KNOXVILLE - Bruce Pearl sent a clear message this week that he wanted his Tennessee point guards to focus more on distributing the basketball.
Little did the coach know Brian Williams, his 6-foot-10 senior center, also would take heed.
"I've been doing it all year, I say," Williams said following Thursday's practice about his multidimensional performance in Wednesday's win against South Carolina, in which he tied his career high with five assists to go along with 10 points and nine rebounds.
"I should have had 20 [points], 14 [rebounds] and 11 [assists], but it didn't work out that way, but I'm glad we got the victory. [Coach Pearl] knows I'm the best guard in the country. A lot of our plays are for me to make the play and make the dish, so that's what I've been doing all season."
Always a big talker, Williams can point to his numbers to back up his hyperbolic talk about his passing abilities. His 21 assists in 11 Southeastern Conference games put him third on the Volunteers behind Melvin Goins (30) and Cameron Tatum (25).
"Brian is a very patient passer," Pearl said. "Brian gets it; he's big; he takes his time with it; he reads the defense. Brian's always been a pretty good passer. It's just that we've trusted him a little bit more [this season].
"At the end of last year we put Brian in that passing/offensive rebounding position opposite Wayne [Chism]. Now in certain aspects he's that passing/rebounding [guy] opposite Tobias [Harris], but he is more of a scoring threat."
Much like the rest of his skills, Williams' passing has flourished with his increased role this season. After just three games of three or more assists in his first three years, he has had five such performances in UT's last 13 games.
"I'm just trying to see whatever I've got," Williams said. "If I see my man cutting and he's open, I'm going to give it to him. I'm not selfish. A lot of people say if you give it to big men in the post, it's like a black hole. I don't think that's the case with me. I try to get my teammates involved."
Mixing in middle
Pearl was direct in his assessment of starting center John Fields' recent lack of effectiveness after Wednesday's game, which would explain Fields' five first-half minutes and third-string center Kenny Hall's seven second-half minutes.
In a 12-game stretch after playing nine minutes against College of Charleston on Dec. 31, Hall -- a 6-8, 215-pound sophomore -- never played more than four minutes. He didn't play in six games. He had three points and three rebounds Wednesday.
"Kenny, knowing Wayne was gone, probably thought he could just walk into the position, and he can't," Pearl said. "I don't think he worked hard enough in the offseason to really take that step from being a promising freshman to a sophomore that's really ready to step in. I'm hopeful that having gone through this experience now, he'll learn from it and we'll see quite a difference in him next year."
Hall, who's in line to play heavy minutes next season with seniors Williams and Fields gone, thought he could have done more Wednesday.
"It's not a really good thing for me, but I always look at the bad in what I did and what I could have done better," he said. "I just take all my frustrations out on the court. When I get out there, it's like a breath of fresh air. I can just relax and do what I know I can do."
Added Pearl: "He works harder in individual workouts than the guys that are actually playing a lot because we can work with him."