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December 17, 2007

Vols may have found a new inside force

Tennessee avoided an upset against Western Kentucky on Saturday night, and it was an unlikely hero who saved the day.

Freshman center Brian Williams was the difference in the No. 12-ranked Vols' 88-82 win over the Hilltoppers in the Sun Belt Classic.

Williams came off the bench to score 16 points, grab 14 rebounds and block three shots in 22 minutes.

It was a shocking performance considering Williams had not even played in the Vols' previous two games.

"What in the world is this coach doing keeping him on the bench?" Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl joked afterward. "Brian was everything we thought he could be and then some."

One of the reasons Williams will have more opportunities is because the Vols will be without center Duke Crews for an indefinite period of time. Crews has been diagnosed with a heart condition, and his future is uncertain.

Williams, who at 6 feet 10, 265 pounds is the team's tallest and biggest player, did nearly all his damage in and around the basket. He scored on a variety of lobs, layups and post moves while creating an anchor for the defense.

Williams, who is from Long Island, N.Y., wasn't highly regarded coming out of high school. Tennessee seriously pursued him only after losing out on five-star prospect J.J. Hickson (who signed with N.C. State) and a host of other big men.

Williams took only one other official visit, to New Mexico State.

Williams weighed more than 300 pounds a year ago. Tennessee coaches made it clear he needed to focus on losing weight when he committed to the Vols in November 2006, and he has been shedding pounds steadily since.

When Williams arrived on campus, he weighed in the vicinity of 285 pounds and was able to contribute in practice immediately.

"We were not surprised because we know what Brian Williams can do," Tennessee guard JaJuan Smith said. "He brought us energy and gave us a big lift at the end. We have to give a lot of credit to him because he stepped up. He has been really patient and he came out and played well tonight."

Team of the Weekend: Nebraska

Nebraska grabbed a signature nonconference win with its 88-79 upset of No. 16 Oregon in overtime in Omaha, Neb., on Saturday. Oregon's Tajuan Porter was fouled while hitting a 3-pointer that tied the game with nine seconds to go in regulation, but the Huskers caught a break when Porter missed the free throw.

The Cornhuskers, who never trailed, led by as many as 13 points in the second half and dominated the extra period. The performance of sophomore forward Ryan Anderson was particularly encouraging. Anderson hit all eight of his free-throw attempts on his way to scoring a season-high 21 points. Anderson pulled down nine boards and shut down Oregon power forward Maarty Leunen, who was held to three points - 13 below his season average.

Breakouts & Breakdowns

Breakout: South Alabama guard Demetric Bennett may have put together the best game of the season so far, scoring a career-high 39 points in a 71-67 win at Mississippi State. Bennett made all six 3-pointers he attempted and was 14 of 17 from the field (82 percent). The Jaguars are now 7-3 and riding a three-game winning streak.

What you might have missed
Syracuse junior guard Eric Devendorf tore the ACL in his left knee in the Orange's 125-75 win over East Tennessee State on Saturday and will miss the rest of the season. Devendorf, who was the team's second-leading scorer with 17.0 ppg, underwent an MRI on Sunday which revealed the injury. The news leaves the Orange with a thin backcourt. Sophomore guard Andy Rautins tore an ACL in the offseason, and senior guard Josh Wright was not on the bench against ETSU. Afterward, coach Jim Boeheim told reporters that he didn't expect Wright to play for the Orange again. A starter last season, Wright has played in just four games. He also missed practices on Thursday and Friday.
North Carolina star power forward Tyler Hansbrough's head collided with the knee of a cameraman after Hansbrough took a charge with 5:47 to play in the Tar Heels' 93-71 win at Rutgers on Sunday night. Hansbrough did not return and was taken to the locker room.
Arizona transfer J.P. Prince (a former five-star prospect) played in his first game for Tennessee in the Vols' win over Western Kentucky. Prince came off the bench to score eight points, grab seven rebounds and add two steals in 19 minutes.
Breakdown: As hot as Bennett was, if Mississippi State guard Jamont Gordon hadn't played the worst game of his career the Jaguars would not have won. The junior went just 1-for-14 from the field and committed five turnovers.

Breakout: Penn State's defense. The Nittany Lions held Denver to its second-lowest point total in school history in a 61-38 win on Saturday. Denver was held to just 10 points in the first half. Three days earlier, the Nittany Lions held Princeton to its third-lowest total in school history in a 60-39 victory.

Breakout: Syracuse's offense. The Orange tied a team-record with 15 3-pointers and set a school record by shooting 75.8 percent (47 of 62) from the field in their 125-75 thrashing of East Tennessee State. It was the most points ETSU had given up in school history.

Breakdown: Southern Illinois. The Salukis' first three losses came to quality opponents (USC, Indiana and Charlotte have a combined record of 21-7), but their fourth - a 56-51 defeat to Saint Louis on Saturday - was far more surprising. The Billikens, who closed the game on a 13-0 run, were blown out by Kent State (81-40) and Boston College (61-39). The Salukis must fix their problems soon. Their next three games are against Western Michigan, Western Kentucky and Butler.

Breakout: The latest blame for Kentucky's problems can go directly to UAB guard Robert Vaden. The Indiana transfer carried UAB to a 79-76 upset of the Wildcats, scoring 28 points in the second half and finishing with a career-high 33 points. Vaden hit numerous jumpers while being closely guarded, making seven of 11 3-point attempts.

Breakout: Texas Tech freshman Mike Singletary. New Mexico cruised to an 80-63 win over Texas Tech on Saturday, but the performance of Singletary should bring hope to Red Raiders fans. Singletary came off the bench to score 25 points, more than he had in the previous four games combined. Singletary added six rebounds and five assists.

Breakdown: Xavier had perhaps the most disappointing performance of the weekend. The No. 17-ranked Musketeers were not just upset at Arizona State on Saturday, but were completely outplayed in a 77-55 loss. Guards Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell, who are supposed to make up the Atlantic-10's top backcourt, combined to go 5-for-21 (23.8 percent) from the field.

Top Performers
Ty Lawson, North Carolina
26 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals in the Tar Heels' 93-71 win over Rutgers.
The sophomore made all six of his free-throw attempts and showed he has fully recovered from an ankle injury that slowed him earlier in the season.
Antoine Agudio, Hofstra
30 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists in Pride's 70-68 win over Charlotte.
Agudio is the nation's leading scorer with 27.4 ppg.
JaVale McGee, Nevada
15 points, 18 rebounds, three blocks, two steals in the Wolf Pack's 86-74 win over UCF.
UCF's entire team only had six more rebounds than McGee.
Demetric Bennett, South Alabama
39 points, eight rebounds in the Jaguars' 71-67 win over Mississippi State.
Bennett missed only three of his 17 field-goal attempts.
Robert Vaden, UAB
33 points in the Blazers' 79-76 win over Kentucky.
The Indiana transfer scored 28 of his points in the second half. He finished 7-for-11 on 3-point attempts and made all six of his free-throw attempts.
Donte Greene, Syracuse
25 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three blocks, three steals in the Orange's 125-75 win over East Tennessee State
Greene hit five 3-pointers and made all six of his attempts from the free-throw line.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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