Tennessee Volunteer point guard C.J. Watson apparently improved his NBA draft stock by earning all-tournament recognition at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament this past weekend. Watson scored 16.3 points per game at the tournament, third-best of all players.
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It was a recipe for disaster. A sports conspiracy-theorist’s worst fear. The work of a diabolical mastermind bent on televising an upset of an over-seeded, over-confident team on a losing streak by an under-seeded, no-name school whose time had come.
Too bad Chris Lofton hadn’t read the script.
The game had turned into a defensive struggle, and the drama was building as planned. Senior and team leader C.J. Watson was sitting out extended minutes with four fouls. Coach Bruce Pearl’s spread motion offense wasn’t producing any open looks. Every time that Lofton, the team’s biggest scoring threat, tried to rub a defender off of a screen, he found himself sandwiched between two defenders instead.
With 5:00 minutes left to play and the score tied at 58, Watson finally re-entered the game. Tennessee hit a two, Winthrop hit a three. The teams traded missed opportunities, fouls, and turnovers.
With the game tied at 61 and 21 seconds remaining, Watson scambled around the perimeter awhile before stopping and popping at the top of the key. The shot was too strong, and the long rebound was grasped by six hands: Lofton’s and those of two opponents. Nobody really won this battle, but Lofton at least succeeded in pushing the ball away from the crowd, and Bradshaw ran down and secured the loose ball. Pearl called time out with 2.9 seconds left and possession of the ball.
Pearl made up a play on the spot and diagrammed it for the players. Wingate would later admit some serious confusion. “I didn’t know what was going on,” he said after the game. “Coach Pearl drew up three different diagrams and told me to go some place.” Controlled chaos without the control.
Anyway, Bradshaw positioned himself courtside to inbound the ball. Wingate decided to stand at the near post. Lofton stood at the far post, Patterson was at the top of the key, and Watson was at mid-court. The whistle blew, and all of the players moved at once.
Lofton darted to the free throw line to set a pick for Patterson, who used Lofton to scrape off his defender and headed toward the basket on the far side of the court. For a split second, Patterson was open for a lob next to the basket, but Bradshaw did not see him until Patterson’s defender caught up with him.
Meanwhile, Wingate slid toward the perimeter to set a screen for Lofton, who was continuing around the arc, his man absolutely glued to him and holding him the whole time. Lofton gained the slightest amount of separation from Wingate’s screen and raced toward the corner, looking over his right shoulder for the pass from Bradshaw. Bradshaw tossed the ball to Lofton, who awkwardly twisted and squared up to the basket in two steps. The second foot planted, he executed an amazing, high-arcing fade-away jumper over the outstretched arm of his defender.
Patterson thought it was long. Wingate thought it was short.
Lofton knew it was in.
Vols win, 63-61.
Coach Pearl began his post-game interview by ticking off a few of the more memorable finishes to games in this magical season: Lofton’s steal-and-heave to Bradshaw for a layup against Florida the first time, Bradshaw’s sweet steal-and-spin move to beat Florida the second time, and Lofton’s awkward twisting fade-away jumper with .4 seconds left for the first post-season win in what seems like forever.
Oh, and don’t forget these guys:
- Andre Patterson had a double double;
- Major Wingate will not have to be fed to his snakes after all, as he had one of the best games of his career, going five for eight from the field and five of six on free throws while blocking three shots. Plus, he played solid defense against Winthrop’s Craig Bradshaw, who was a handful all game.
- Jordan Howell, who played heavy and important minutes while C.J. Watson was on the bench with foul trouble.
Bob Kesling’s call of Chris Lofton’s game-winning shot.
Take a look at the picture of the shot just before Lofton lets it fly. Does it look like it has any chance of going in? Winthrop’s Torrell Martin, who defended Lofton on the play, didn’t think so. “It’s a one-in-a-million shot,” he said after the game. “It looked like the ball curved in.”
It was supposed to be the beginning of a reversal of fortunes for tournament play.
Instead, it was a double reverse. Same as it ever was.
The Tennessee Volunteer basketball team lost — again — its first game in the SEC Tournament. Go ahead and erase those penciled-in appointments for 1:00 today and 1:00 tomorrow. Florida or Kentucky or LSU or some other team will be SEC Champions after all.
Point guard C.J. Watson showed up with 23 points on eight of 12 shooting including three of five three-pointers. Dane Bradshaw was okay, despite having a wrist injury for over a month that requires surgery. Christ Lofton and Andre Patterson, however, had subpar games with only 12 and two points respectively.
The key to the loss, however, was probably the turnovers. Tennessee had 21 to South Carolina’s 16.
What does this mean to the Vols’ chances in the NCAA Tournament? Not sure. On the one hand, Tennessee is on a skid, losing four of their last six games. Maybe their shallow depth is showing late in the season.
On the other hand, South Carolina had seen Bruce Pearl’s controlled chaos style of play for the third time, and the conventional wisdom is that it’s just very hard to beat a good team three times. How many of the Vols’ opponents in the NCAA Tournament will have seen the odd style and have time to prepare for it?
And the Vols will get some rest now. By the time they crank up the music for the Big Dance, the team will have played only one game in almost two weeks. That should help with the legs and the hops.
Back to the other hand again, there’s the rust issue.
Is Tennessee’ basketball season down to only one more game? Or do they have one last run in them?
What do y’all think?
Somebody stop Morris!
Somebody stop Rondo!
The Vols could not stop Morris in the first half and at times appeared not to even try to stop Rondo in the second. In the end, Tennessee lost to Kentucky 80-78 when C.J. Watson’s desperation three-point attempt found the rim instead of the net and bounced out.
Good game, though, and the giant human checkerboard was cool, huh? Anybody have their own pictures I can post?
And anybody know why coach Pearl was so steamed at Chris Lofton during a second-half timeout?
One of the coaches had this to say after the game:
When you shoot like we did the latter part of the second half, you’re going to win a lot of games. This shows we can compete with anyone, and we have the ability to go on the road and win a game like this against the East Division champions. With their power rating, it’s a feather in our cap.
That’s something you would expect from a Tennessee coach about a win over or a close loss to Kentucky, not the other way around.
Game recap here.
Tennessee Volunteer basketball fans get a chance to honor C.J. Watson, Stanley Asumnu, and Andre Patterson during tonight’s game against the Kentucky Wildcats. The three seniors will attempt to do what was almost unimaginable this time last year: sweep the dreaded Wildcats in front of a sold-out Thompson-Boling Arena and the world’s first gigantic, human orange and white checkerboard.
As VolQuest.com put it:
With a win, Tennessee sweeps the regular season series for the first time since the 1998-99 season, and would give Pearl a very impressive 4-0 mark against his two biggest division rivals in Kentucky and Florida. Not a bad way to punctuate your maiden voyage through the SEC.
Not a bad way for the seniors to say goodbye, either.
Coach Pearl’s thoughts on Watson:
He just does it all for us and he’s logged a lot of minutes. This league has got the best point guard play in college basketball. C.J. has to bring it every single night, and he has on most all occasions. He’ll go down as one of the best point guards in the history of Tennessee basketball, and especially now that he’s got a championship, that will add credibility to his legacy.
He’s got a great future. He will make an NBA roster. He’s just going to be one of those guys that plays for a long time because he can defend, he can run a team, he can make open shots and he’s a really smart player. He’s really, really good off the ball.
Pearl also had some good things to say about Patterson despite the fact that he introduced himself by suspending him:
Andre has been one of those guys, that if you look back at our preseason comments, we said he had to step up. I felt like of all our players, Andre had more to give, and he has stepped up. He’s still an undersized player in the SEC who is our best rebounder. He’s one of our best inside scorers and a guy that’s able to take the ball to the basket and break defenses down.
I feel closer to Andre as the season has progressed. There was a lot of discipline involved and a lot of tough love early. Andre has made progress, but he had a ways to go. His experience has helped us win basketball games.
If you can get tickets to tonight’s game, go and become part of the checkerboard. If you can’t get tickets, tune in. Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, the 2005-2006 team should be remembered and revered as one of the greatest stories in the history of Tennessee basketball. The team has over-achieved its way from obscurity to a national top 10 ranking and positioned itself for a run in the Big Dance.
Tonight will be the last opportunity for the home crowd to show the senior leaders of the team their appreciation for the magical season.
The Tennessee Volunteers hosted the Arkansas Razorbacks in sold-out Thompson-Boling Arena this afternoon. Chris Lofton had a subpar game. So did Dane Bradshaw.
It almost didn’t matter. Behind C.J. Watson, who was wearing a No. 53 Bernard King jersey and was really the only Vol who had a good game, Tennessee was neck and neck with the Hogs until a technical was assessed against Arkansas’ No. 5 for yelling “There you go, Bradshaw,” after dunking on him. Tennessee then went on a 16-4 run and gradually pulled away to a double-digit lead and maintained it through most of the second half.
But then the Hogs closed to within 4 with about 5:00 minutes left and took the lead on a three-pointer with about 4:00 minutes left. From that point on, Tennessee could not hit a shot (except for one trey by Lofton) and could not stop Arkansas’ big men from scoring under the basket.
Oh, well. Not much at stake for Tennessee, and the Hogs were motivated by bubble-dwelling.
By the way, when did Montel Williams start coaching Arkansas?
A thing of beauty.
No, not coach Bruce Pearl’s game-long impersonation of a soaker hose. Definitely not that.
And no, not Noah’s multiple blood-seeping facial lacerations. Well, maybe that.
And no, not the over-contrasted Jefferson-Pilot telecast of the game, rendering all things orange the color, saturation, and hue of a solar flare instead. Somebody please tell me it’s not my t.v.
No, the thing of beauty was Dane Bradshaw’s game-sealing play of the game.
With the game tied at 72 with 18.8 seconds remaining and the Gators’ Corey Brewer inbounding the ball at half court, the Gators just need to hold the ball for the last shot. If it goes in, they win. If not, they go to overtime.
When the whistle blows, Brewer’s fake pass to his left is tracked inch-for-inch by the long arms and big body of Tennessee’s Major Wingate. Brewer shakes Wingate to the right before attempting a bounce pass back to the left, but Bradshaw explodes out of Wingate’s shadow to get a hand on the ball at the top of the key.
Several things then happen all at once.
Four players — Bradshaw, still looking for a handle on the ball, two Gators, and Vol guard C.J. Watson all converge on the ball. One Gator sprawls to the floor after bumping into Watson. Meanwhile, Bradshaw gets traction on the ball and does a sweet, sweet, sweet 360 spin move away from the remaining defender, covers the distance to the basket in a single step, and finger-rolls the ball into the goal.
Brewer stands slack-jawed at the top of the key, and coach Pearl wets the sole remaining dry spot on his two-thousand dollar suit.
On the other end, Brewer misses a three-point attempt, and the Gators foul Chris Lofton, who clinches it with two free throws. Vols win 76-72, sweep the hated Florida Gators, hit the 20-win mark, and clinch the SEC East Championship. They are well on their way to a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance.
All after beginning the season unranked.
Somebody say sweet!
ESPN2 is profiling the Tennessee men’s basketball team and head coach Bruce Pearl on its reality show The Season at 7:30 p.m. tonight. The show was shot in Knoxville last week.
Apparently, the ESPN crew followed Pearl to the cafeteria, where he often eats and mingles with students in his ongoing effort to sell UT basketball, and players C.J. Watson and Andre Patterson to class.
Get an inside-the-huddle look at coach Pearl keeping the team loose by instructing Patterson and Dane Bradshaw to play rock, paper, scissors to determine who would start the second half against Georgia.
Oh, and now seems like a good time to refer to Pat Dooley’s column on Gatorsports.com on why everybody hates the Gators (Hat tip to EDSBS). I would add a few to the list, not the least of which involves the showering of visiting fans with cups of urine and post-game murders.
John Pennington, master of weaving pop culture into sports observations, posts another excellent piece, this one on how the Tennessee Volunteer basketball team is racking up the wins:
For the Vols to win [against the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators], the following had to happen:1. The young Gators would have get rattled early by an SRO crowd at Thompson-Boling.
2. Both Chris Lofton and CJ Watson would have to have great games.
3. Tennessee would have to get Major Wingate’s best game of the year to help offset Florida’s size advantage.
And we all know how it turned out… exactly NONE of those things happened.
But Bruce’s Believers still came through.
That’s been the question all year. National media, local media, fans, everyone’s been asking the same thing: “How does this team keep winning?”
Last week I pointed to “Heart and Effort,” which I think should be the title of any DVDs the Vol Network intends to sell about these guys. But I think Lloyd Bridges might have said it better (and I paraphrase):
“I gotta say something about that (team out) there, and I can sum it all up in just one word: courage, dedication, daring, pride, pluck, spirit, grit, metal, and G-U-T-S, guts! Why, (these Vols have) got more guts in (their) little finger(s) than most of us have in our entire large intestine. Including the colon!”
“It was like Knoxville was a different town today, you know?” Pearl said. “I can still feel the excitement.”No doubt, the carryover from the Vols’ 80-76 upset over No. 2 and previously unbeaten Florida has been impressive.
Turn on the radio to get a taste of what’s being discussed in every barber shop and office water cooler.
What’s just as remarkable as Knoxville’s transformation to a basketball town is the short time it’s taken Pearl to put the pieces in place to make it all happen.
Pearl said Friday it’s more than just his team’s fast start, which has the Vols 12-3 overall and 3-1 SEC, on the brink of cracking today’s Top 25 polls.
“The fans aren’t coming (Saturday) night because we’re winning,” Pearl said Friday. “They’re coming because of the effort our players our putting out.”
The players, in turn, put out the effort because they believe in Pearl. Already, Pearl’s fan-friendly ways have rubbed off on his players.
The actual game atmosphere was apparently something not seen since football season. Well, since the beginning of football season.
Fans camped out (yes, this is Knoxville, but it’s still winter) to get tickets to the sold out game, and coach Bruce Pearl gave them pizzas and a pep talk while they waited.
At C.J. Watson’s suggestion, the players entered the arena through the crowd in sort of a mini Vol Walk. Football coach Phillip Fulmer and his wife and Lady Vols coach Pat Summit were on hand to lend their support.
As for the game itself, the team reminded me of a yippy little dog nipping at the heels of an oversized opponent, more of a nuisance than anything else. It looked like they were playing as well as they could, but that it would not be enough.
With only a few minutes remaining, though, they tied the game and then traded leads until the end, when they finally pulled ahead. There were a couple of moments when it looked like poor shot selection was going to doom them, but Chris Lofton made the play of the game when he intercepted the ball on a Gators 2-on-1 break and heaved the ball the length of the floor to Dane Bradshaw, who converted a lay-up to seal the victory.
The fans rushed the court in celebration. If there had been goal posts, they would have been torn down.
A great win for the basketball Vols.