Strength in numbers

Strength in numbers

Bruce Pearl wants Tennessee playing at a brisk pace on the assumption that both teams' starters will wear out and the Vols' subs will be better than the opponents' subs.

You need a strong bench to make this approach work, and the Big Orange seems to have one. Consider the contributions Pearl got from some key reserves in Tuesday night's 77-58 defeat of Wyoming:

- J.P. Prince: 4 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals.

- Brian Williams: 9 points and a team-high 7 rebounds, plus some strong defensive work on 7-foot-2 Cowboy center Boubacar Sylla.

- Renaldo Woolridge, 2 points, 4 rebounds and a steal in eight action-packed minutes.

Prince played so well in relief vs. Wyoming that he saw more minutes (23) than starting small forward Cameron Tatum (16).

"He got 23 minutes. Last time he got 22 minutes," Pearl said of Prince. "It's not so much about starting but J.P.'s minutes are increasing because his productivity is increasing."

Like Tyler Smith, Prince is a tall guy who excels at breaking down a defense and setting up his teammates. Each recorded 6 assists vs. Wyoming, and that's a stat that Pearl adores.

"I want Tyler or J.P. on the floor at all times somehow," the head man said. "They don't necessarily have to play together. Getting 12 assists from Tyler and J.P. ... they're two of our best breakdown guys. When they're both out of the game we lose that element."

The coach also was pleased with Williams, a 6-10, 276-pounder who can be a force inside when he's focused.

"I thought Brian did really well," Pearl said, "but he should've been a double-double guy. He had seven rebounds and probably had his hands on four or five more. But Brian has improved."

Perhaps no one on the Vol roster has improved as much as the 6-9 Woolridge. He appeared to be the 11th guy on a team with a 10-man rotation in preseason but has moved ahead of 6-9 freshman Kenny Hall in recent weeks. Woolridge has adjusted well after moving from small forward to power forward.

"The biggest thing I liked about Renaldo coming out of high school - yes, he was a big man that could move and shoot - but I thought he was a really, really good rebounder," Pearl said. "He got some big rebounds (vs. Wyoming). He's gaining confidence.

"I put him in to rest Tyler the second half because Tyler was having to do a lot of things. Tyler was popped; he was done. Renaldo went into the game and made some nice energy plays.... I'm happy for Renaldo."

Obviously, having guys like Williams and Woolridge who can come off the bench and crash the boards is a tremendous plus.

"Those guys came in and got big rebounds for us," Smith noted. "Brian got nine points and those were a big nine points for us. Renaldo came in and made a lot of hustle plays. He's showing confidence in his game. He can come out and shoot the ball, too."

Chism said having inside reserves the caliber of Williams and Woolridge is "very helpful," adding: "You can have a lot of confidence when you come out of the game because you see them come in and know we're going to have a good run. They've picked their game up to help us, and we're real happy about it."

Having guys like Williams, Woolridge and Prince - along with No. 2 point guard Melvin Goins and No. 2 shooting guard Skylar McBee - is a real advantage for a team that relies on quality depth as much as Tennessee.

"You can't press us too long," Chism said. "We rotate so that everybody gets a lot of minutes. We sub in every two or three minutes. You can't press us for long or you'll get tired"

And, when the opponent gets tired, Tennessee gets rolling. That's what happened Tuesday night, when the Vols outscored Wyoming 29-11 over the final 17 minutes to win 77-58.

"That's good for our confidence," Chism said. "We know that if somebody gets tired, you just yell at the bench and somebody will be coming in for you. Coach always says, 'Go out there and push yourself. Then, when you get tired, you let us know. Don't go out there and dog it while your teammate's sitting on the bench.'"

Based on the Vols' 8-1 record and No. 9 national ranking, that strategy is working quite well so far.

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