Forward Jordan McRae on scoring 14 against UGA
I pity the teams who have to prepare a scouting report on Tennessee. There's invariably a lot of wasted time.
Georgia found that out Saturday night. After breaking down the tape of the Vols' loss at Kentucky on Tuesday night, there was no doubt considerable energy spent on how to prevent Renaldo Woolridge from going off on a 3-point spree.
The Bulldogs needn't have bothered. Woolridge made a cameo appearance Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. Three minutes in the first half. Over and out.
Jordan McRae, on the other hand, made only a cameo appearance in the Kentucky videotape.
There was no reason for Georgia coach Mark Fox to stop the tape and shout, "Listen up, guys! Here's the dude we've got to stop Saturday in Knoxville.''
And yet that's how it turned out. McRae was the Vol who stuck the dagger in Georgia's side time and again in a tense second half.
Tennessee doesn't get a 73-62 victory over the SEC's lowliest team without McRae making a series of shots and plays that would have done erstwhile Georgia-killer Chris Lofton proud.
McRae scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He made three of five shots from 3-point land. He played 24 minutes with two assists and without a turnover.
"He's getting better,'' said coach Cuonzo Martin, the sole arbiter of playing time.
"He's also putting in the time in the gym. That's why you see those results. There's no magic trick. Put the time in the gym consistently and the results will eventually follow.''
McRae definitely got results against Georgia. It wasn't just what he did. It was when he did it.
When the Vols came out flat after intermission, Georgia jumped out to a 41-34 lead. McRae stuck a 3-pointer that launched a 9-0 Tennessee run to give the Vols a 43-41 lead with 12:46 left.
UT's lead was a tentative 51-47 with the shot clock ticking down to nothing when McRae launched from the key with a hand in his face and found the net.
"That takes something out of any team,'' McRae said, "to play defense for the whole clock and somebody hits a shot up in the shot clock. It hurts.''
It wouldn't be the last time Georgia would feel that pain.
With 5:44 left and Georgia still hanging around, McRae drilled another 3-pointer to give UT its biggest lead, 56-48.
Moving to the 3:25 mark, he again played the clock perfectly, flashing to the basket for a layup and free throw with: 04 on the shot clock. At 61-51, the Vols again had their biggest lead.
UT needed one more gem from McRae. Leading 61-55, he went on the drive and flipped a pass to Kenny Hall for a dunk with only 6 seconds to spare on the shot clock.
From there, the Vols resorted to 11-of-13 free-throw shooting to close it out.
For a team hard-pressed to find baskets here lately, McRae, a sophomore recruited by former coach Bruce Pearl for his offensive potential, can be a godsend.
"It does a lot,'' said point guard Trae Golden, "not only for us but for Jordan, just because he might have a game where he plays 10 minutes and doesn't score.
"It was great for him to hit a lot of shots and be a big factor. If he can continue to do that, we'll have a lot of options coming off the bench. Him and Josh (Richardson) give us such night and day things it balances itself out.''
McRae might be the offensive yin to Richardson's defensive yang, but he knows he won't see the court if he doesn't defend, too.
That's Martin's baseline, no exceptions. That's why McRae played only 6 minutes in Lexington and why Woolridge, who scored 17 points against the Wildcats, played only 3 against Georgia.
"I definitely feel like I'm making a lot of progress,'' McRae said with a smile. "This time last year I'd have been on the end of Coach Martin's bench.''
So now it's South Carolina's turn to scout the Vols. You can bet they'll spend more time on McRae than they would have a week ago.
And it's up to McRae to justify their time and effort.