Josh Richardson's role for Tennessee's basketball team is to provide a lot of defense. Anything he provides on offense is a bonus.
Well, lately he's been racking up bonus points.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore matched his career high with 12 points in a 66-52 Game 10 defeat of Western Carolina, then added a dozen more in a 51-47 Game 11 defeat of Xavier. He didn't waste any shots, either, sinking 10 of 13 field-goal tries in the two games combined.
The offensively challenged Vols (8-3) are hoping Richardson's bumped-up production continues tonight, when they host Memphis (9-3) at 8:02 in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Richardson is coming off his best game of the year ... perhaps the best game by any Vol this year. Playing a solid Xavier team, he made 5 of 6 shots in producing a team-best 12 points in the low-scoring affair.
He was downright brilliant defensively, limiting Xavier's best scorer, Semaj Christon, to 1-of-9 shooting and prompting him to finish with more turnovers (6) than points (5). Along the way Richardson recorded 2 blocks and a steal in playing a career-high 36 minutes.
"It was a tremendous effort on both ends by Josh," head coach Cuonzo Martin said, noting that Richardson "looked like the defensive stopper I thought he could be. He really shut down a great offensive guy."
Informed of the "stopper" comment, Richardson pumped both fists.
"Yes!" he exclaimed, literally beaming. "I hadn't heard that but that's good to know."
Richardson always draws the opponent's best perimeter scorer, and generally limits his production. He clearly frustrated Christon while holding him nine points below his 14.2 average.
"Yeah, I smelled some blood," Richardson said. "He's a young guy who hasn't been here that long. Once I saw him turn it over a couple of times I knew I had to get into him and get into his head. That worked for me."
Capping Richardson's big night was the fact he grabbed seven rebounds, including three off the offensive glass.
"I try to crash the boards," he explained. "Coach Martin gets on me a lot about crashing the boards more. Last year I averaged like 2.2 rebounds a game, so I'm definitely trying to work on that."
Fans have come to expect great defense and solid rebounding from Richardson. What stood out about the Xavier game was the fact he also was the Vols' best option on offense.
"Everybody knows I bring it on defense every night," he said. "That really wasn't anything different. But I definitely had to bring a little on offense. We needed a little boost again."
A "little boost" is putting it mildly. Tennessee's offense was putrid. The Vols shot 38.8 percent from the field and 15.0 percent (3 of 20) from 3-point range with 14 turnovers. If not for Richardson's strong showing, the Big Orange almost certainly would have suffered a humbling home-floor loss.
Besides his quality work in terms of offense, defense and rebounding, Richardson has begun contributing in another crucial area.
"I know I've got to step into that leadership role a lot more," he said. "I try to do that more by huddling guys up in timeouts and before free throws. I think I'm doing a little bit better at it."
Most basketball players let their offense influence their defense. If their shots are falling, they get pumped up and work harder on defense. Richardson is the reverse. When he's defending well his intensity spills over into his offensive game.
"Yeah, it gets my energy up a lot more," he said. "After getting big stops on the defensive end, when I see (driving) lanes I attack 'em a lot more."
GAME NOTES: Tennessee and Memphis meet on Jan. 4 for the second year in a row. The Tigers won the 2012 meeting 69-51 at FedEx Forum in Memphis.... Tennessee leads the all-time series 14-10, dating to 1969. The last meeting in Knoxville (Jan. 5, 2011) saw the Vols romp 104-84.... The Big Orange is 6-0 at home this season and carries a 21-4 home record in one-plus seasons under Martin.... Tennessee has one player from Memphis on its roster, 6-foot-8, 270-pound post Jarnell Stokes. He was late joining the Vols last season and did not get to play in either of the 2011-12 games against Memphis. The Tigers notched a 99-97 double-overtime victory in the 2011 Maui Invitational and, as noted earlier, prevailed 69-51 in a regular-season meeting at Memphis.... Last summer Stokes (14.0 points per game) and Memphis freshman Shaq Goodwin (12.4 ppg) were teammates on USA Basketball’s gold-medal-winning U18 National Team at the FIBA Americas Championships in Brazil. Both players hail from Memphis and are good friends.... Tonight's game will be televised by ESPN2.