The injury report favors Tennessee this evening.
The 16th-ranked Vols will welcome back junior guard J.P. Prince. Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns won’t be as fortunate.
Louisiana (4-6) will have to play its second consecutive game without 6-foot-7 guard Travis Bureau, who leads the team in scoring and field-goal percentage. Bureau, who has a groin injury, didn’t make the trip to Knoxville, according to a UL publicist.
Prince, the SEC’s sixth man of the year in 2007-08, has missed the last three games with an ankle injury. UT coach Bruce Pearl hopes Prince can play 10 to 15 minutes.
“I’m encouraged about J.P.,” Pearl said after Sunday afternoon’s practice. “You can see he’s about 75 percent. But I think we can get some productive minutes from him.”
His return is fortuitous. Following tonight’s game at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Vols will begin a taxing seven-game stretch that will include games against Kansas, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Memphis.
“We’re pleased with where we’re at as far as our results,” Pearl said. “We’ve got two top-25 wins. We’ve beaten everybody on our schedule we’re supposed to beat.
“At this point, it’s more about us than it is about our opponent. It’s about us trying to play our best basketball. There is room for growth. But the time is now. It’s right now.”
There is more room for growth on defense, according to junior forward Tyler Smith, the Vols’ leading scorer.
“We need to work on our defense — help defense and taking charges,” Smith said. “Our offense is going to come with all our talent. We’ve got to hold our opponents, I’d say, below 40 percent (shooting).”
UT’s opponents have hit 43 percent of their shots in the first 10 games. But the Vols (8-2) have shown improvement in the last two games, holding Marquette to 37.5 percent shooting and Belmont to 41.4 percent.
UT’s defensive challenge won’t be as formidable with Bureau sidelined. He’s averaging 16.8 points per game and has made 53.5 percent of his shots, including a team-leading 46.8 percent from 3-point range.
La’Ryan Gary, another 6-7 guard, is expected to start in Bureau’s place. Gary is averaging 7 points per game but has made just 34.4 percent of his shots.
Without Bureau, the Cajuns likely will rely more on their inside game. Four of their starters are 6-7 or taller.
“They block about 6 ½ shots per game and they’re very long and athletic,” Pearl said. “I think their size could bother us. Inside shots are not always a high-percentage shot when you go up against a team that blocks shots so well.
“We worked on zone offense, because this team is multiple defensively. They play man and zone, and they play a couple of different kinds of zones.”
UT doesn’t have the 3-point firepower that it did last season; but that’s not the only reason Pearl expects to see more zones this season.
“I think one of the reasons we see them is that we’re tough to cover (man-to-man),” Pearl said. “Who do you match up Tyler with? Wayne (Chism)? Or J.P.?
“We’ve got some guys who are match-up problems. It’s just easier to get in a zone.”
Prince’s return will put more pressure on opposing defenses.
“J.P. is a high IQ player,” Pearl said. “He understands the game.
“You don’t have to put him in position to make plays. He does it naturally.”
Tipins: UT will be trying to extend its 36-game home-court winning streak, which is the longest in school history and the third-longest active streak in the country. ... The Vols haven’t scored fewer than 72 points this season; the Cajuns have scored under 60 four times. UT is 21-3 all-time against Sun Belt Belt Conference opponents. ... This is Louisiana’s second game against an SEC opponent this month. It lost to Alabama 61-44.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.