Plavsic eager to make the most of his minutes with the Vols

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee fifth-year senior forward and former Hamilton Heights standout Uros Plavsic has started 14 games this season for the Volunteers and is averaging 14.4 minutes per contest.

In the minutes following Tennessee's 85-42 shellacking of South Carolina in Columbia late Saturday afternoon, Volunteers coach Rick Barnes said his players understood that the team was really just starting to be assembled.

That would include the rather sizable component of fifth-year senior forward Uros Plavsic.

The 7-foot-1, 265-pounder from Serbia, who played at Hamilton Heights and began his college career at Arizona State before transferring to Knoxville, has played in 14 of Tennessee's 15 games so far and has started 14 times. Yet his average of 14.4 minutes per contest ranks ninth on the team, as Plavsic is splitting time with younger inside threats such as 6-11 sophomore Jonas Aidoo and 6-8 freshman Tobe Awaka.

"It's been fun, honestly, just having more people in that spot and sharing those minutes and keeping people fresh," Plavsic told reporters Monday as the No. 5 Vols prepare for Tuesday night's home game against Vanderbilt. "I think that gives us more opportunities to get better. If you go to our bench, you're not getting any worse."

The Southeastern Conference in-state showdown between the Vols (13-2, 2-0 SEC) and Commodores (8-7, 1-1) tips off at 9 on the SEC Network.

Plavsic is averaging 5.1 points and 4.4 rebounds a game, and he has made 33 of 51 shots this season for a 64.7% clip. His best stretch occurred in consecutive games against Alcorn State and Eastern Kentucky in early December, when he tallied 25 combined points on 11-of-12 shooting.

Yet managing time on the floor -- Plavsic averaged 14.1 minutes, 4.2 points and 4.0 rebounds last season -- always has challenges.

"All these kids want to find their worth when it comes to a high-level team, and he's been trying to find himself when it comes to that," Vols assistant coach Rod Clark said Monday. "We expect Uros to be Uros. We expect him to play really hard. We expect him to rebound the ball at a high level. We expect him to be a facilitator.

"We just expect him to play his role at the highest level."

And to keep his cool.

In Tennessee's 75-70 loss at Arizona on Dec. 17, Plavsic gave the Vols a 10-7 lead but was promptly assessed a technical for jawing at the Wildcats. Barnes was noticeably irritated after that contest, stating, "I'm not happy with his antics. Honestly, I'm really tired of it."

"He was 100% right about that," Plavsic said. "It is something I need to fix on my own and something I have to control better. I think I've done a better job lately.

"I don't want to hurt the team, and that was something that came out of adrenaline, but I just need to use that energy for other things on the court."

Tennessee flipped the offensive switch last week in routs of Mississippi State (87-53) and South Carolina, jumping out to immediate double-digit leads. Plavsic has helped in that, as the Vols have a different look in the early stages compared to November.

"We've been wanting to establish our guys inside, and that's helped us make more shots on the perimeter," Clark said. "Early in the year, we had some games where we took a lot of early 3s, which weren't terrible shots, but establishing ourselves in the post is always a better thing for us offensively."

Odds and ends

Tennessee holds a 128-75 series advantage over Vanderbilt and has won the past 10 meetings. ... No player on Tennessee's roster has lost to Vandy. ... The Vols have won eight of their 13 games by 30 or more points. ... After struggling for much of the nonconference, Tennessee's offense is topping the SEC with 20 assists per contest and with 54.4% accuracy from the floor. ... Clark on Tuesday night's foe: "Since I've been here, the team that puts us in the biggest trick bag defensively is Vanderbilt. They get the most wide-open shots against us than anybody in the league."

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