KNOXVILLE—Scotty Hopson and John Jenkins are the headlining stars for the big feature showing in Memorial Gym tonight in Nashville.
It's the supporting cast that will carry either Tennessee or Vanderbilt to a Southeastern Conference basketball win, though.
"I'm a competitor, and I'm going to go at him if he's on me, and I know when I'm on him he's going to go at me," Hopson said Monday. "He's a sophomore, but he's turned into a great player. I admire his game."
Vanderbilt's Jenkins (22.2 ppg) and Tennessee's Hopson (19.2) are first and second in the SEC in scoring through 12 league games each.
A sharpshooting sophomore from Hendersonville, Tenn., Jenkins has scored 20 or more points in nine SEC games, including a game-high 21 in the Volunteers' comeback win in the teams' Knoxville meeting in January.
Hopson has scored 22, 23 and 32 points since missing two games with a sprained ankle, an injury that gave him a different perspective on his game. UT (16-11, 6-6) won just one of those games, however.
"Definitely sitting back," he said, "and getting a different observation of the game and actually being able to watch, it gave me a different insight [on] what I can do on the basketball floor to help this team be more successful and what I can do to get myself more successful.
"I'm playing some great basketball right now, but I'd trade some of these good numbers for a victory."
Much like the Georgia team that won at UT on Saturday, Vanderbilt (20-6, 8-4) has a balanced offense beyond Jenkins that can score both in the paint and from the perimeter.
Efficient guard Brad Tinsley, athletic forward Jeffery Taylor and powerful center Festus Ezeli all average scoring in double figures, and the Commodores have a quartet of options at another forward spot that each features a different set of skills.
"In this five-game winning stretch, I think Vanderbilt's front line has gotten back to being more physical, dominating the boards and getting a lot of production," UT coach Bruce Pearl said.
"Jenkins has been brilliant. Offensively, they'll put five guys out there that you've got to deal with. This is probably the most athletic Vanderbilt team in a long time, and they've been that way the last several years."
Said point guard Melvin Goins: "You've just got play team defense overall, every position. We've got to help each other out."
That kind of balance is what let the Vols down against Georgia. Hopson and freshman Tobias Harris combined for all but 13 of UT's points, and the production from rest of the Vols has been inconsistent, prompting Pearl to ask for more.
"I think if you look at our shooting percentages," Pearl said, "and the guys that are shooting the best are the guys that are shooting the most. Yet we need more offense from some of those other guys, but their shooting percentages, not only are they shooting fewer shots, they're not shooting as good as a percentage, say, as Scotty or Tobias.
"So we need them to continue to look for their shot, to be aggressive, but at the same time they've got to own up to the responsibility of making some shots that make a big difference.
"You've still got to go to your strengths and you've got to make a few shots. That'd really, really help us, and I absolutely still believe we can. We've just got to get a couple of those other guys going in order to have a little bit more balance."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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