Can Vols find a way?

Can Vols find a way?

Trying to beat the No. 1 team in college basketball on its home floor is a daunting task, yet the Tennessee Vols appear undaunted heading into tonight's 9 o'clock (EST) tipoff with Memphis at the FedEx Forum.

There's a good reason for that. The Big Orange is not the most talented team in college hoops, but it might be the most resourceful. Challenges simply don't seem to faze the Vols. Consider the evidence:

- All-American Chris Lofton struggled mightily in Tennessee's first 17 games, hitting just 31.6 percent of his 3-point attempts. Even with their star player off his game, however, the Vols won 16 of those 17.

- Duke Crews, Tennessee's toughest post player, missed nine games – five of them SEC contests – while doctors checked out a heart condition. Even with him sidelined, the Vols won eight of nine.

- Point guard Ramar Smith endured an awful slump during a six-game stretch from Jan 29 to Feb. 17, sinking just 9 of 33 field-goal tries (27.3 percent) and averaging a mere 4.5 points per game. Even as he struggled, though, Tennessee won all six games.

- Wayne Chism, the Vols' biggest starter at 6-9, hit a wall from Jan. 19 through Feb. 5 – making a mere 15 of 42 shots (35.7 percent), while averaging just 7.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Even getting such paltry production from the post, the Vols won five of six games.

- Team catalyst JaJuan Smith hit 1 of 8 shots at LSU and 1 of 7 a week later at Georgia – scoring 2 points each time. Even with their second-leading scorer contributing next-to-nothing, Tennessee won both games.

Are the Vols a great team? Despite a 24-2 record and No. 2 national ranking, that's still to be determined. Are the Vols a resourceful team? Absolutely. No matter what obstacles they encounter, they seem to find a way to prevail.

"It just shows you we know how to win in different situations," JaJuan Smith said. "Every night it's going to be someone different. We're deep, and everyone on our roster can step up and make plays at any given time."

In 2005-06 and 2006-07, Tennessee usually was unsuccessful when Lofton was unproductive. This season he has scored 14 or fewer points on 13 occasions. Tennessee's record in those games is 13-0.

"Nobody's going to play good every game," he noted, "so you take pride in helping your teammates out. If one guy's not playing well, somebody else has to step up. That's what we take pride in."

Lofton has led Tennessee in scoring 12 times this season. JaJuan Smith (eight times) is next, followed by Tyler Smith (four), Wayne Chism, Ramar Smith and J.P. Prince (one time each). All told, six different Vols have been the scoring leader through the first 26 games.

"I think it's great," head coach Bruce Pearl said. "It's a great compliment to what the team is all about – a group of individuals working together to perform a specific task … to come out with a victory."

Whereas Lofton clearly was Option No. 1 in 2005-06 and 2006-07, Tyler Smith and JaJuan Smith are just as likely to take the clutch shot in 2007-08. That makes the Vols much more versatile – and much more resourceful – than in the past.

"I want my players to play with some freedom," Pearl said. "I want them to go to their strengths and stay away from their weaknesses. By now roles have been carved out."

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