Video highlights of Tennessee-Arkansas, Feb. 15, 2012
Tennessee's Cam Tatum entered Wednesday's men's basketball game with Arkansas mired in a shooting slump of epic proportions.
And he entered it as a starter, despite being 4-for-20 shooting from 3-point range and 1-for-14 shooting on 2-point shot attempts during the previous six games.
So to what does the fifth-year senior wing player attribute UT coach Cuonzo Martin's decision to keep him in the starting lineup all season?
"It's a testament that I'm going to continue to work hard and I would run through a wall for that man," Tatum said. "It's just strong loyalty. You can't go wrong with a guy like that."
Tatum didn't run through any walls in the Vols' 77-58 victory against the Razorbacks, but he did run through and around plenty of bodies in scoring 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting with nine rebounds, two steals and three assists.
Tennessee (14-12, 6-5 SEC) returns to action at 1:30 p.m. Saturday (TV: WVLT) at Alabama (16-9, 5-6) having won four straight.
"I just keep coming out there every day, busting my butt in practice, playing hard, playing defense and contributing any way I can," Tatum said. "I didn't take any shots in the Florida game, but I still felt like I contributed. I still felt like I was a part of it out there and did some good things. This game was just my night to have a couple buckets."
Martin is proud of Tatum's tenacity and made it clear he plans to continue to reward him so long as Tatum's work ethic remains strong.
"The thing about Cam is he continues to bring his hard hat to practice, so you have to give him an opportunity," Martin said. "I continue to preach that if you work hard, good things will follow. He's struggled with his shot, but he's stayed consistent, stayed in the gym and shots have started to fall for him. He's always been a good defender for us and played hard, he got nine rebounds tonight."
Money McRae: UT sophomore Jordan McRae has been another project of sorts for Martin who appears to breaking right at the perfect time.
While McRae hasn't returned to the starting lineup, the acrobatic wing has scored in double figures in four of the past six games and led the Vols with 14 points against Arkansas.
But ask McRae why things are suddenly working out for him, and he'll tell you it's because of his defense.
"I definitely enjoy playing defense now," said McRae, who also had four assists, three blocked shots and a steal against Arkansas. "It's like Coach Martin says, you have that pride of locking your man up."
As for his ability to find his shot in the motion offense, McRae said that's a result of more hard work.
"That goes along with practices, and practicing hard," McRae said. "You figure out what's a good shot, and what's a bad shot, and we talk to each other about it a lot more. We're a lot harder on each other than at the beginning of the year."
Stokes Tour: Freshman Jarnell Stokes has played nine games since enrolling midterm, but he has managed to play against four of the five schools who were finalists in his recruitment.
Stokes played against Connecticut, Kentucky, Florida and Arkansas. He sat on the bench for UT's game against his other finalist, Memphis.
Stokes said he takes no extra pleasure in performing well against the coaches who sought his services.
"It's not extra motivation," Stokes said. "I don't want to show up any coaches or anything."
RPI Talk: The Vols RPI rating jumped from 110 to 105 after the win over Arkansas, according to statsheet.com.
Saturday's game against the Crimson Tide is critical in UT's quest to polish its resume for a potential NCAA tournament at-large bid, as Alabama boasts the No. 32 RPI in the nation.
The current RPI ratings of the Vols' final regular-season opponents are: Ole Miss (No. 52), South Carolina (No. 167), LSU (No. 63) and Vanderbilt (No. 26).
Streak Jeopardized: UT's string of six consecutive seasons ranked in the nation's top five in attendance could end, as the Vols have slipped into sixth with an average of 17,116 per home game after 16,048 turned out for the Arkansas game.
Wisconsin, which plays in the 17,230-seat Kohl Center, is averaging 17,171 with home games remaining against Penn State and rivals Minnesota and Illinois.
UT's remaining home games are against Ole Miss (Wednesday) and Vanderbilt (March 3).
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32