ATLANTA — Brian Williams back felt “fine” Thursday night.
Brian Williams was all smiles Thursday night after UT beat Arkansas, but how his back will respond Friday against Florida is a serious question.
“I could go back out there and play again right now,” Tennessee’s 6-foot-10, 280-pound senior center said after the Volunteers’ first-round SEC tournament win over Arkansas.
That didn’t matter, though.
How Williams’ back feels Friday morning, and how it responds to treatment before UT's 7:30 p.m. quarterfinal tip-off against Florida, is what matters.
“I couldn’t tell you until the morning,” he said. “That’s when I’ll know.”
The Vols (19-13) hope to hear good news, because they’ll need Williams against the SEC champion Gators (24-6).
“Brian gave us a lot, and we needed it,” senior guard Josh Bone said. “I don’t think we could have done it without him. He got big rebounds, big points. A big body’s always needed, and he gives us that. He gives us a lot of little intangibles that people don’t really pay attention to — he’s boxing everybody out, he’s clearing space for easy layups.
“He does a lot for us. I’m glad he’s back. We need him to help us get where we want to go."
PAYBACK: THE SEQUEL
Tennessee guard Josh Bone and coach Bruce Pearl would like to leave the Georgia Dome floor Friday night with another pleasant conversation.
Arkansas wasn’t the only team on UT’s SEC tournament revenge list.
Williams and his teammates won’t lack for motivation heading into their third game against Florida. The Vols had the ball and multiple chances in the final minutes to beat the Gators in Knoxville and Gainesville, but mistakes cost them each time.
“Man, we all know we deserved that win,” Williams said. “And for it to happen like it did at the end, especially against such a high-caliber team, ...man. We dominated every aspect of the game, but they did what we didn’t do the last two minutes.
“That’s been our struggle the whole season, our execution and how we’ve been playing those last two, three minutes.”
Bone agreed with Williams and several others who said the Vols’ last-minute collapse is Gainesville was the toughest loss in a season that’s had several tough losses.
“It was. It definitely was,” Bone said. “I hadn’t felt like that in a minute. I don’t know the last time I felt that bad, but it hurt me bad. We need to get them. I don’t say to say it’s personal, but it’s personal. That’s a game we thought we had. We fought hard throughout the game, and it just didn’t go our way. This time, we just need to stay focused, play good basketball throughout the whole game and come out with the win.
“We need it. We need it, man. They beat us two times — both of them close games — and I think we’re going to pull this one out.”
Cameron Tatum, seen here guarding Rotnei Clarke on Thursday night, said a recent shooting slump has left him "frustrated."
UT junior guard Cameron Tatum took the Florida loss as hard as anyone. He missed the front end of a one-and-one that could have added to UT’s one-point cushion in the closing seconds.
Gators’ point guard Erving Walker drove end-to-end and made the game-winning bucket moments after Tatum’s miss.
Asked if that loss at Florida was this season’s toughest to deal with both individually and as a team, Tatum slowly nodded his head and said, “Yeah ... yeah is was.”
“Back then, I felt like that game was my fault, and I still feel that way,” Tatum said. “Hitting those free throws would have at least put more pressure on them. We definitely had that game in hand — both games, I felt like — but we just kind of lost them in those last two, three minutes of the game.
“Obviously, the past few games against Florida we’ve played good for 35, 36 minutes, but we haven’t closed the game out.”
Tatum couldn’t stop his scoring skid Thursday, collecting just three points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field. He’s still UT’s third leading scorer but has reached double digits just once in the past nine games — and none in the past six games. He’s shot 16-of-59 (27.1 percent) in the past nine games and 6-of-36 (16.7 percent) from 3-point range in the past 11 games.
“I can’t even tell you what it feels like,” said Tatum, who spent several minutes in the locker room after the game with a towel over his head. “I don't know what else to say, man. I'm so frustrated. That’s all I can really say. I’m just so frustrated, but I'm going to keep playing my game, ...and fix this.”
PEARL SCORING SPREE
Teammates such as Kenny Hall celebrated Vols senior Steven Pearl tying his career high with six points in Thursday night's win over Arkansas.
UT senior forward Steven Pearl laughed when asked about his Thursday night “scoring spree.”
Pearl, the son of Vols coach Bruce Pearl, tied his career-high with six points. He did it all in one second-half flurry, too, hitting three consecutive buckets to push UT’s lead to 68-52 with 7:07 left.
“The first half, coach (Bruce Pearl) called me out for being lackadaisical and being afraid to fail, and he yelled at me and got on me pretty good,” Steven Pearl said. “I knew I had to come out and be more aggressive. The first one, Brian made a great pass, and I hit a reverse layup. The second one, Melvin was on a fast break, and I shot a nice little floater over (Michael) Sanchez, and the third one was on a press break. I faked it to John (Fields) and laid it in.
“I just wanted to be more aggressive, because coach called me out, and I had to respond.”
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