published Friday, February 19th, 2010

Tatum not yet ready


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE -- One of Tennessee's talented wing players returned to practice Thursday but probably won't play in Saturday's pivotal Southeastern Conference basketball game at South Carolina.

Another wing sat out Thursday but should be fine to battle the Gamecocks.

Senior J.P. Prince suffered a migraine headache after Wednesday's crucial comeback victory over Georgia, but sophomore Cam Tatum's sprained ankle hasn't received a game-worthy clearance after one day back on the floor.

Tatum simply offered a quick "it's getting there" when asked about the ankle, but coach Bruce Pearl said it hasn't gotten far enough.

"Cam was back today for play-call review, but he's very doubtful still for Saturday," Pearl said. "He looked good moving around offensively, but defensively, moving his feet, I just don't see it. He's still got a lot of midfoot swelling, so it just doesn't look that good. There's too much swelling right now in the foot to go (Saturday).

"There's not a break there, but some ankles just heal differently than others."

Prince looked OK on the bench Thursday, repeatedly joking with teammates and trainers. But earlier in the day and especially late Wednesday night were different situations.

"He'll be fine for Saturday, but last night after the game, he didn't feel so good," Pearl said. "We kind of kidded J.P. He's got a pretty large head, and so we imagine since he has such a really large head, he must have a really large headache."

Pearl flashed a big grin when jokingly asked why he didn't simply put Prince in a dark shed, like the one Texas Tech wide receiver Adam James was reportedly placed in a few months ago.

"I thought about it, but I'd like to keep my job," Pearl said in reference to recently fired Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.

The 20th-ranked Volunteers (19-6, 7-4) got their work in Thursday, but the huge sigh of relief from Wednesday's win clearly extended into the next day's practice. UT was clearly more comfortable after avoiding the program's first three-game losing streak since January 2007, but senior point guard Bobby Maze said the team's focus is squarely on Saturday's matchup with the Gamecocks.

South Carolina (14-11, 5-6) desperately needs a win this weekend to resuscitate its NCAA tournament hopes.

"Last night was big, because we absolutely had to win that game," Maze said. "We have some extra confidence right now, but not necessarily because we beat Georgia. We just feel like right now we want to play our best basketball. Here coming down the stretch, we've got five tough games. We want to play every game like it's our last.

"These next few games will determine what kind of seed we get in the tournament. I want to win out and try to get a 2 or 3 seed, so we don't have play someone like Oklahoma State in the first round."

South Carolina is 11-2 at home and remains the only team to beat second-ranked, SEC-leading Kentucky.

"You look at the next five games, and you know we're going to be challenged to win each and every one of them," Pearl said. "Which one is the least challenging? I don't know. Rather than picking one or two or three, we've got to take them one at a time and play our way in or off the dance card."

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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