Coming off the bench

Maybe Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl should start five walk-ons Saturday against Kentucky. Most of his scholarship guys seem to play better in reserve roles.

Scotty Hopson was the latest UT player to exhibit this trait. After starting the first 26 games, the 6-7 sophomore came off the bench to score a team-high 20 points in Tuesday night's 75-62 loss at Florida. It was Hopson's highest scoring output since a 21-point effort vs. College of Charleston back on Nov. 27.

Fellow sophomore Cameron Tatum came off the bench to add 13 Tuesday night at Gainesville, meaning he and Hopson produced more points as a relief tandem (33) than Tennessee's entire starting five (27).

In the previous game, a 63-55 win at South Carolina last Saturday, Vol reserves combined to sink 7 of 8 shots and pull down 14 rebounds. The starters, as usual, struggled throughout the early going.

Like Hopson and Tatum, senior wing J.P. Prince has shown a knack for playing better as a backup than he does as a starter. The obvious question: What's the big advantage of coming off the bench?

"When you come off the bench you get to view what's going on on the court, as opposed to starting off when the team's just coming out," Tatum said. "A lot of teams scout you and come out with some new plays or something like that. When you're on the bench you get to see what's going on, see how the intensity really is.

"You see what you can do here and what you can do there. When you come in there, you're already thinking, 'OK, this person is going to do this in this situation, as opposed to what the scout says."

Pearl has shuffled his lineup several times this season in an effort to get five guys on the floor who can give the Vols a quick start. To date, no lineup combination has accomplished this goal. The Big Orange falls behind by 6 to 10 points in the opening minutes of virtually every game.

Because Tennessee's outside shooting has been erratic, the Vols are working hard on taking the ball to the rim. Perhaps that will help them start a little quicker than normal in Saturday's noon tipoff vs. Kentucky.

"Coach has been concentrating on us running cutters to spread the floor and create driving opportunities," Tatum said. "Then we try to take advantage of the opportunities, either by scoring or by drive, draw and dish to open teammates."

If that doesn't work, there's always the option of starting five walk-ons.

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