Explanations vs. excuses

Two factors may have contributed to Tennessee's demise in Wednesday night's 85-76 home-floor loss to Vanderbilt. The key is: Were those factors legitimate explanations or just handy excuses?

Factor No. 1: The Vols' best inside player, Wayne Chism, was limited somewhat by a sore knee.

Factor No. 2: The Vols' best perimeter player, Scotty Hopson, was limited by foul trouble.

Chism played 31 minutes and grabbed 16 rebounds but was a non-factor offensively. He made just 2 of 9 field goal tries and scored a mere 8 points.

"I thought Wayne played with some courage," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "Obviously, offensively he was not effective. It was hard to get him the ball inside."

Chism sprained and hyper-extended his knee last Saturday at Georgia. He did not practice or do any shooting on Sunday and Monday, then participated in a light workout on Tuesday.

"He'd been off his feet completely, and it affected his offense," Pearl said. "It didn't affect his effort or his ability to rebound but it affected his ability to make shots."

Teammates say Chism clearly was playing in pain Wednesday night.

"He was out there playing hurt, and that says a lot about Wayne," senior point guard Bobby Maze said. "He came out there and gave a tremendous effort. He had 16 rebounds but he didn't have that lift.

"Wayne said coming into the game that his knee was hurting a little bit. At times through the game I saw him grabbing it. But he's a fighter, he's a winner, he's a senior. He could've easily sat out and not played but I like him out there on the floor and I'm glad he gave a tremendous effort."

Hopson's foul trouble limited him to 22 minutes of court time and may have hindered Tennessee even more than Chism's sore knee. Hopson picked up fouls No. 3 and 4 in the first 2:04 of the second half, going to the bench with 11 points and Tennessee on top 39-35. When he returned roughly 11 minutes later the Vols trailed 64-58. He made just one basket the rest of the way, a 3-pointer, before fouling out with 1:51 to go and Vandy leading 76-68.

"I put him back in with about seven minutes to go," Pearl noted. "It's hard to get yourself going, but he never got going - offensively or defensively. I think he made one shot but defensively it was hard.

"It wasn't because he was worried about picking up his fifth foul; it's just everybody was winded and Scotty never got back into any kind of rhythm."

Maze agreed that Hopson's stint on the bench was critical.

"That was a momentum changer because we were trying to get in a rhythm," the Vol guard said. "With Scotty coming in and out of the game, it affected us tremendously. We've got to do a better job of keeping our composure."

Hopson wasn't the only Vol saddled with foul trouble Wednesday night. Freshman post Kenny Hall picked up his fourth with 18:31 to go and was limited defensively the rest of the evening.

"We had a lot of foul trouble," Pearl noted. "Kenny had four fouls and Scotty had four fouls early in the second half. Vanderbilt does a good job of initiating contact. They were in bonus in both halves within five minutes."

Perhaps the outcome would've been different if Hopson had been able to avoid that fourth foul. Perhaps the outcome would've been different if Chism had been healthier.

Or perhaps those are just handy excuses.

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