Brian Williams, Tennessee’s biggest inside presence, would leave a big hole in the lineup if a bad back keeps him on the bench at South Carolina.
Williams missed a second day of basketball practice Tuesday due to a sore back.
“I am concerned,’’ coach Bruce Pearl said. “That’s two days we’ve kept him down. His back is really tight.’’
The Vols (17-12, 7-7 SEC) could ill afford to lose Williams for Thursday’s visit to face the Gamecocks (14-13, 5-9), where they’ll find the SEC’s leading shot-blocker, Sam Muldrow.
Tip-off at the Colonial Center is 7 p.m. (TV: ESPN).
Pearl said the 6-foot-10, 272-pound Williams has “historically” had a back issue and it flared up after the loss to Mississippi State on Saturday.
“I don’t think he said anything after the game,’’ Pearl said. “He came in on Sunday morning.’’
Williams was at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday but getting treatment rather than being on the court.
He averages 7.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in 23.2 minutes per game.
“If Brian can’t go,’’ said Pearl, “it takes our best five man, a guy that’s a sixth-man-of-the-year candidate (in the SEC), a really good passer against the zone and an important rebounder.’’
Muldrow averages 3.3 blocks per game — 4.0 in SEC play. He rejected six UT shots in the Vols’ 73-67 win in Knoxville on Feb. 16.
Williams is somewhat unusual for a five-man in that he is arguably Tennessee’s best passer. He matched a career high with five assists against the Gamecocks and then matched it again the next game against Georgia.
John Fields, who starts so that Williams can come off the bench, was sick Tuesday and received two bags of fluid in the morning. Pearl expects Fields to be ready for the Gamecocks.
“The other guys have got to step up,’’ Pearl said. “Jeronne Maymon has been playing some more and Kenny Hall has stayed ready.
“It’s an area we have some depth in and we’re going to tap into that depth.’’
Different Stakes: While both teams badly need a win Thursday night, their objectives differ, according to Pearl:
“We’re trying to play our way in the NCAA tournament and they’re trying to play their way into the NIT, really.’’
The Gamecocks might take exception with that but the only way they could make the NCAA field is win the SEC tournament and the league’s automatic bid.
South Carolina is already locked in as the East sixth seed. If the Gamecocks and Vols both finish 7-9, Tennessee wins the tie-breaker because of a better Eastern Division record.
Jackson’s Back: South Carolina got small forward Lakeem Jackson back Saturday in a loss at Georgia.
Jackson, who averages 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds, missed several games, including Tennessee, due to a foot injury.
Practice: Pearl backed off Tuesday after a physical practice on Monday. The focus was more on the scouting report and South Carolina.
The Vols work at Thompson-Boling Arena again today, then leave for Columbia.
Giving Back: Melvin Goins was UT’s representative on the SEC Community Service team. Goins participated in numerous community-related activities.