Hopson's attacking the rim

Scotty Hopson has one of the quickest first steps in college basketball. The problem has been trying to convince him to use it.

Based on his slashing drives to the basket last Sunday vs. Kansas, he appears to have learned his lesson heading into tonight's 7 o'clock tipoff vs. Auburn. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl is yet to be convinced, however.

"We'll see," Pearl said. "I want to see it again and again and again. I want to see the growth. I want Scotty to feel the heat from me. What he did (vs. Kansas) is what he's supposed to do.

"Scotty needs to continue to stay tougher with the basketball: Don't get stripped and ripped. Don't settle for the jump shot. Get in there deeper."

Scotty Hopson did all of the above Sunday against Kansas, scoring all seven of his baskets inside the paint. Attacking the rim helped the 6-foot-7 guard score a team-high 17 points.

"It was wonderful to see him knife through that defense and get to the rim," Pearl noted.

With the Vols down to six scholarship players, Hopson knew Tennessee needed him to pick up the slack by becoming more assertive offensively.

"Definitely," he said. "I knew my aggressiveness was going to be a key factor in my contribution to us being successful and getting a win, whether I was scoring, getting rebounds or getting assists. Just being aggressive is what I intend to do."

Although he was shocked when four Vols were suspended following their Jan. 1 arrest on marijuana and weapons charges, Hopson is standing by his troubled teammates.

"We've been through so much these last two weeks, we just try to pick those other guys up," he said. "They talk with us off the court, tell us what to do and keep our heads up. I hope they keep their heads up."

Tennessee has played surprisingly well without the four missing players to date, trouncing Charlotte 88-71 and stunning top-ranked Kansas 76-68.

"I know we lost four key players in our system but this is a family and we stick together," Hopson said. "We know our goals as a basketball team - to win the national championship - and that's what we're going to compete to do. The goals haven't dropped at all."

National championship? Yep, that's what he said. And Hopson truly believes it's a realistic dream.

"The sky's the limit for this team," he said. "We can definitely win a national championship. We just have to keep building and keep preparing every night to get better and better. We're not there yet but I think we'll be there when the time comes."

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