficult to guard. We're going to have to do a good job of guarding them without fouling them."

Guarding the Cowboys is no cake walk because they are not a deliberate, halfcourt offense; they look to run more than most big teams. That's why they average better than 80 points per game.

"We're going to have to find a way to get back in transition," Pearl said, "and find a way to keep 'em in front of us."

Wyoming's lineup sounds like a roll call at the United Nations. The Cowboys are expected to start 7-2 Boubacar Sylla, 6-10 Djibril Thiam and 6-8 Afam Muojeke, along with 6-6 A.J. Davis and 5-9 JayDee Luster. Muojeke leads in scoring at 16.7 points per game, followed by Davis (12.1) and Thiam (11.6). Thiam leads in rebounds (5.1 per game), Luster in assists (4.4 per game) and Sulla in blocked shots (1.4 per game).

Wyoming is the program Don DeVoe left to take the Tennessee reins in 1978 but it is hardly a household name in college hoops circles. Still, the Vols appear to be taking this opponent quite seriously heading into tonight's 7 o'clock tipoff.

"They saw highlights of Wyoming, so they saw the size and saw the athleticism," Pearl said, "so there will be no problem having our guys recognize the challenge of playing a really, really good team that obviously is very excited about coming in here. This is obviously a game they've been pointing towards."

Tennessee enters tonight's play ranked No. 8 nationally by ESPN/USA Today and No. 9 by the Associated Press. The game will be televised by ESPNU.


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