Mark Wiedmer: If McBee's back to stay, Vols may be also

Mark Wiedmer: If McBee's back to stay, Vols may be also

January 30th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - College

Tennessee guard Skylar McBee (13) fights Mississippi guard Jarvis Summers (32) for a loose ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in New Orleans.

Photo by (AP Photo by Bill Haber)

KNOXVILLE - The call has been both distinctive and instinctive for much of the past four years inside Thompson-Boling Arena.

Each time the Tennessee Volunteers' No. 13 has buried another perfect jump shot from beyond the arc, UT public-address announcer Jeff Jarnigan has happily exclaimed, "Skylar McBee for a Tennessee Threeeee!!!!"

"I guess it started his first game," Jarnigan said after the Vols' 58-57 victory over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. "One night he hit four 3s and I shouted, 'Skylar McThree!' It wasn't planned. It just happened."

But Jarnigan has used the call less and less since McBee tore his right UCL at Georgetown on Nov. 30. With baseball players, it requires Tommy John surgery. McBee has elected not to consider that until after the season.

But only once since has he bagged as many as three triples in a single game, swishing four against overmatched Presbyterian in late December. Conversely, he posted 11 such games a year ago, when he hit 39 percent from over the rainbow.

And after seeing his bearded basketeer score three points or less in seven of the Vols' last eight games -- including being shut out in his last two -- UT coach Cuonzo Martin benched McBee for both the Alabama game this past Saturday and Vanderbilt.

"I thought not starting him might take some pressure off," Martin said. "Before we took the court tonight I told him, 'I think this is your kind of game.'"

This might be why Martin makes the big bucks. For the first time in 42 days, McBee hit as many as three 3-pointers in a game. He scored 10 points. Without such production, especially with point guard Trae Golden injurying his hamstring, it's hard to see the Vols winning this one.

"Shooting's all about rhythm," McBee said. "The elbow, it hurts. But it's uncomfortable more than anything. I was getting comfortable out there tonight, and I haven't felt that way since the injury. Hopefully repetition, finding that rhythm again, will help out."

Lots of Vols helped against the Commodores. Jarnell Stokes turned in another monster performance, scoring 19 points, pulling down 11 rebounds, blocking three shots and handing out three assists.

Spelling the injured Golden, Brandon Lopez dished out three assists and successfully defended Vanderbilt's Kedren Johnson on his potential winning drive in the final seconds.

Josh Richardson pulled down 10 rebounds. Golden -- despite playing just 11 minutes -- hit three of his four free throws after missing five of his last 11.

"Those games take a toll on me," Martin said after watching his team blow most of an early 12-0 lead and 19-5 cushion. "But it's great to get a win. Brandon Lopez gave us a big boost at point guard. Jarnell had another great game. Skylar came off the bench and played well. That's his type of game, a rivalry game."

The road would appear to be getting easier, at least for the moment. After three games in six days, the Vols are off until Saturday's trip to Arkansas, then host Georgia before traveling to South Carolina.

"We're rolling now," Richardson said of the team's 11-8 record and 3-4 league mark. "It's starting to come together like last year."

If it is, when the Vols finished 10-6 in the league to at least give themselves a chance at the NCAA tournament, Richardson believes McBee's newfound touch will be key.

"Skylar just loosens up the defense so much," he said. "It opens up driving lanes; it makes it tough to double Jarnell down low. When he's hitting that shot, we're a different team."

How different? In games in which McThree's hit at least three 3s this season, the Vols are undefeated.