Wayne Chism played one of his best games in a Tennessee uniform Monday night. Unfortunately, he wasn't around to finish it.
The 14th-ranked Vols blasted outmanned Louisiana 89-62 at Thompson-Boling Arena in their final outing of 2008. A crowd of 21,863 - one short of the season-best turnout on opening night - was treated to some vintage uptempo Bruce Pearl basketball.
"I thought we made progress tonight,'' said Pearl after the Vols extended their home-court win streak to 37.
But the frivolity ended when Chism went down hard trying to prevent a Louisiana fast break with 5 minutes, 12 seconds to play.
The junior center never got up. He was eventually loaded onto a stabilizing board and left the arena on a stretcher to a standing ovation.
Pearl later said Chism was taken to UT Medical Center as a precautionary measure to observe a possible head and neck injury.
"He was conscious the whole time,'' Pearl said. "It took him a while to figure out exactly where he was.
"We'll get updates to you as soon as we possibly can.''
Chism was having a superlative night. He got his fourth double-double of the season on record early on in the second half and was at 18 points and 15 rebounds when he crashed.
"Wayne obviously had a tremendous night going,'' said Pearl. "He's been terrifically consistent and dominant, inside and out.''
Tennessee (9-2) will certainly need Chism on Saturday when the Vols visit Kansas, the defending national champion.
"He's our best rebounder, he's one of our best defenders and he's starting to feel confident offensively,'' said Pearl.
The Vols were feeling confident offensively as a team against the Ragin' Cajuns.
Although Tyler Smith (10 points) was the only other Vol in double figures, seven players scored at least sight points.
Josh Tabb, Cameron Tatum and Scotty Hopson had nine apiece. J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze scored eight each.
Randell Daigle led Louisiana (4-7) with 16.
The progress Pearl saw included a defense that forced 22 turnovers, the most since Chattanooga was guilty of 24 in the opener.
"We talked about trying to force more turnovers,'' Pearl said. "We really focused on some of those endline and sideline set pieces.
"At times we had some really good energy because of that.''
The Vols used an 11-0 run to take the lead for good and establish separation that Louisiana never overcame.
UL led 7-6 when Smith triggered the rally with two free throws then a fast-break basket. A Tatum 3-pointer made it 13-7.
Still in run mode, Tabb assisted Brian Williams on a fast-break bucket. Moments later it was Williams on the giving end, with Tabb receiving, and UT led 17-7.
"Turnovers lead to buckets,'' said Tabb. "We've got a lot of athletic wings and 'four men' that can run the floor.
"We're a lot more athletic than we were last year.''
It was 44-31 at the break but the gap quickly widened as the Vols opened the second half with a 25-6 outburst.
The spread topped out at 35, 83-48, when Emanuel Negadu hit a free throw with 7:50 to play.
At that point, the 90-point Chick-fil-A sandwich give-away seemed a done deal.
But the Vols had already started losing focus before Chism went down and scored only six points the rest of the way.
Renaldo Woolridge's trey with 43 seconds left got UT to 89. To the crowd's dismay, that was the end of the line.
Maybe another rebound or two would have been the difference. Pearl would have liked to see the spread bigger than 47-35 in UT's favor.
"Giving up 17 offensive rebounds is not good,'' he said. "Guys were trying to get out on the fast break and get on (ESPN) SportsCenter.
"I forgot to tell 'em the game was not on television tonight, so there's no SportsCenter.
"They could have stayed in and rebounded.''