'Hardest working' becomes trademark for Vols

Pearl had 'plenty of doubts how good this team could be'

Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl, left, and assistant coach Jason Shay, second from left, celebrate along with the team late in the second half against Villanova in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament, Friday, Nov. 26, 2010, in New York. Tennessee won 78-68.

Photo by Henny Ray Abrams, Associated Press

Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl, left, and assistant coach Jason Shay, second from left, celebrate along with the team late in the second half against Villanova in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament, Friday, Nov. 26, 2010, in New York. Tennessee won 78-68.

Brian Williams talks about the win against Villanona

Villanova coach Jay Wright talks about the Vols' win

NEW YORK - One of Bruce Pearl's favorite sayings during his six years as the Tennessee men's basketball coach is that adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it.

Pearl was clearly moved by UT's performance on its first road trip of the season, to Madison Square Garden for the NIT Season Tip-Off this week.

The No. 24 Vols (5-0) defeated Virginia Commonwealth 77-72 in the semifinals Wednesday and No. 7 Villanova 78-68 in the championship game on Friday night.

"I had plenty of doubts how good this team could be because of how new it was,'' said Pearl. "This is one of the hardest-working teams I've had.''

Junior Scotty Hopson, who was voted the tournament's most outstanding player, has been one of the Vols' hardest workers throughout his career.

"I've worked a long time for this day to come,'' said Hopson, who was 6-of-11 shooting from the floor and 5-of-8 from the foul line against Villanova. "In the first half I was settling for pull-ups, and that wasn't happening.

"Then in the second half when they started pressing, I was getting the ball in transition, and I saw there was usually only one smaller guard between me and the basket, so I was thinking I could easily go by them.''

On the defensive end, Hopson was matched against Villanova 6-foot-1 guard Corey Fisher, a preseason All-Big East selection who scored 26 points in an 82-70 win over UCLA on Wednesday.

"I thought that Scotty's length bothered Corey,'' Pearl said. "And Scotty stayed down (in his stance defensively), and while Corey was getting some shots, he was having to shoot over (Hopson's) 6-foot-6 frame and he wasn't getting to the rim.''

Hopson and fellow UT guards Skylar McBee and Melvin Goins had help at times from the Vols' bigs, who were instructed to be mindful of the Wildcats' guards in the pre-game preparation.

Fisher was just 1-of-10 shooting against Hopson and had six turnovers and one assist.

On Guard: The entire Villanova backcourt - considered the strength of the team - struggled.

This, despite UT missing two guards. Trae Golden was sidelined by a fever and Josh Bone remains out with a fractured wrist.

Fisher, Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns were combining to average 46.2 points per game entering Friday's game, but against the Vols they combined for 25 and were a cumulative 7-of-39 shooting.

Mighty Melvin: "I thought the physicality of Goins' defense and the ball pressure he put on Wayns, I thought that was very significant,'' Pearl said.

Waynes, who was averaging six assists, had four against UT but also, five turnovers.

"Goins, they list him at 180 pounds,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "But he looked like a defensive back off a football team to me. He is broad-shouldered, strong and gets real low.

"Even McBee did a good job . . . and their bigs (provided) help.''

McBee's Three: McBee was only 1-for-2 shooting against the Wildcats, but this 3-pointer was a big one, capping a 10-3 run that gave the Vols what proved to be an insurmountable 66-58 lead with 3:38 remaining.

"It's always a great feeling to hit a three at a crucial time,'' McBee said. "In this case, it wasn't a hard decision, I was open.''

Big Brian: UT post Brian Williams also handled his business against Villanova's premium big man, 6-10, 250-pound Mouphtaou Yarou.

Williams had 12 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes, while Yarou had 15 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes.

"Brian has picked it up,'' Pearl said. "I know his teammates are awfully proud of him.''

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Comments » 9

Laydbakvol writes:

Great game. Saw it on TV. Even when Villanova closed the gap and pulled ahead no one panicked. When we were behind it still seemed like we were in control.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

We had them on their heels all night.

johnlg00 writes:

Mighty props for Brian and congrats to his team-mates for getting the ball to him in good position! He doesn't have to be a big scorer for us to win as long as he defends and rebounds, but it surely helps when he does score.

Scotty might have had one of his best games defensively and he is much more efficient on offense this year. I still have the feeling that he could do more, but at least he seems to be heading in the right direction. I just hope he isn't jealous of the attention Harris is getting. If the two of them can mesh offensively, the offense will be just fine.

I just love the dedication to defense this whole team seems to have. I know lots of posters have enjoyed ragging on Doris Burke's commentary, but she made one comment that to me really sums up this team's attitude toward defense. She said, "You can tell this team takes great pride in their defense. They were OFFENDED that they didn't get that loose ball." As long as they can keep that attitude, they have a chance to be REALLY good this year.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Mighty props for Brian and congrats to his team-mates for getting the ball to him in good position! He doesn't have to be a big scorer for us to win as long as he defends and rebounds, but it surely helps when he does score.

Scotty might have had one of his best games defensively and he is much more efficient on offense this year. I still have the feeling that he could do more, but at least he seems to be heading in the right direction. I just hope he isn't jealous of the attention Harris is getting. If the two of them can mesh offensively, the offense will be just fine.

I just love the dedication to defense this whole team seems to have. I know lots of posters have enjoyed ragging on Doris Burke's commentary, but she made one comment that to me really sums up this team's attitude toward defense. She said, "You can tell this team takes great pride in their defense. They were OFFENDED that they didn't get that loose ball." As long as they can keep that attitude, they have a chance to be REALLY good this year.

Scotty didn't seem to like an upstart leading the team.lol Harris had no choice! He's forced Hopson into a better focus I hope.

kirkrhino writes:

Brian Williams "the dancing bear" has really turned into a solid basketball player!!

MidTennVol writes:

Looks like Hopson is finally playing up to his potential and Griffith's praise.

But it's only two games, Scotty.

Show us the money -- every game -- and you'll not only be All-SEC first team (maybe more) but you might even make yourself some money.

It's only two games. Show us the money.

nepperso#220348 writes:

Here's hoping we don't get hammered by the NCAA.

67classut writes:

I've been following this team since the mid 60s. With Maymon and Bone's availability in January, the talent, experience and depth on this team may be the best ever. And the motivation is there to possibly show they are the best.

mytrifecta writes:

I've been on Hopson's case for the last two years because he seems to never show up during big games. I'm happy to eat my words as he played great basketball on both ends of the court through this tournament. If he continues to play this way while the younger players develop around him...this team could again go deep into the NCAA Tourney.

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