The player productivity fluctuations within this season's Tennessee basketball team have been quite plentiful.
Point guard Kennedy Chandler will dazzle in one game and earn a "He's got to learn" quote from coach Rick Barnes after another. John Fulkerson and Olivier Nkamhoua have taken turns as the top inside threat for the Volunteers, with Uros Plavsic the latest to emerge in that role. And no two performances by Josiah-Jordan James have ever seemed the same.
Then there's steady Santi.
The one clear-cut constant to Tennessee's 13-5 season that continues Wednesday night against Florida inside Thompson-Boling Arena has been the play of junior guard Santiago Vescovi. The 6-foot-3, 191-pounder from Uruguay leads the Vols with 14.1 points per game, and his 57 assists nearly double his 30 turnovers.
"Santi has brought it every single night," Barnes said in a news conference following Saturday night's 64-50 downing of LSU in which Vescovi had a team-high 16 points. "He's done it every night. He's had one or two off nights, maybe, but his effort and his defense — he plays like he's 6-7.
"He's highly competitive, and that's one guy you know is going to bring it every night."
Vescovi will enter Wednesday having compiled eight consecutive games with double-digit scoring, with his outputs ranging from 13 points at Alabama to 20 at Kentucky. He has made multiple 3-pointers in all eight games as well, topped by his 5-of-11 performance against LSU.
The last game in which Vescovi didn't attain double figures was in the 96-52 lambasting of USC Upstate on Dec. 14, when he played just 16 minutes and went 2-of-4 from long range in his six-point outing.
Vescovi's value also has been reflected by his time on the floor, playing 38 of 40 minutes against LSU and 42 of 45 in the overtime outlasting of Ole Miss on Jan. 4. Barnes said last week that opponents are trying to stop Vescovi first, but Vescovi is making that very hard to tell.
"I think it's just part of the game," Vescovi said. "You've got to know how to deal with that, and the biggest thing is to not let it affect your game. You just have to stay focused on the game and try to to play even harder."
With wins last week at Vanderbilt and over visiting LSU, the Vols jumped from No. 24 to No. 18 in Monday's latest Associated Press poll. Auburn, which is No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time in its history under former Vols coach Bruce Pearl, is scheduled to visit Knoxville on Feb. 26.
Getting more selective
James has struggled this season from 3-point range, making just 21 of 80 attempts for a 26.3% clip, but the junior guard/forward is 7-of-17 from beyond the arc (41.2%) in the past four games against South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and LSU.
"I think he's a little more selective," Barnes said Monday in a news conference. "As a team, we're better when we play from inside out, because that's the way we practice. We've seen him shoot the ball extremely well, and as long as he takes the same shots that he practices with the same speed and tempo, he'll be fine."
Plavic's recent play has been appreciated by Barnes and Vescovi. The 7-foot, 251-pound redshirt junior from Serbia, who played at Hamilton Heights before beginning his college career at Arizona State, tallied 25 points and 13 rebounds in last week's wins.
"He's definitely helping us a lot as far as the energy on the court," Vescovi said. "Every time he gets in there, we can feel a different energy."
Said Barnes: "His emotion and his energy have been a big shot in the arm for us."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.