"I think Scotty's a great, great player and a key to our team. When he's going, our team goes. It was great seeing him have a great game."
Scotty Hopson had a great game, all right. Coming off a 5-for-13 shooting perormance with five turnovers in last Saturday's loss at UConn, he scored 10 of the Vols' first 14 points vs. the Tigers Wednesday night. With Tennessee winning comfortably, he played just 10 second-half minutes but still finished with 22 points, his career high against an SEC opponent.
Several factors apparently fueled Hopson's heroics. One of them was pride. He knew he played poorly in the loss to UConn and felt the need to atone.
"That one was on me," he said. "I'm accountable for that. My teammates were like 'That's not your fault,' but I felt like it was. That was on me. The rest of this SEC season I'm going to do everything in my power to help us win each game."
Although Hopson hit 9 of 14 shots vs. LSU, his greatest improvement from the UConn game was in terms of handling the ball, not shooting it. After committing five turnovers vs. the Huskies, he had zero against the Tigers.
Another factor in Hopson's strong showing vs. LSU was the presence of his mother, Janette. She was attending her first game since the Vols' stunning exhibition loss to Div. II Indianapolis.
"She seen the Indianapolis game and said, 'I ain't coming back,'" her son quipped. "Nah, she's having some back issues."
Perhaps sensing that her son was a bit tense after his poor outing at UConn, Janette offered a little pre-game advice.
"She told me 'Just play your game, just be yourself,'" Scotty recalled.
Mom's presence and her advice apparently helped.
"That was definitely big," Scotty Hopson said. "I wanted to show up for Mom when she's in the stands."
He succeeded. He was unstoppable early, hitting 7 of 9 first-half shots and going to the break with 17 points in 17 minutes.
"I came out with a focus and an aggressive mindset to put the ball in the basket," he explained. "I feel like if I do that on all cylinders - play wall to wall - I'll be fine."
When the 6-foot-7 Hopson is making shots, opponents tend to focus more attention on him. That creates greater scoring opportunities for his teammates.
"It opens up some things for them," he noted. "The defense sometimes shifts depending on where I'm at on the floor, so it helps our whole team chemistry."
Head coach Bruce Pearl has been saying all season that Tennessee goes as Hopson goes. Obviously, that puts added pressure on the Vol junior.
"At times it does," he conceded. "But I've just got to play my game every night - play aggressively, play with energy and everything else will take care of itself."
Hopson will be looking for redemption Saturday at Oxford against an Ole Miss team that shut him down twice last season. He made just 4 of 15 shots (0 of 2 from 3) en route to 8 points in the regular-season meeting at Knoxville, then made just 2 of 11 shots (0 of 5 from 3) en route to 6 points in the SEC Tournament at Nashville.
Naturally, he hopes to be a lot sharper in Saturday's rematch. Still, he realizes that may not happen.
"I can control my effort," he said. "I can't always control my shot - sometimes it's not going to fall - but the things I can control I've got to stick to doing well."