He's baaaaaack!

Tennessee surprised Kentucky with a 3-2 zone when the teams met Feb. 13 in Lexington, and the Vols may have another surprise in store for Saturday's rematch.

Cameron Tatum, who missed the earlier meeting at Rupp Arena, will be ready when Chapter 2 unfolds this weekend at Thompson-Boling Arena. The 6-foot-6 sophomore wing delivered a message by scoring 13 points in 15 minutes Tuesday night at Florida, then repeated it following Thursday evening's practice at Pratt Pavilion.

"I'm back," Tatum said. "I'm back and I'm ready. I'm still a little sore here and there but right now is gut-check time. I've got to get out there, put all of this stuff (aches and pains) away and just play."

He certainly did that Tuesday in Gainesville. Tatum hit 3 of 7 shots from the field, 3 of 5 from 3 and 4 of 5 from the foul line. He also grabbed 3 rebounds and dished out an assist in 15 superior minutes.

Making Tatum's performance all the more noteworthy was the fact it was his first double-figure outing since he scored 14 points against East Carolina way back on Nov. 20. In his defense, he has missed an awful lot of time since then.

One of four Vols suspended following the now-infamous Jan. 1 traffic stop, Tatum sat out four games under suspension, then did not play in his first game back. After averaging just 3.6 points and 11.6 minutes over the next five games, he missed three games with a sprained ankle that also limited him to a four-minute cameo appearance last weekend at South Carolina.

He was the Tatum of old against Florida, however, slashing to the basket, firing 3-pointers and crashing the backboards. So, what was the difference between that outing and the previous ones?

"Just being game ready," he said. "Just having your game legs ... getting used to being out there in front of everybody again ... getting up and down the court with everybody."

Even though he had missed eight of the Vols' previous 13 games, Tatum looked awfully comfortable in the rotation vs. Florida.

"Getting the chemistry back with the rest of the players is important," he said. "It's me knowing what they like to do and them knowing what I like to do. I just fit, feeding off of them on the offensive end and the defensive end."

After missing the earlier game with Kentucky due to his injured ankle, Tatum is understandably eager for the rematch. So is Brian Williams. Fresh off a nine-game suspension for his role in the Jan. 1 incident, the 6-foot-10 junior played just one minute in the earlier meeting at Lexington.

Perhaps Tatum and Williams can help the Vols avenge the 73-62 loss they suffered at Rupp Arena. They certainly improve Tennessee's chances of posting a big-game victory.

"I think we bring a lot of experience and intensity, having been down that road before," Tatum said. "Intensity is going to count big. They're going to come in and try to hit us in the mouth, so we're going to have to come back and punch them in the mouth, as well.

"Protecting home court is the main thing we have to do."

Protecting the home court against the red-hot Wildcats will be difficult but not as difficult as it would've been a couple of weeks ago. This time the Vols have one more weapon in their arsenal. Cameron Tatum is back.

Just ask him.


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