Power in the post

Head coach Bruce Pearl may have solved Tennessee's big problem with a big lineup.

The Vols recently had been dominated in the paint by teams with more heft inside - losing 78-63 at Georgia, bowing twice to Vanderbilt (85-76 at home, 90-71 on the road) and falling 73-62 at Kentucky.

Wednesday night started out as more of the same, with Georgia building a 29-24 halftime lead at Thompson-Boling Arena. When Pearl paired 6-10, 270-pound Brian Williams with 6-9, 245-pound Wayne Chism to start the second half, however, the scales - literally and figuratively - tilted Tennessee's way.

After shooting just 36.7 percent and losing the backboards 22-16 in the first half, the Vols shot 56.3 percent, outscored the Dawgs 30-10 in the paint and won the rebound battle 15-13 in the second half en route to a come-from-behind 69-60 victory. The pairing of Chism and Williams on the inside played a key role in the comeback.

"I thought Brian Williams starting the second half was positive," Pearl said. "Brian and Wayne played well together out there."

Chism was understandably thrilled to have another big body helping him patrol the paint.

"It helped me rebound," Chism said, "and him scoring around the basket really helped, too. It took a lot of pressure off me."

Although Chism has played plenty of power forward during his career, it was Williams who played the "4" spot when he and Chism were on the floor together Wednesday night. From all accounts, the big guy handled the new role well.

"Brian is an excellent passer at the 4," Vol point guard Bobby Maze said. "He's a good rebounder, and I think he and Wayne did a great job together."

Chism thought so, too.

"Brian stepped in and did a great job," Chism said. "He played a whole 'nother position and did a great job at that position.... Brian's a good passer, and he was being very patient with the ball. He made nice passes in there and I gave a couple of passes to Brian for a couple of layups, so we did a great job of scoring on the inside."

Pearl touched on the same theme, noting: "I thought having Wayne and Brian in the lineup was good. Wayne is able to do things inside and out. Brian is able to pass the ball. I thought Brian made some really patient passes."

Williams had ample opportunity to develop his patience the past two months. Suspended when police discovered a bag of marijuana with his name on it during a Jan. 1 traffic stop, the towering junior sat out nine games before rejoining the team Feb. 6. He rode the bench against South Carolina that night, played just two minutes vs. Vanderbilt on Feb. 9 and played but one minute vs. Kentucky on Feb. 13.

Recalling how Georgia dominated Tennessee in the paint at Athens on Jan. 23, Pearl figured Williams could be a difference-maker in Wednesday night's rematch.

"I didn't want to start Brian because he had to kind of earn his way into that situation," Pearl said. "For me, he earned his way into the start the second half. He gave us good energy, he played with some maturity and experience. He's a junior and he was in the rotation before, so I thought we needed that."

Williams' play clearly encouraged the coach. So did the response of Tennessee's fans to the prodigal post's return to prominence.

"I was very pleased," Pearl said, "that the crowd welcomed him back as they did."


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