published Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Wiedmer: Pearl's ire motivates Hopson

KNOXVILLE -- As most folks already know, Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl wasn't allowed anywhere near Thompson-Boling Arena for Wednesday night's visit from LSU.

His ongoing Southeastern Conference suspension for NCAA recruiting violations has had four games to go heading into the LSU game, and Pearl isn't about to challenge that penalty.

But that didn't mean his pre-practice talk from Tuesday didn't keep swirling around in junior guard Scotty Hopson's head as he took the court against the Tigers.

"His intensity was out the roof," recalled Hopson late Wednesday evening. "He told us if we didn't play hard he'd be on us like a dog the next day in practice. I knew I didn't want to run tomorrow."

So he was on the Tigers like a rabid dog from the opening tap, his 22 points on just 14 shots the biggest reason why UT ran LSU into the ground, 75-53.

"I think I've finally learned that you can't let the highs get you too high or the lows get you too low," said Hopson, who scored 17 of those points in the first half and 10 of the Vols' first 14. "I think that's why there's been some inconsistency from me."

Ah, the "I" word -- Inconsistency.

Pearl pounced on that word and on Hopson last Saturday at the close of UT's 72-61 loss at Connecticut.

"We're an inconsistent team because our best player, Scotty Hopson, is inconsistent," said Pearl.

It seemed slightly out of character for Pearl at the time, but then this whole season has been a bit out of character for the Vols, what with their coach being suspended, and wins over Top 10 teams Villanova and Pittsburgh, but losses to Charlotte and Charleston.

"Our identity has always been toughness," said Hopson. "I think we've struggled some with that this year. I know I've maybe second-guessed myself too much. You've got to put a mistake behind you, play the next possession."

This time he played every possession.

After UT point guard Melvin Goins opened the night with a 3-pointer before the announced crowd of 18,991, Hopson scored 10 of the next 11 in the most diverse fashion.

He began with a dunk, followed that with a three-point play the old-fashioned way via a jumper and a free throw, a layup and a 3-point jumper.

You can't get more consistent than that, a thought that surely ran through Pearl's mind as he watched the Vols' most complete game since its early January blowout of Memphis from his home.

"Everybody plays different with a chip on their shoulder," said Skylar McBee, who's been dubbed Skylar McThree for his marksmanship from afar, which included two triples against LSU.

"Scotty really answered the call tonight. He's one of our leaders. We're going to go as he goes."

This was Hopson's take on Pearl's rant following the UConn loss. He wasn't so much angered or offended as he was somewhat proud that Pearl recognizes Hopson's importance to this Vols season, which now stands at 13-7 overall and 3-2 in the SEC, just one loss in back of SEC East leader Florida.

"It's like he's saying as I go, the team goes," said Hopson, whose 22 points were a career high in SEC play

Against the toothless Tigers, the Vols went well. They scored 29 baskets on 20 assists. They won the boards, 39-31. They committed but seven turnovers, a season low.

So someone asked Hopson if he thought there had been method to Pearl's madness in his direction.

Said the player with a grin, "Maybe he needs to keep doing that."

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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