Weary Woolridge

He hit an eight-footer and a 3-pointer in the first four minutes of Wednesday night's Tennessee-Charlotte basketball game ... then he hit a wall.

No wonder. Accustomed to playing 8 minutes per game as a reserve, Vol sophomore Renaldo Woolridge found his lungs taxed a bit when he played a career-high 27 minutes as a starter vs. the 49ers.

"Man, I was exhausted!" the 6-9, 208-pounder recalled, grinning broadly after producing 10 points and 7 rebounds in his first start of the season. "At the first TV timeout I was sucking air."

Fortunately for coach Bruce Pearl and the Big Orange, Woolridge caught his breath during the break and was able to finish out the half in good shape.

"After that I got my second wind," he said, "and kind of got the hang of it."

With four key players suspended, Woolridge was among several Vol reserves who assumed beefier roles on Wednesday night. All eventually found enough gas in the tank to cross the finish line.

"I know a lot of guys were tired," Woolridge recalled, "but Coach kept talking to us throughout the game, and I think it (fighting through fatigue) made us a better team."

Taking a preseason All-American's spot in the starting lineup is a daunting task. With Tyler Smith suspended, however, that's the challenge Woolridge assumed against Charlotte.

"At first I was honored," he said. "Then I kind of felt a little bit of pressure. As we got into it, though, we all had confidence in each other."

Woolridge started six of Tennessee's first seven games in 2008-09 but hadn't started since, so he was a little nervous Wednesday night. The rest of the Vol lineup was intact, however, so the other four starters tried to settle him down with advice and encouragement.

"They all told me to 'Go out there and do like you did your freshman year,' when I was starting," he recalled. "I went in with that mindset, and we were all able to play well."

With Smith subsequently dismissed from the team for his role in the police incident, Woolridge is likely to find himself starting at power forward for the remainder of the season.

The Charlotte game was Tennessee's first in a full week. That week seemed even longer because of the negativity surrounding the arrest and suspension of the four players on guns and weapons charges.

"It felt like we hadn't played in forever - like it was our first college basketball game - because of all that was going on," Woolridge said. "It was great to go out and kind of relieve everything and play well together. We needed to step up, and we did.

"Now we've got to move on from here."

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